With three Junction City Commission positions open and three candidates running, there’s not much competition this year concerning who will make it onto the commission.

The race will determine which two candidates will win four-year terms and which one will have a two-year term.

The three candidates recently spoke on where they stand on important issues surrounding Junction City.

What are some of the budgeting issues facing the city, and how would you help to relieve them?

Jeff Underhill: “Continuing to pay down debt is a huge budget issue and will be for another four to six years before we are down to a level that a community our size should be at. However due to fiscal responsibility by city staff and decisions by the commissioners, we are moving forward rapidly. In the last four years we have been able to refinance some debt, all while improving our financial position, adding more money to our cash reserves and spending more money in our various previously neglected city departments, such as parks, street maintenance, police and fire.”

Ronna Larson: “I believe we are on the right track in managing and paying off our debt. We have a ways to go still, but we have been making the right decisions and getting the debt reduced.”

Matthew Bea: “With the responsible spending that we’ve done in the last couple years to get us out of the hole, I want to stay on track that way, and I don’t want to see anything going the opposite direction like we were 10 years ago.”

What is your opinion on the annexation of properties that the city provides services to?

Jeff Underhill: “If you live in the county but receive city services, you should be annexed. There are locations right on the edge of town that should be annexed into the city. If you back out of your driveway and are in the city, then you should be in the city limits. However, I am not in favor of annexing just to annex or clean up boundaries. We owe it to these homeowners to have a plan in place to ensure that the city services, such as water and sewer, are in place or soon to be in place.”

Ronna Larson: “Regarding annexation of properties, my vote is yes as long as it fits the criteria, we follow the law and process and we have a plan in place regarding city services to that area.”

Matthew Bea: “There should be a conversation held. As a commission, we need to be very open-minded on what needs to take place before we just start annexing properties. I believe that if somebody has a homestead on the property and they have like nine or 10 acres, we should be grandfathering things for that person’s property and not just putting them into a city type of mold. I think we have to look at each one case by case and evaluate with both parties and work with the person who owns the land. I personally don’t think it’s right to just come in and say that we are annexing their property, but at the same time, if they are using the city’s resources, then yes, we should probably make it part of the city. It has to be a case-by-case basis.”

Do you believe more funds should be allocated to any program or cause to improve the city?

Jeff Underhill: “We currently help fund a lot of programs and causes – Main Street and Military Affairs for example. I think these are important and we should keep supporting them as long as they remain viable. There are programs that we are putting in place or working towards, such as homeowner assistance for sidewalk repairs and tree-trimming. We’ve put a focus on alley maintenance and increased money into the blight department to help clean areas up.”

Ronna Larson: “One area that I think we need to focus on in the city is our Codes Department. Our city has outgrown this department, and there is a need to add more employees. There has been a lot of discussion around this topic and department during this past year. One way of improving it is to make it its own entity and department head and not have it under the Fire Department or any other department within the city. We need to have a department head that can focus strictly on this area. … We recently approved a new software system that will assist our blight personnel, but adding an administrative assistant position would assist in customer service, timely return on phone calls and paperwork, etc. During the candidate forum, I discussed an idea of possibly having a community/citizen advisory board to help bridge the gap of communication between the city department and the community. This would allow the community to have more of a voice, bring in suggestions and ideas of solutions and to have an outside review of policy and process to see what changes may need to be implemented.”

Matthew Bea: “I do think we can responsibly spend on some of the places that we have a need for like the Parks and Recreation area or the blight situations. Those areas are probably something that we need to look at very closely because both of those departments could actually help us bring more revenue into our city. … We’ve allocated more money to blight, so hopefully that will start putting out, enforcing things that have gone to the wayside and helping with codes. Youth programs should definitely be something we need to look at more. I think having more options for our youth in the city means that more families are tied to Junction City.”

What kinds of businesses would you like to see come to the city?

Jeff Underhill: “I think we have a tremendous opportunity in our community. With our access to I-70 and US-77, we are prime for logistical and warehousing opportunities. Additionally, with Fort Riley right next door, we have what most other communities don’t have, which is access to work force. The easy answer to this question is Texas Roadhouse and Chick-fil-A but the reality is that we need more high paying jobs so that people stay here and create the demand for retail and restaurants, and then the flashier named companies will come.”

Ronna Larson: “I would love to see a broad array of businesses come and remain in our community: large, small, unique, restaurants, home stores, etc. This will help our continued efforts in having our city grow, bring jobs and people to the area and to give us more opportunities to shop local. I look forward to what all comes with the effort of the Main Street Program.”

Matthew Bea: “We need more restaurants, because when you come into Junction City, there’s not really a gathering place for people, and for a community like Junction City, we have a lot of people who want to communicate with each other. We don’t have a meeting spot like they have in larger cities like Manhattan, where there are probably a dozen coffee shops where people can hang out at and have conversations where they can generalize ideas and get to know more people. Secondly, we need to have more kid-friendly options for families in this town.”

What are some ways that you will work to improve the city?

Jeff Underhill: “I think that we need to be good partners with our county officials and school board officials. I think some of the relationships have been strained, and we need to be actively working to correct that, because at the end of the day, everybody who works and lives here in Junction City and Geary County want this to be the best. Also, we have to keep working to get our departments caught up. When budgets were slashed during the financial crisis, we simply didn’t have the money to take care of firetrucks and ambulances, police cars, garbage trucks, roads, sidewalks, trees, parks or blights. Now we are moving forward and have to be responsible to get all of those departments up to the level that we expect. We have a lot of great, hard-working employees in our city, and we need to make sure they have everything they need to successfully do their jobs.”

Ronna Larson: “During the past two years I have spent a lot of time learning, listening and getting a better understanding of how the city works. I have taken the time to meet with different city departments to gain a better understanding of how they work and what support they may need from the commission and the community. … During my first term I have strived to do my best in supporting the community, the city departments and in voting on matters that keep us on the current plan of lowering our debt and working toward making our city the best it can be. We may not always agree on an issue, but I am always willing to have a seat at the table to discuss the issue at hand and find a solution.”

Matthew Bea: “One of the biggest concerns I see coming up is what we are going to do with the old high school building. We have a lot of great ideas, and I don’t want to see us wasting resources on either destroying it without doing anything with it or doing something that’s going to cost us more money. We have to make sure that we get everybody’s opinion and make the right decision, because I foresee that being the biggest next hurdle that we need to cross.”

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