WILMINGTON — Four candidates are running for the three at-large positions on Wilmington council, which spends the city’s tax dollars and makes its policies.
Incumbent Republicans Randi Milburn and Mark McKay are two of those candidates, and Republican Linda Eichelberger and Democrat Kelsey Swindler make four.
The general election is scheduled for Nov. 3.
Eichelberger retired as the mayor’s executive assistant in 2004 after 23 years and three mayors. During that time, she aided several boards, departments and committees as well as helping the city prepare a budget and grant writing. Some of those grants helped establish the city’s taxi cab service and the homeless shelter.
She has lived in Wilmington since moving here in 1974.
Except for time away at college, Swindler has lived in Wilmington all of her life.
Swindler interned with former Mayor David Raizk for a year, which she said piqued her interest in local government.
A former Clinton Community fellow, she serves on the boards of Energize Clinton County and the Clinton County Trails Coalition board.
She works as the marketing and communications coordinator for Clinton Memorial Hospital Regional Health System.
McKay, who has lived in Wilmington for 39 years, is serving his 14th year on council. Before living in Wilmington, he lived around it in Clinton County as part of a farm family.
He and his wife own the local branch of Indoff Solutions, an office supplies and furniture business.
McKay serves on the board of directors of Main Street Wilmington, is a trustee of his church and sits on the Clinton County Regional Planning board. He is also a past board president of Murphy Theatre.
Milburn, a Wilmington native, is finishing her first term and second year on council.
She’s been involved in the Republican party since college at Lee University in Tennessee, where she served as president of the school’s college of Republicans. When she returned to Wilmington, she said she became a member of the Women’s Republican College.
Current at-large council member Marian Miller will take over as Fourth Ward’s representative next year.
On the issues
The News Journal asked each candidate for his or her stance on city finances, safety services and streets.
On finances, candidates were reminded that the city has spent down its carryover and were asked if they favored expanding revenue or cutting services.
“I think that it’s possible to have the best of both worlds,” said Milburn. “I am not for a tax increase. … (And) I don’t think we need to cut any of our city services.”
Milburn said she supports responsible budgeting, and she said the city should look into other avenues to raise revenues without taxing citizens more, and bring more business to the city.
“People are hurting,” she said. “You don’t bring businesses in by raising taxes.”
“I would favor letting the voters decide whether we should cut services or expand revenue,” McKay said. “It’s not council’s decision.”
McKay also said council will have to determine if there are other ways to create cost savings to forestall “the negative revenue pattern” it’s in, adding that it would take many employees to generate enough to offset “a million-dollar deficit every year.”
If it came to cutting services, he said it would be “real difficult to cut enough services to make up that kind of a shortfall without doing something dramatic.”
Swindler said she believes council needs to look closely at its expenditures, but also believes more funding is needed, a decision she said voters should make.
“If we see where we can be more frugal with our money, we owe that to our citizens,” she said. “On the other hand, I don’t think we can get where we need to go simply by cutting funding.”
She said the best way for the city to increase its revenue is to bring more business to Wilmington, which she said is the only way to grow a “sustainable” tax base.
Eichelberger said she would need to research the issue and see what funding levels are currently.
“I would like to see, first of all, a balanced budget,” Eichelberger said. “Our revenues are not meeting our expenditures. That has to be accomplished first.”
Eichelberger also said she’s for keeping city services funded as they are.
“I would have to do more research to see what the actual revenues the levies are bringing in,” she said. “And look at what council has authorized and is adequate for the departments.”
Streets’ status and funding
All four candidates agreed that city streets need improvement.
Eichelberger said, “City streets are in bad condition right now because money has not been put into those streets as” they used to, adding that either no money or very little has been put in until this year.
“Definitely streets is one area that needs more money,” she said.
“The city’s streets are in need of further repair and maintenance,” Swindler said, adding that council approved using carryover funds for street repair, but called it “a stopgap, not a solution.”
To address further repair, “We would need to address decreased revenue in the budget.”
“That’s something that we have focused on during my term on council,” Milburn said. “We’ve fixed quite a few streets. We need to continue to focus on fixing streets.”
She said the recession affected the city’s ability to fix streets and said, “We just need to continue to work on those and do what we can with the budget we have.”
“We’re about five years behind or more in maintenance of our streets,” McKay said. “Unfortunately, it all ties together with the fact that revenues have decreased for various reasons.
“There just really isn’t a good answer other than we need to increase revenues (for streets specifically) in some manner,” he said.
McKay believes the city has adequate police coverage and a good chief who manages resources well.
“We certainly would be happy to increase our police coverage first,” McKay said. “But we’ve not had, for example, bike patrol for several years, and I think that would be a great thing to reinstate.”
He also said the fire department and EMT staff could use more people.
“Many times the chief and the assistant chief have to go out on the EMT and fire runs, and that’s not a good situation,” he said. “We definitely need more fire personnel and EMT.”
He added that council needs to consider what is appropriate staffing in those departments.
“We obviously need to look at our fire department,” Milburn said. “That is a concern of mine. We need to make sure our fire department and police are adequately staffed. … That’s one of the primary concerns we need to focus on as well.”
Milburn said she hopes the increase in pay that council approved last year would help retain the talent they have.
“We need to make sure we meet the staffing requirements,” she said.
Eichelberger said she has not yet researched the city’s safety-related departments, something she hopes to do.
“I would first of all have to get into see what the staffing level is authorized by council,” she said, to find out how many people are employed and how many council has authorized to employ.
Swindler, too, said she doesn’t know enough about current staffing to determine whether it is adequate, but “I think that safety is such a critically important issue and I would never support a decision that would in any way make our city less safe,” she said.
Government and community
“I think local government is the most exciting and effective level of government,” Swindler said. “When you work in local government, you can actually see your money working for you” and see the impact it has on residents.
Swindler said all the city’s challenges “are simply opportunities,” and asked voters to keep in mind who they feel would be honest, accountable and proactive.
“Because at the end of the day, we’re all just people trying to do our very best” stewarding public resources.
“I would like to give back to the community,” Eichelberger said. “I want to make Wilmington a better place for my children and grandchildren.”
Eichelberger also said she believes she can help city council with all of her knowledge.
“I don’t feel like my mission is over … to do whatever I can to help the city and be a voice for people,” Milburn said.
“I’ve really enjoyed being on council for the previous two years,” Milburn said. “I feel like there’s a lot of good that we’ve done.”
“Seems like we’re always at critical crossroads, but at this point in time, we really are at a financial critical crossroads,” McKay said. “(And) there’s going to be some key positions under the administration that are going to be changing at the first of the year.”
Those positions, McKay said, are important to the city and need to be filled properly.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.