The two candidates in Mesquite’s mayoral race, Al Litman and Art Pareida, answered questions at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday, Sept. 14, covering a wide range of business-related questions. Dave Bennett served as moderator.

When asked what he thought were three biggest challenges for Mesquite’s business community, Pareida said he had asked business owners if the city was business friendly and all of them confirmed it was. Business growth has been stagnant, mostly because of the great recession, Pareida said, “but it’s time to move on” citing examples of recent business growth in Las Vegas, St. George, Utah, and California.

Litman addressed the question saying Mesquite’s small workforce is one of the great issues for local businesses. He described two new businesses coming into Mesquite as having a “terrible time trying to fill their positions.” He also said two limiting factors for the workforce pool were the small number of local high school graduates and a large number of retirees.

He said the city has fast-tracked business permits and licenses to help make it easier for businesses to come into Mesquite. Litman also said the city is working closely with other companies to bring natural gas to Mesquite making it cheaper for them to operate.

Pareida said that while residential development is fairly healthy the city needs more businesses especially in the industrial park. “I would like to see the Chamber of Commerce and Mesquite Regional Business, Inc. be more productive in promoting the city to outside businesses,” he said.

While Litman said businesses are interested in Mesquite “we can’t drag them into the city. They are looking at Mesquite because we have a great quality of life.” He wants to attract companies that won’t add pollution.

Pareida said the new truck stop travel center at the I-15 Exit 118 is great but “it sits alone out there in the boonies. We need businesses around it. But I’ve heard that we don’t want to lose the ‘Mayberry affect’ of a small town. If that’s what you want, I respect that but you’ll end up with a Mayberry police department and a Hooterville fire department. I’m for growth.”

Both candidates addressed the issue of raising business licenses and fees as a way to generate more income for the city. Pareida said it isn’t necessary to raise license fees but rather “we need to look at our base income” of all employees. He advocates a raise in the minimum wage paid by private businesses as a way to increase the income tax the city could receive. He cited the fact that 60 percent of elementary school children receive low-income free lunches. “We are contributing to that” he said because of the low wages paid by businesses.

Litman said he was not in favor of raising business license fees because it isn’t a big income source. He also said that the state’s consolidated tax (C-tax) was confusing and increased property taxes aren’t a solution either because very little of them stay in Mesquite.

As a follow-up, the candidates were asked their thoughts on increasing the city’s income especially in light of a potential hit from settling a union employee contract.

Litman said if the settlement is extremely large, the city would appeal it. He added that in a couple cases, employees who mow lawns are making $65,000 in pay and benefits. He said that this year was the first in nine years that the city had a balanced budget. “We can’t hit all the businesses with all these fees and expect them to pay.”

Pareida reiterated his call for raising the minimum wage for employees of privately owned businesses saying that “raising the minimum wage doesn’t cause prices to go up.” He said that would help keep younger people in Mesquite.