Questions on everything from water supplies and retaining law enforcement officers to how the city should handle homeless were fielded by Ripon City Council candidates during a forum.
Thursday’s forum at the council chambers attended by 30 residents was moderated by Mike Restuccia.
Questions also came from the citizens attending the forum. Ripon will elect three council members on Nov. 8.
The three incumbents are Mark Winchell, Jake Parks and Leo Zuber. Newcomers vying to replace them included longtime owner of the Barnwood Restaurant John Mangelos, former police officer Mark Gonzales – who was absent – and Daniel De Graaf, an agricultural and civil engineer.
Mangelos made a point favoring the city’s new water meters. “What the city has done with the meters is simply fabulous,” he said. “You can go on the city website and actually see your water usage.”
Winchell added that the city needs to work with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District on the use of ground water in the community.
Zuber pointed out that he hopes people will consider other forms of transportation than the car such as the ACE Train adding that once travelers get to their destinations there is also need for local transportation to finally get them to their job site. He questioned who would be paying for the further local transportation and said it could be another monetary challenge facing the commuters.
Mangelos responded, saying he felt the proposal for the ACE train to have a stop in Ripon is a “fabulous” idea for those in the city traveling to work in the Bay Area.
Responding to a question concerning the Ripon Police Department’s size and the recent loss of three officers transferring to other cities, Mangelos said the city needs to look at neighboring communities and see what they are offering in pay and benefits and study what the city can do to keep the officers in Ripon.
“We need to figure out what’s going on to draw them away,” he said.
Zuber countered, saying that Ripon has more officers now per every 10,000 citizens in the community than do nearby cities – creating more police coverage for the community on a daily basis.
Council candidates fielded a question on bringing more business into the city in the future with John Mangelos being the first to answer. He said the city needs to be a “helping hand” to new businesses and cut the fees that are currently charged and realize the value of sales tax charging operations.
He explained that businesses that collect sales taxes are the ones obviously bringing monies into the community and not just warehousing products for distribution. Winchell chimed in saying that high city fees actually keep new businesses from locating in Ripon.
“People want to move here because it is a good place to raise a family. We also need to encourage new businesses to go into the business district near the freeway,” he continued.
Zuber countered the use of “we” representing city fathers who, he said, can’t themselves change and improve the business community. He said it is the actual businesses that will change the business fabric in Ripon for the better.
Parks said the council has heard a lot from the businesses over the years and “we have to make sure we are flexible.”
De Graaf lauded the quality of life in Ripon saying it draws new business and citizens because of its small town values with Zuber calling for new affordable housing in the community.
“It’s really all the citizens that make our community great,” he added.
Asked what the biggest challenge to Ripon might be in the next three years, Zuber responded, “To continue to work towards a solid economic development and to get new business to move into town. We have to expand the business that comes,” he said.
Mangelos said a good example of profitable sales tax based business is Schemper’s (ACE) Hardware – a business that shares local values, he noted. “Our community started in 1917 with a Dutch immigration bringing wineries and almond orchards. We need to incorporate industry into the community that walks hand in hand with the farmers.”
Winchell warned of the 600 proposed homes now on the drawing board that will challenge city staffers as well as the school district that will be getting children from those homes.
Mangelos chided the use of consultants with high price tags that draw from the city’s general fund rather than allowing staff members to make their own assessments at a fraction of the cost to the city.
“I think the city staff could do the studies themselves and do them well,” he said.
Public Safety was an issue that drew some criticism from the candidates when asked to comment such as the purchase of a volume of police cars all at the same time. Parks said the problem comes when they are all replaced at the same time and the associated cash outlay at once. Parks said he recently went on a ride along with an officer and noticed the time needed for the in-car computers to boot up during his seven hours on the street.
Zuber noted that 57 percent of the city budget supports the police department. “It has to come from some place. I want a good police department but I also want a good town. We’re here to solve these problems,” he said.
Parks responded to a question about the need for street repair, saying that retirement and health care funds can’t be touched when the council is looking for monies to repair the degrading street in the community. Winchell said the city is like a little lost child when looking for street funding while comparing its needs to surrounding communities.
“We are losing road money very year,” Winchell said. “We are having a battle with the state for funds between public transit and streets and roads – we have to be creative. It can cost $1.5 million per mile and we have 18 miles of roads to fix totaling some $30 million. Our roads are in terrible shape.”
How the candidates might deal with the homeless problem was yet another question from the gathering adding that a homeless man who has sued the city of Manteca has moved to Ripon. For months he had been occupying the sidewalk near the front of the Manteca McDonalds on East Yosemite Avenue.
It was agreed that the city has to be careful in how they accommodate the homeless now coming into the city noting it’s difficult to just move them on down the road.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.