A standing-room-only crowd filled the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce’s conference room Tuesday night to listen to candidates for Tooele City council and mayor.
The meeting’s format gave each candidate three minutes to introduce themselves. A round of six questions followed the introductions. After the questions, each candidate had two minutes for concluding comments.
The questions came from audience members at the chamber as well as people watching the event live on Facebook at Tooele County 411.
The questions included topics such as crime prevention, abandoned buildings, potential for future tax increases, personal preparation for office, and the city budget.
In response to a question about reducing crime in Tooele City, all the candidates supported community efforts like Communities that Care, Valley Behavioral Health, Drug Court, Neighborhood Watch, and directing more resources to the city’s police department.
“We are going to watch out for our own community,” said Debbie Winn, mayoral candidate. “This is not a problem that can be solved by just the government. We all have to be part of it.”
The city may need more police officers, according to mayoral candidate Dave McCall.
“We need as many officers as it takes to get the job done,” McCall said. “Maybe we need more. That’s my opinion.”
Steve Pruden, candidate for mayor, said among other things, new street lights will help reduce crime.
“[We will] light up the city so every neighborhood is illuminated appropriately so crime diminishes by not having any place to go hide,” Pruden said.
The city parks department currently goes through parks every morning to check for needles, said Scott Wardle, a candidate for city council.
“[We, as citizens, need] to take responsibility,” Wardle said. “Crime will always be with us. The drug problem did not start yesterday and it’s not going to end tomorrow. With support for programs like Valley Behavioral Health and Drug Court, we can continue to address it.”
Police officers need time to be proactive instead of reactive, according to council candidate Rusty Thomas.
“I talked to a police officer who said they don’t patrol, but they respond,” Thomas said. “Our officers need time to patrol. I also support great programs like Neighborhood Watch.”
Increased crime comes with growth, according to Melodi Gochis, candidate for city council.
“We need to address growth,” Gochis said. “With it comes increased crime. We need to provide adequate resources for public safety.”
Raja Ratnayake, candidate for city council, said citizens need to help law enforcement officers.
“With more lights in neighborhoods people can see what is going on and report what they see,” he said.
Crime prevention starts at home, according to council candidate Jeff Saunders.
Saunders also said that after scouring the city budget for more funds for public safety, he would not rule out support for a small tax increase.
When quizzed about vacant buildings that attract squatters and drug users, the candidates’ answers included a combination of attracting new businesses to fill up buildings to tearing them down.
Part of the problem is many owners don’t live here and don’t care what the buildings look like, said Winn.
“We need to really reach out and talk to them [building owners] personally,” Winn said. “We need to tell them we want you to make money, to fix those empty buildings, and help them get people in there. That way they make money and it helps the city too. Small business is the backbone of our community.”
But there are some buildings that need to come down, according to McCall.
“There are buildings that are run down and need to go,” he said. “I’ve talked to mayors and councilmen from other cities and they know how to get rid of them [abandoned buildings]. We can get rid of them, too. If the building is abandoned, the owners don’t want the building, and they don’t need it, the building needs to go away. It brings down the property value of everything around it and it makes our city look like crap.”
But tearing down old buildings and changing building codes isn’t as easy as it sounds, according to Pruden.
“One of the things I like about this country is the system of property rights,” Pruden said. “We may not like the way somebody is using their property, but we have to respect the fact it is their property.”
As a city council member, Pruden said he has encouraged property owners to improve their property.
Pruden said he also disagrees that parking downtown is a problem, and building codes are international and can’t be changed by the city.
The city needs to patrol the city and make owners responsible for their buildings, according to Thomas.
“Hold people accountable,” he said “Even if the building is not currently used.”
The city should help replace empty storefronts with new businesses, according to Gochis.
“We need to create a business friendly environment and a safe work place for our residents,” she said.
Gochis suggested that the city help businesses with incentives and grants to help buildings fill up.
Rataynake also said the city should help small businesses.
“We should encourage small businesses to thrive with flexible finances and an environment in which they can grow,” he said.
Saunders said he wants to make it easier for people to do business in Tooele.
“Relax some of the restrictions on renovating buildings and provide better access to buildings,” he said.
Wardle said business owners left $150,000 on the table from the Downtown Redevelopment Agency that was available for renovating buildings.
The building where the Brothers restaurant is now on Main Street was remodeled by the original owner with a $150,000 investment from the city.
Walgreen’s and Big 5 Sporting Goods are all examples of businesses that were recruited to come to downtown, according to Wardle.
The complete Meet the Candidates for Tooele City meeting can be viewed on Facebook at Tooele County 411.
The Meet the Candidates night was sponsored by the chamber of commerce.