Six non-partisan candidates for Mesquite City Council and two Republicans contesting Assembly District 19 squared off at the May 9 candidate forum sponsored by the Mesquite Local News. The event was attended by nearly 200 local residents who heard responses to questions asked by panelists Ken Cook, Karen Beardsley and Barbara Ellestad. The event was moderated by Jeff Powell and held at the Eureka Resort Casino.
State Assembly Republican Primary
The first candidates to address the forum were incumbent assemblyman Chris Edwards and his primary opponent Connie Foust.
Edwards said his priorities for his first session in 2015 and the upcoming session in 2017 will be the same, jobs, education reform, veterans and accountability. Edwards pointed out his success in legislation that allows the de-centralization of Clark County School District and that “we passed 17 bills for veterans.” On jobs Edwards said that he had also worked with Mesquite Regional Business to connect them with funds and projects that will result from the proposed Faraday plant in North Las Vegas.
Edwards also said he was working with a group of legislators to pass a bill creating an inspector general in Nevada. “That would be the one mechanism that would truly control costs and waste across the state and save us millions upon million of dollars.”
Foust stressed her opposition to new taxes. “Taxes are inhibiting prosperity in our country,” said Foust. She agreed with a panel question about the need for taxes saying “We have to have taxes, and I pay them and have no problem with that, but I believe in the free market system.” Foust went on to say that she did object however, “to putting good money after bad particularly with our school system.” Foust said that she would like to see reforms done rather than putting more money into the education system.
The commerce tax passed by the last session was also a target for Foust. “The commerce tax is going to affect every business person regardless of whether they gross four million dollars or not. They are already talking about dropping it to one million dollars and it is going to put people out of business.” Foust argued that taxing on gross receipts “just doesn’t make sense.”
Asked about other taxes Foust said “I will not raise taxes while in office, of any sort.”
Edwards responded “I did not vote for the commerce tax when it came to the floor; I voted against it. I believe it sets a dangerous precedent. The rates can be changed rather quickly.” Edwards suggested that money could be saved in the education budget by outsourcing things such as transportation to get a more competitive system.
City Council Races
Six of the seven candidates for council were present. Candidate Brian Wursten was called away for a family medical emergency just before the forum began.
All positions on the council are non-partisan. There are three seats available with seven candidates. Each candidate was asked several questions by the panel on a variety of city issues.
Dave Ballweg, a Mesquite businessman who has been active in local government was asked if he was flexible and how he would make decisions. “Whenever I come up with an opinion I do work ahead of time and people sometimes think my definitive opinions reflect inflexibility. I am not inflexible,” said Ballweg. He gave several examples of how he changed his opinion after citizens had spoken.
Ballweg used as an example his opposition to medical marijuana, and noted how he had worked with Councilman George Rapson to insure that before recreational marijuana was made legal in Mesquite there would first be a citizen referendum. “I am against marijuana but when it comes to the vote of the citizens I will abide by their vote,” said Ballweg.
Ballweg also said he was an advocate for the council having technical sessions a week before council meetings as it was the only opportunity for citizens to see what the council would be discussing before the agenda was published.
Incumbent councilman Rapson was asked why so little of the downtown redevelopment funds had been used to improve the looks of the city. “There is a saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it think,” Rapson replied. He said that many businesses don’t want the funds perhaps because of the impression that the application process was difficult. Rapson said that he and the staff had worked to speed the process. “One idea I have contemplated is increasing the scope of what the money can be used for. If you want to expand your business, maybe we can get funds out of the redevelopment fund.”
Rapson was also asked whether council funding should have been reduced for MRBI (Mesquite Regional Business Inc,) last year, “Yes, they should have. At that point we were in a very difficult budget situation and we still are.” Rapson went on to say that during the last year “we have had a string of unbelievable successes with MRB.” Rapson listed the new businesses coming to Mesquite that were all driven by MRB. “I have talked with several businesses who said the reason they came to Mesquite was because of our business friendly atmosphere and MRB,” Rapson added.
Candidate C.J. Larsen was asked what the most important issue for the city is today. “The most pressing issue is our budget. We need the revenue and we need to see where we can cut,” said Larsen. She noted that the situation isn’t “going to change overnight and we need to work on that.”
Larsen was asked about how the overall economy of Mesquite could be improved. “We need to concentrate on the businesses that we have here currently and bring in new businesses.” She said “We need to do things for the younger generation.” Larsen also said her years with the public safety department in Mesquite has given her a good understanding of the community and a belief that public safety departments need to be protected.
Dave West, a private employee at Reliance Communications, was asked what his priorities would be for the budget. “First of all, I can’t predict what the economy is going to do, but I do want to see our city provide better incentives working with Mesquite Regional Business,” said West. He added that he previously sat on a city economic development commission and “I saw how much more effective MRB was than the previous efforts.”
West also said that he wanted youth sports to be improved, “Our town doesn’t look busy when there is a bunch of golfers in town, but you can’t find a seat in a restaurant when there is a youth tournament in town. We need to work with our recreation department.”
West also said that budget cuts were going to be necessary, but he wanted to support police and fire and with an improved business climate the cuts would be limited.
Mike Benham, a former firefighter in England and the east coast and current volunteer with the Mesquite Fire Department, was asked if he would be more than a one-issue councilperson should he be elected. “I was a fire commissioner, and I have been to council meetings for five years. I have stressed that they are so understaffed that one of these days someone is going to die,” said Benham. He said that the city had to look at a way to bring the staff up, “Your lives matter to me. One of the reasons I’m running for city council is I want to find a way to get some money, more money for the fire department.”
Benham also said he volunteered at the high school and he wanted to get ministers together in the community to help kids at the high school and give them structure.
The final candidate was incumbent Cindi Delaney, who was appointed to the council two years ago to fill a vacancy. Delaney is a local businesswoman and was an owner of the MLN.
Delaney was asked if she favored fast or slow growth, “I favor managed growth. We are going to grow; we have 500 new jobs coming to town.” Delaney emphasized that the city can help through the sale of public land and an efficient regulatory process. “My vision for Mesquite is to be Mesquite, not to be anywhere else,” said Delaney. She emphasized the need for a “vital and sustainable economy with jobs people can get.”
Delaney also said that the new I-15 Exit 118 was going to be a “game changer for the economy of Mesquite. There is going to be a new variety of jobs for our citizens.”
When asked about her support of medical marijuana and a seven percent tax that was reduced to four percent at a later council meeting, Delaney replied that “I have always supported a four percent tax because I believed that seven percent of nothing was less that four percent of something.”
Delaney said she supported medical marijuana, that recreational marijuana was coming to Nevada and Mesquite needed to get in front to regulate it and reap the benefit of the taxes it would generate.
Delaney noted that the city had received over $30,000 in revenue from medical marijuana company Deep Roots in the first quarter, “and if that stays we will gain over $120,000 this year in revenue.” She also said they had 56 employees who were getting pay checks.
The election will be held June 14.