The crosstown connector plan was one of the hot topics at the Ward 1 Primary forum held Thursday night at Light of the City Conference Center.
Challengers Terry Moehnke and Eugene Melvin Newsome, and incumbent Mark Taylor, discussed road improvements, budget and debt issues, and economic development at the event hosted by Well-Informed Webster People. The candidates made opening and closing statements and took questions from the public.
Taylor continues to oppose the crosstown connector, as he did when he ran for City Council the first time. Moehnke supports the connector. Newsome offered his qualified support.
The street realignment for the crosstown connector would join First and Second avenues south with a new section of road. After completion, First Avenue South would be converted to two-way traffic for its entire length. Part of Second Avenue South would be removed to create space for future development.
"I think not voting for the crosstown connector is irresponsible," Moehnke said. "We have a chance to basically repair streets in our town without having to access our funds. We have $2.5 million that are sitting there, waiting for us to use it."
He said the connector is critical for the success of downtown, and for Fort Dodge as a whole.
Taylor called the project an "ill-conceived plan."
"The road parallels by only four blocks Fifth Avenue South," said Taylor. "The city has already put $12 million into developing Fifth Avenue South, and the project isn't even half done yet."
If the connector has to be done, he said, "it needs to start at the other end. The council has already started that."
The council decided in June 2012 to work on drainage and intersection improvements along First Avenue South near the Crossroads Mall.
Taylor also said one of the stated reasons for the connector street realignment was to create space for a better recreation center. But when Taylor asked for details on the center, he claimed there were problems with the plans.
"It was a good idea, but it wasn't a business plan," he said.
Things have changed since then, said Moehnke. Improvement along Fifth Avenue South, known as the Corridor of Commerce, "has been a great success for the community," he said. "Look at the new businesses out there, look at the $11.5 million-plus that the businesses and corporations have brought in out there.
"This is an opportunity for the small business people in the community to access land which is much less expensive than what's available on Fifth Avenue South," he said.
Newsome said he was in favor of the crosstown connector, but still has questions about it.
"(I want) to go back and take it apart and look at it very close," he said. "I'm in favor of it, but I'm not going to just jump up and vote yes for everything."
When asked later about leadership, Moehnke said part of his job would be to provide clear communication with the people. Part of the reason people have so many questions about the road project is no one has explained it well to them, he said.
"I think to understand the problem, you research the problem, access those people that have the information necessary to answer the problem, and to be able to formulate not only a clear, but also a concise, summary of the problem so people can understand what we're talking about," Moehnke said.
Newsome said that, like other council members, he would put a high priority on listening to the people and attending forums to hear what they have to say.
Taylor said, "My agenda is not my agenda. It comes from the people. ... I've had meetings in my ward, and I walk around through my ward talking to a lot of people."
All three candidates said getting roads fixed in Ward 1 was very important to them. They all said they are not in favor of special assessments on property to get roads in a particular neighborhood fixed.
"That's what you pay taxes for," Newsome said. "So isn't that paying taxes twice?"