Voters in the District 1 race for the Wichita City Council shouldn’t have to scratch their heads trying to figure out the difference between the two candidates.
Incumbent Lavonta Williams and challenger Dave Thomas bring distinctly different approaches.
Williams sees incentives for businesses as one way of creating jobs; Thomas prefers lowering taxes as a way to encourage companies to expand and hire more people.
On the city’s financially troubled bus system, Williams said, “We have to fix it. We can’t keep putting Band-Aids on it.”
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Thomas said public transportation is a good idea, but added, “I don’t know that it’s the city’s business to increase usage and dependency on something that’s subsidized by the city.”
Williams and Thomas are the only candidates to file for District 1 and will meet in the April 2 general election.
Williams, 63, spent 35 years in the Wichita school district, including 28 years as a teacher. She and her husband, Billy, have two grown sons and three grandchildren.
“I love to work with people,” she said. “I consider myself a talker. I like to talk my way through things. I love to involve neighborhoods.”
She points to 50 to 60 people who come to her monthly breakfasts held on Saturdays.
Williams emphasized the importance of community involvement as the city addresses its water shortage. City officials say Cheney Lake, source of 60 percent of the city’s water, could go dry in 2015 if the drought continues.
“We need to address it the way we did golf,” she said, referring to the city involving the community on what to do with public courses. “We need to look at all quadrants of the city. It’s going to take a buy-in from the community, if we’re going to ask them to conserve water.”
She supported building a new airport terminal and has backed plans to renovate downtown.
“Downtown is huge,” Williams said.
She noted that the projected loss of federal funds will make it more difficult to manage the city’s budget.
“We’ll have to tighten belts as much as possible as we move forward,” she said. “We have to weigh all our options.”
Williams pointed to water, infrastructure, jobs and public safety as her top priorities.
She acknowledged that job creation is difficult for a city but noted that a city can promote business development, including by using financial incentives.
“Everyone has access to the tool kit,” she said. “The incentives are used on a case-by-case basis. As long as we are getting the return on investment, I think that’s what we’re looking at.
“The incentives are a part of government that helps create stronger neighborhoods that are more productive in our property tax base as well.”
Thomas, 36, is a salesman at a retail jewelry store and has lived all of his life in Wichita, except for four years spent in Houston managing a retail store. A graduate of Wichita State University in business, he was married in January.
He ran for state senate as a Libertarian last fall but dropped out of the race in October, saying he supported Republican Michael O’Donnell, the eventual winner.
Thomas said he’s running for the council position because of his passion for fiscal responsibility.
“I’d like to see some of that fiscal responsibility on the City Council,” he said. “A third of the city’s budget is going to debt service. Our priorities are askew.”
He said he wouldn’t be supportive of building a new library and would not have started the new airport terminal.
Thomas said he opposes most financial incentives, such as tax increment financing and community improvement districts.
“Incentives are the government picking and choosing winners and losers,” said Thomas, who is state coordinator for the Kansas Republican Liberty Caucus.
At the same time, he said, “I do recognize the city has to compete with other cities to get those new businesses and to encourage the businesses that are here to expand.”
But Thomas said that can be accomplished by lowering taxes and reducing some burdensome regulations on businesses.
He also would like to see a property tax holiday of one or two years for all new capital investments.
“So it wouldn’t be the city deciding which businesses and developers would receive that,” he said. “It would be all of them.”
He said his priorities as a council member would be public safety, infrastructure, paying down debt and campaign finance reform.
On the projected water shortage, he noted that low supplies drive up prices in a free market system.
“I know there’s been talk of increased prices and penalties for use,” Thomas said. “That’s something I would support, assuming the dire predictions are true.”