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March 25, 2014

Forum: 2 yes, 1 ‘decide for yourself’ on tax vote

DUNCAN — Two Duncan City Council candidates endorsed an extension of the half-cent economic development sales tax on Monday night, but incumbent Mike Nelson spoke neither for or against the tax.

“Vote the way you want to,” Nelson said during a 90-minute City Council candidate forum.

The nonendorsement was not a complete surprise as Nelson has been targeted for defeat by some business leaders affiliated with the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation who have contributed to the campaign of challenger Chris Schreckengost.

They dismiss the idea they want Nelson out because the council declined to grant an early renewal of its services contract with DAEDF, but the influx of money into the race is regarded as unusual by some.

Schreckengost  and fellow challenger Bill Schneekloth each endorsed continuation of the half-cent sale tax during the candidate forum. At its conclusion, Schreckengost noted he just filed another campaign contribution report that will reflect even more donations above the $3,900 he already has declared.

Campaign filings by Schneekloth and Nelson show no contributions.

The candidate forum drew an audience of about 70 people in the council chambers, which belied an underlying theme of the forum that Duncan lacked citizen involvement or interest in its local governmnent.

While Nelson declined to speak in favor of continuing the half-cent sale tax, he did not criticize the foundation’s efforts to bring investment to the city. He spoke favorably of the ongoing “business incubator,” which advises and nurtures small start-up enterprises.

Voters approved adding a half-cent to the sales tax in 1994, when unemployment in the area had reached double digits. Unemployment in Stephens County is now at about 5 percent.

The tax, which funds economic development, has been renewed by voters every five years since it began and has generated $27 million. Voters will decide if the half-penny tax will be assessed another five years on April 1, when they also will elect the next 2nd Ward councilman.

The candidate forum gave Schreckengost, 42, and Schneekloth, 70, a chance to tout their business backgrounds while Nelson, 59, talked about his Duncan roots, including a mention of the doctor who delivered him at birth.

Nelson downplayed the idea Duncan is facing a water crisis, noting that the city’s reservoirs have been lower in the past and that history shows sooner or later rainfall will increase. He said fixing city streets is the top issue.

Schreckengost said it’s unwise to rely on future rainfall.

“We’ve got to get our plan together, get our vision together,” he said.

The forum was moderated by Duncan Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Chris Deal, who worked from a list of 18 questions.

The high points and low points:

* Schneekloth touted the use of bio-asphalts to repair Duncan streets. The substance is cheaper and lasts longer than petroleum-based asphalt, he said.

* Schreckengost suggested a look into changing the current pension system for city employees and switching to a 401K plan, much like the Legislature is considering for state workers. He noted, but didn’t endorse for Duncan, that Edmond sold its city-owned utility system.

* Nelson said Duncan relies on its utility sales to run the city because its police and fire operations already exceeds its general revenues.

* Schneekloth said Duncan might consider discarding the city manager/council mode of government and switching to a strong mayor system.

* Schreckengost said the city should be more aggressive in advising its citizens how to conserve water, including public service announcements not to leave the faucet running while teeth brushing. “Every little bit helps,” he said.

* Nelson said his wife places a 5-gallon bucket in the shower with her so that she can recycle the water to use on her plants. Still, he said, “We’re not in a water crisis, but our infrastructure is in a crisis.”

* Schneekloth said developers should be required to plan parks when they build new subdivisions.

* Nelson said even if Duncan succeeded in persuading a company to build a manufacturing plant for 400 new workers, the city’s housing stock could not accommodate that large an influx.

* Schneekloth said the city should require licenses for residents’ dogs as a way to control animal overpopulation.

* “What bothers me now is the overpopulation of skunks,” Nelson responded.

* Speaking of his management and leadership experience, Schreckengost said of himself, “This dog will hunt!”

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