3 Madras City Council candidates weigh in on issues
Three of four candidates for Madras City Council talked about the city's issues and answered questions from residents Wednesday, Oct. 7.
Incumbents Gary Walker and Jennifer Holcomb were joined by newcomer Austin Throop for the event, which the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce hosted via Facebook Live.
Mathew Birchard, who is also running for a seat on the council, did not attend.
Madras voters are being asked to choose their top three candidates from the four on the ballot.
The atmosphere was friendly, with the candidates often expressing agreement with each other and praising each other's answers.
Chamber Executive Director Joe Krenowicz asked each candidate a question that had been submitted, and the other two could weigh in on any questions not posed to them after a round.
Regarding the city giving incentives to builders who add housing to Madras, Throop said, "As long as we are addressing a real need for housing, we should just keep going. I think that when there is no demand for additional houses that we should readjust what is being done at that point."
He said providing affordable housing is good, but no one wants to see another Yarrow.
"Moving ahead, we really need to pay attention to our growth rate and our inventory of houses," Holcomb added. The city needs to make sure it has enough housing available without having too much, and it needs to make sure there is housing for all income levels, she said.
Walker said the Housing Urban Renewal District provides a great opportunity for builders, but the City Council will keep an eye on the available inventory and pull back when there is enough.
When asked if he would support spending city funds to recruit childcare providers, with the goal of helping employers attract and retain employees, Walker said his son and daughter-in-law couldn't find certified childcare when their children were very young, so he understood the problem.
"Yes, I think that we should do some looking for people," he said.
He thought the problem needed further study.
"I believe there's a need there, and we need to look for that kind of help in our community."
Throop added that the pandemic had exacerbated the need for childcare, and that is "impossible to be successful in your professional life without that."
Krenowicz asked if Holcomb which she would support if she were forced to choose: encourage tourists to stop in Madras or work with the Oregon Department of Transportation to create a bypass like Redmond has.
Holcomb said she would encourage tourists to continue passing through town.
"I know that a large percentage of our income at our restaurants — a significantly large amount — is brought in from tourists, so in order to sustain our economy within our town, I believe that we need to keep the traffic moving through town."
The city should also encourage people to stop and see what the community has to offer, she said.
"We need to continue to make Madras a place where people will stop and have some fun," he said, praising the First Thursday events that happened before gathering restrictions were in place.
"As far as ODOT and rerouting traffic, I'm not sure that they're going to be funded on that project for 10 to 20 years," he said.
Snow in driveways
Krenowicz asked Walker if the Public Works Department should remove the snow crews plow into driveways.
Walker said he has researched the problem and found out an attachment is available called a boot that would stop the plow at driveways. He said he would have the department look at the cost.
"That may be a way to cure that for a lot of people," he said.
Krenowicz asked Throop what kind of industry the city should be recruiting, those that generate high property taxes or bring more employment?
"I would say initially I would do both," Throop said. "I would bring in high property tax value businesses capable of employing quantifiable numbers of people from our community."
But he said it might be more important to help businesses that are already here. And he doesn't want to see businesses like Walmart move in.
"I don't think any of us want that sort of corporate influence," he said.
He added that the city would be foolish to ignore opportunities for the marijuana and hemp industries "given the farmers around here."
He also said the city should encourage software companies to start up in Madras.
When asked what improvements he would like to see soon, Walker said he would like to see a pedestrian overpass over Highway 97 near Circle K because pedestrian traffic stops vehicle traffic flow on the highway.
"I would like to see us as a city move forward with additional funding for our road system," Holcomb said.
"Aside from affordable housing," Throop said, "I think that high-speed internet is very important for our community."
Throop said he would look to secure federal and state grants for roads and to try to understand why the city lacks funds to maintain its streets.
Holcomb said she was on the committee that worked on funding for streets for 18 months. The cost of goods to build roads is increasing faster than the funding, she said, and praised city staff for getting grants and maximizing the funds available.
She said she is hoping after the pandemic that the city can again address the problem in a way "that spreads the cost to as many as people as possible" with minimal effect on low-income people.
All three candidates said they are supportive of growth, but they want it to be planned and good for the city.
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