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Healdsburg Candidates Joust on Pensions, Businesses, Foss Creek 1-Way

6 City Council candidates for 3 seats speak at League of Women Voters forum.

NOTE: This story was updated at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.

Six candidates for three seats on Healdsburg City Council said they would nurture small businesses, create more affordable housing, cut the budget and reduce pension debt if elected by voters on Nov. 6.

"We've done a lot to help businesses," said Healdsburg one of two incumbents running for re-election along with Councilman pointing to an expansion by engineering firm General Dynamics and the recruitment of high-tech firm Métier.

"Our motto now is, 'How do we get to 'yes'?'" Plass said.

Plass, Chambers and challengers Dennis Brown, Tim Meinken, Vern Simmons and Shaun McCaffery appeared before about 60 people at a 90-minute candidates' forum run by the local League of Women Voters at The Healdsburg School.

Simmons, who was not present in person due to a prior commitment, had his opening statement read by moderator Dee Dee Bridges of the League of Women Voters.

Students in teacher Corey Paulson's eighth grade class at The Healdsburg School studied city issues and helped write the questions for the candidates.

"I loved having the kids involved," said Carla Howell, interim executive director of the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce. "It's a great opportunity for them to get a civics lesson."

Besides addressing ways to upgrade services for existing and new businesses, candidates addressed issues ranging from the city's $26 million in unfunded employee pension liability to its efforts to become bicycle friendly, to the new one-way street at Foss Creek Circle to Measure V, a proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot to increase city sales taxes a half-cent from 8 percent to 8.5 percent.

"I think it will impact tourism," said Meinken, the only one of the six candidates to oppose the sales tax increase. "And for car dealers in town, it will have a very big impact -- I think it will drive customers to Santa Rosa, because it could mean an extra couple hundred dollars [per car purchase]."

Other candidates disagreed.

"It's not going to have a great deal of impact on small businesses," Chambers said. "More than 50 percent of the revenue from the tax will come from tourists, and the city will be able to leverage the money that comes in to help improve our roads and sidewalks."

Meinken, who runs a local wine industry business, also said he opposes the clockwise direction for the Foss Creek Circle one-way and that the city should make it counter-clockwise.

"For the $10,000 they spent to have a crew out there with signs on the first day, they could arrange with Silver Oak Winery when they have a truck come in with a delivery, to stop traffic and let the truck back up into the loading dock," he said.

Other candidates disagreed, saying the clockwise one-way was working fine.

"People are getting used to it," said Plass, who has a real estate office on Foss Creek Circle.

Candidates also took issue with each other on the best way to erase Healdsburg's $26 million in unfunded pension liability -- or the amount the city would need to pay contracted pension benefits to all past and current employees for the rest of their lives.

"I think it's the number one problem the city has," Meinken said. "We're not going to be able to do anything else unless we look at it."

He added that the two-tier pension systems "don't work," according to his research. Meinken said he would support increased efforts to generate more revenue as a way to pay off the unfunded liability.

Brown said he thought the two-tiered system was "a first necessary step" but he said it wasn't enough. He said he would support either moving up the retirement age or making the benefits payouts "graduated so you're not getting 100 percent of your pension on the first day," he said.

Chambers said he has worked hard with the rest of council to get the two-tier system in place, to cut the budget and refinance pension "side fund" debt.

"It's a complicated situations," Chambers said, adding that the city needs to do a "compensation study" to see if salaries are in line with current markets.

Under the new second tier, new public safety hires would be eligible to retire at age 50 with 2 percent of the average of their three highest year salaries multiplied by the number of years of service. Miscellaneous employees are eligible to receive 2 percent at age 60.

But the most entertaining part of the night came after Bridges asked the question, "Do you support broadbanding?"

Four of the six candidates launched into responses about wi-fi, Comcast and how to upgrade public Internet connections in Healdsburg. That was until it got to Plass, who said, "What kind of broadbanding are you talking about -- electronics or jobs?"

It turned out that the The Healdsburg School kids were asking about broadbanding in jobs, where an employer trains workers in more than one field so that if another worker leaves, there are people ready to shift over and fill in.

Plass said the city supported broadbanding in that way and was already doing it

When it came to McCaffery, however, the last person to answer the question, he hedged all bets.

"I support broadbanding in both senses of the word," he said, drawing a big laugh from the crowd.

Monday, Oct. 22 is the last day to register to vote.

For more information on all the races in the Nov. 6 elections, or to find your polling place, see the League of Women Voters website at www.smartvoter.org.

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zoe moire October 11, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Uhm . . . Did someone read an earlier comment about us not purchasing cars in H- any longer with sales tax upping? Big ticket items ..... yeah.
Kent Pricer October 11, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Yeah, Foss Creek Circle one way is working just great. Three times now I've had to dodge a vehicle coming the wrong way after leaving the post office.
Barry Rodgers October 11, 2012 at 06:50 PM
The 2 incumbents both are retired, working other businesses and receiving hi pensions. Having them on the city council is like having a fox in the chicken coop!
Keri Brenner (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Hi Barry: Thanks for your note. I may be wrong about this, but incumbent Tom Chambers is not retired, and I don't think he's collecting a public pension, since he works in the private sector and is currently still working, as far as I know. If this is incorrect, someone please correct me.
Janice Torres October 11, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Tom Chambers is indeed employed in the private sector and I'm pretty sure he has never been employed by a public entity. The other council members who are receiving public pensions aside from Mr. Plass are Ms. Jones and Mr. Babb.

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