Reserves, arena top forum for county board

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 26, 2000

Somebody wasn’t watching the World Series Wednesday night.

Thursday, October 26, 2000

Somebody wasn’t watching the World Series Wednesday night.

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Quite a few somebodies, in fact.

They were the ones who peppered three candidates for the Mower County Board of Commissioners on KSMQ’s Candidates Forum.

Hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Austin Area, moderator and Q-TV general manager Jude Andrews fielded the call-in queries from concerned citizens.

Two issues dominated the hourlong forum: the county’s reserves and the multipurpose building, but the candidates also responded to questions about feedlots, flood control, term limits, 18th Avenue NW traffic concerns and more.

The stars of the show were Richard P. Cummings, who described himself as a "fiscal conservative," John O’Rourke, the former Austin mayor running for Cummings’ First District seat on the county board; and Ray Tucker, the unopposed incumbent representing the Second District.

There were no verbal fireworks as the trio of candidates engaged in fair-fighting with words.

On the question of the county’s reserves, some $32 million total with $24 million of that amount undesignated, the two incumbents held firm to the county board’s "sit-on-it" stand, while O’Rourke urged spending down the reserves.

Tucker said at one point, "I think it’s a lot better to be on the strong side and have too much than to be on the weak side."

Cummings said it would not be "fiscally responsible" for the county board to spend the reserves when it faces requests for 11.5 additional new county employees.

O’Rourke pounded away at this theme to spend down the reserves.

"You have at least $24 million in undesignated reserves," he said. "Why do you have to raise the levy by 17.5 percent?"

Cummings responded that the proposed 17.5 percent levy increase for 2001 comes after last year’s 14 percent levy decrease, "so the actual increase could be only a little over 3 percent."

On the subject of the interest income the county earns from investing its reserves, again the incumbents supported the status quo, both saying, in effect, the interest earned allows the county to place less dependence upon property taxes for funding programs and services.

O’Rourke said the county was ignoring an "opportunity to do great things" by protecting what he called the "mammoth reserves."

Tucker also said the county is forced to respond to growing diversity issues as more immigrants come to the area to work in Austin.

On the subject of the controversial multipurpose building at the Mower County Fairgrounds in southwest Austin, neither incumbent budged from their early stands on the issue.

Cummings and Tucker both opposed the project from the start. Last night, they reiterated the county will not spend any more money on the estimated $5.5 million project.

O’Rourke said, "I think the county is somewhat obligated to complete the job as long as they started it."

In their closing statements, Cummings stuck to his platform that 24 years as a county commissioner gives him an insight into county government.

O’Rourke promised the voters "new ideas, new methods, new leadership" and had the best line of the night. Speaking of the 24-year veteran county commissioner he is challenging, O’Rourke said, "I think he’s earned a nice rest."

Tucker said his first four-year term on the county board has made him "grateful" to be able to represent the Second District.