The five Haviland city council candidates answered questions and offered opinions on Monday night during a candidate forum held at the Haviland Grade School. While a number of outspoken residents took the opportunity to address personal concerns, a civil panel of incumbents and council hopefuls spent most of the night agreeing with each other on a wide range of issues.
“When we’re finished we’ll have some refreshments and if there was something you wanted to ask a candidate but were hesitant to ask in front of the crowd, feel free to do that as long as you like,” said Mayor Robert Ellis, who served double duty as host and moderator. “Thank you for taking the time to show up and let’s get started.”
The opening statements reflected a civil and agreeable tone from all of the candidates that would define the nearly 90-minute forum attended by about 20 people.
“I don’t have any real problem with how the current council has been doing things,” said Matt Ballard. “I just want to be involved.”
Adrian Halverstadt’s opening statement also addressed the current council, which he later said has done a “good job.”
“I look forward to working collegially with the city council,” said Halverstadt. “[I want to] work together to see what we can do to ensure our future is a good one.”
The candidates were asked about their positions on a number of expected topics including the council’s previous choices on nitrate mitigation in city water supplies, stray dogs and cats, city beautification and business development.
Haviland resident and 1st Dist. County Commissioner John Unruh opened the Q&A with a question about a possible revamped mobile home ordinance and/or mobile home park.
“We had a mobile home move in just next to us and it’s turned into kind of a disaster,” said Unruh. “How would each of you feel about a segregated mobile home park just outside of town?”
Incumbent candidate and current city council president Dwight Smitherman addressed the question, noting that while some residents feel there should be an all out ban on mobile homes, there is an affordable housing shortage and the city should be willing to accommodate incoming residents.
“There isn’t a perfect solution. A mobile home park is fine until we start looking at the lot across from your home,” said Smitherman. “If we were going to build it outside of town, installing utilities would be expensive. We have been looking at tighter enforcement.”
Page 2 of 3 - Vic Hannan, a local property owner who owns a number of buildings on Main Street asked why the current mobile home ordinances are not being enforced.
“It is being enforced, but it is a very lenient code,” answered Smitherman. “Right now, if you tie it down and take the hitch off you are probably OK. We are looking at a more stringent ordinance.”
Ballard said he would be against a citywide ban on mobile homes, noting that his family lived in a trailer before they purchased their home.
“I do think a mobile home park is a good idea if you can find the right place for it,” said Ballard. “There is a stigma against living in a trailer house for some reason, but you have to start somewhere. It is a good form of cheap housing that should be available.”
City officials previously decided to implement an individual home-based water filtration plan, as opposed to a water treatment plant to regulate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated nitrate levels.
All of the candidates felt it was the right fiscal choice for the city.
“They definitely made the right decision,” said Adam Weseloh. “For a community this small to have spent that amount of money [on a new citywide filtering system] wouldn’t have made sense.”
Incumbent Kay Unruh voiced her support for the reverse osmosis (RO) systems, noting they made the most fiscal sense.
“Less than ten percent of water in the home is actually consumed, the rest is used in restrooms and washing machines and [other things]. To me it was fiscally irresponsible to put in a multi-million dollar system that would filter all of our water and would require us to put in additional [facilities],” she said. “It would have put an added tax burden on the people in Haviland; it was a logical solution. For [the city council] it was a responsible decision and I still stand behind it.”
Current city councilman Steve Larsh asked about the candidate’s opinions on city beatification.
“I know there is more that can be done,” he said. “I am interested in hearing your vision on how we can make Haviland a pretty place.”
Smitherman said the current city council was working towards adding a line item that would fund city beautification annually.
“I would have to look at the budget to see if it worked,” said Weseloh “I think we should also look at more volunteering. It’s amazing how a group of people can make that much of a difference in a couple of days.”
Page 3 of 3 - All of the candidates praised the volunteer work done by students at Barclay College, who spend three days a year painting houses and cleaning lots in the city.
Nearly all of them favored some type of increase in volunteer work.
“People are donating their time and their skills and talents towards these projects,” said Unruh. “That is what makes our community great. When everyone pitches in and does things like that, those are the things that are going to make a difference.”
One resident asked how the city council could bring more jobs to Haviland.
“A lot of the county time is spent trying to address the unique needs of Greensburg and I don’t think the County Chamber of Commerce has the resources to address the diverse needs of the entire county,” said Halverstadt, who serves on the Kiowa County Chamber of Commerce board. “I would be in favor of Haviland taking more responsibility. Let’s acknowledge that we are different. We can work together, we can work with the Chamber of Commerce, but let’s be more intentional and specific towards what Haviland’s needs are.”
Candidates also addressed the issues of code enforcement and discussed stray cats and dogs before eating cookies, drinking coffee and mingling with residents.
“I can work with any one of these five people,” said Ellis at the start of the debate. “They are all good people.”