Candidates Positions on Branson TIFs – Wages – Strengths and Weaknesses

This is the second in a three part series of articles leading up to the Apr. 2 Branson Municipal Election. Each contains the unedited responses of the candidates for mayor and alderman to questions submitted to them via email. The Mar. 31 edition will cover questions on “Qualifications – Transparency.” The first, entitled, “Candidates Positions on Shows and Branson in Ten Years” is available on line at www.BransonRegister.Com.

While realizing our approach is a little different than others, our goal is to try to limit the political rhetoric and give the voters information, in a concise format, that they can use to make a decision when they go to vote on April 2. That’s why the format, for many questions, first asks for a one or two word answer. Each of these has a related follow-up question providing for a more expansive answer.

Because the mayor and aldermen all deal with the same issues, all candidates, mayor and aldermen, were asked the same questions. For comparison purposes, the questions are published with all the responses for each, sorted by office, and candidate filing date and time within that office. For any question, if there is no response, the words “No Response” follows the candidates name for that question.*

What one or two words best describes how you feel about the use of TIFs (Tax Increment Financing?)

Karen Best (Mayor)  Potentially Useful
Ray Easton (Mayor)  Non-Responsive
Edd Akers (Mayor)  Case-by-case
Marshall Howden (Ward I Alderman)  Limited
Bob Simmons (Ward I Alderman)  Benefit citizens
Larry Milton (Ward II Alderman)  When appropriate
Brian Clonts (Ward III-1 Year Term)  Approach cautiously.
Janet Rackley (Ward III-1 Year Term)  Concerned
Kevin McConnell (Ward III-2 Year Term)  Effective but Limited
Ruth Denham (Ward III-2 Year Term)  Neutral

Describe what would be the most important thing to you in deciding whether or not a TIF should be granted in any given case?

Karen Best (Mayor)  For me, an acceptable TIF should be beneficial for stakeholders – citizens, school districts, taxing entities, and businesses. The TIF Commission is made up of representatives from stakeholders who vet the project to make sure it is beneficial for their entity. If the project provides acceptable new tax revenues that would not happen without the project, the TIF could be deemed an appropriate tool for cities to use for economic development.
Ray Easton (Mayor)  The way it fits into Bransons creating jobs, and attracting all ages
Edd Akers (Mayor)  We have to evaluate every TIF individually to determine if it is good for Branson on a case-by-case basis. Some of the most important factors are: does it address one of our high priority needs, is it right-sized for our community, and will there be any unintended consequences from its creation. Robbing Peter to pay Paul does not benefit our community in the long run. Creating more competition in already highly competitive industries does not benefit our community. No two TIFs are the same.
Marshall Howden (Ward I Alderman)  How many TIF projects we already have, the more they stack up on our community the more our tax base and school district are affected.
Bob Simmons (Ward I Alderman)  The value of the TIF to the citizens weighed against the risk to the citizens.  The return to the school system and the other taxing entities.  The likely success of the project.
Larry Milton (Ward II Alderman).. BIG Question: Will the new project draw new visitors to Branson and increase our tax base? If so, the benefit of increased revenues from the new project AND existing businesses may make economic sense.
Brian Clonts (Ward III-1 Year Term).  Does the project make sense in the scope of the current economic climate and will it bring about long-term employment at a living wage?  Will the project positively impact the economy of Branson, without negatively impacting other businesses in the community?
Janet Rackley (Ward III-1 Year Term)  Will the project bring in revenue over time. Possible viability of project.
Kevin McConnell (Ward III-2 Year Term)  Each TIF request is unique, but Community involvement in the process is crucial.  Having said that, I think we need to be careful about casting wide nets of what would and would not be acceptable.  We want to encourage development and investment at every turn, provided it is equitable for our City and Residents.
Ruth Denham (Ward III-2 Year Term)  TIFs are but one economic development tool in the toolbox of growth. Cost benefit analysis should be the focus. We must ask what we (Branson Citizens) are trying to accomplish, and are we going to realistically receive the best return on the investment. What are our goals?

What one or two words describes the ability of a single wage earner in one of Branson’s tourist based businesses to support a family of two adults and two children based on the average wage paid by Branson’s tourism based businesses?

Karen Best (Mayor)  Extremely Challenging
Ray Easton (Mayor)  Difficult
Edd Akers (Mayor)  Seriously inadequate
Marshall Howden (Ward I Alderman)  Extremely Difficult
Bob Simmons (Ward I Alderman)  Difficult
Larry Milton (Ward II Alderman).. IMPOSSIBLE!
Brian Clonts (Ward III-1 Year Term)  Difficult
Janet Rackley (Ward III-1 Year Term)  Extremely difficult
Kevin McConnell (Ward III-2 Year Term)  Nearly Impossible.
Ruth Denham (Ward III-2 Year Term)  No Response.

What do you see as Branson’s number one challenge over the next two years?

Karen Best (Mayor)  Public Safety
Ray Easton (Mayor)  How the city is marketed.  All youth venues will shorten the season to when school is not in session
Edd Akers (Mayor)  Uniting our community around a common mission and vision, focusing on what is most important and taking action to improve and grow.
Marshall Howden (Ward I Alderman)  To revive highway 76.
Bob Simmons (Ward I Alderman)  I see the 76 project as crucial to the future health of our economy.
Larry Milton (Ward II Alderman)  Hwy 76 project
Brian Clonts (Ward III-1 Year Term)  Finding employees to staff job openings as more entertainment and dining venues open in the area.  Additionally, finding staff members to meet the growing health care demands of the area is already problematic.
Janet Rackley (Ward III-1 Year Term)  Living wages.
Kevin McConnell (Ward III-2 Year Term)  Safety of Residents and Visitor’s.
Ruth Denham (Ward III-2 Year Term)  Economic Development

What are your specific plans to meet that challenge?

 Karen Best (Mayor)  We have made many great changes recently to increase public safety. We must continue to increase police and fire protection and decrease call times. In addition, we must continue to be vigilant in providing our citizens and visitors a safe place to live and stay. We started this process by closing 13 extended stay properties and not allowing them to reopen until they are safe and can pass all building, fire, and health codes. In addition, we must continue fighting at the federal level for assistance in dealing with opioid epidemic. We must continue to help those fighting addiction and provide an exit strategy to their home community if they fail a local treatment program. According to a local drug treatment facility, their success rate was 15%. I continue to be concerned about the 85% who fail the program and are left with no home, job, or income. We must do a better job with the 85% who are unsuccessful in the program.
Ray Easton (Mayor)  Marketing the city.  Nightlife like the “George Jones” in Nashville.  Attracting young performers like Mo Pitney.
Edd Akers (Mayor)  I want to revisit the City of Branson’s 2030 Plan. A careful review and update is overdue and this plan should be driving our agenda. We need to spend every tax dollar with the utmost of care, frugality and total accountability and transparency. I will surround myself with the smartest and most talented people possible in order to solve our extended stay issue, panhandling, abandoned/neglected properties and other unsightly situations that are damaging the image of our community. We need to constantly work toward growing visitation and a year-round economy that will help our citizens prosper. A Business Ombudsman at City Hall will make it easier for new and existing businesses to grow in business-friendly Branson.
Marshall Howden (Ward I Alderman)  A specific vision. Branson is full of creative people and we can certainly initiate beautification efforts on Highway 76 without millions of dollars wasted on promises unfulfilled.
Bob Simmons (Ward I Alderman)  I currently sit on the Community Improvement District Board and can help in completing the expansion of the district to put proper funding in place to resume the project and provide for future maintenance.  Prior problems on the project have been addressed and additional controls put in place to prevent a recurrence so we need to resume design, then construction with the proper funding and oversight.
Larry Milton (Ward II Alderman)  I have concerns that the Hwy 76 project may put our City at risk financially.
Brian Clonts (Ward III-1 Year Term)  We need to partner with local educational organizations to develop an adequate talent pool for occupations that require higher levels of training.  Continued partnership with organizations that outsource for labor to fulfill the needs in the service industries is already an ongoing effort and will need to be enhanced and grown.
Janet Rackley (Ward III-1 Year Term)  With a continued shortage of workers, wages will have to increase in order to attract good workers that will stay with a job.
Kevin McConnell (Ward III-2 Year Term)  Ensure we utilize Safety Sales Tax Dollars in the most effective way.
Ruth Denham (Ward III-2 Year Term)  If we are not growing, we are dying. Healthy growth is the sign of a healthy community. There were some unfortunate choices made by past city employees who are no longer employed with the city. With that in the past, I see Branson’s future path as very positive.

What do you think Branson’s greatest strength is?

Karen Best (Mayor)  Branson’s greatest strengths are our people, our culture and our values.
Ray Easton (Mayor)  The strength is families and music
Edd Akers (Mayor)  Our people and our values. Family, faith, friendliness, freedom and the beauty of nature are much of what makes Branson, Branson.
Marshall Howden (Ward I Alderman)  Traditional Values
Bob Simmons (Ward I Alderman)  Branson offers a unique blend of natural beauty and citizens who are determined to maintain our culture.  That is the foundation for the wonderful family entertainment, attractions, shopping and lake activities that make it a wonderful place to visit, work and live.
Larry Milton (Ward II Alderman)  Our residents.
Brian Clonts (Ward III-1 Year Term)  The natural beauty of the area and the friendly population.
Janet Rackley (Ward III-1 Year Term)  It’s history.
Kevin McConnell (Ward III-2 Year Term)  Our appreciation of Christian values and Veterans who have served our Nation.
Ruth Denham (Ward III-2 Year Term)  I feel that Branson’s greatest strength is its uniqueness. We are a diverse culture made up of citizens, businesses and visitors who are ALL needed to make Branson’s economy work and succeed.

 What do you think Branson’s greatest weakness is?

Karen Best (Mayor)  Branson’s greatest weaknesses are the lack of high wage full-time year-round employment, affordable housing, sub-par housing, and the opioid epidemic.
Ray Easton (Mayor)  Drugs out of control.  Homelessness.  I will attack both vigorously.
Edd Akers (Mayor)  Vision and the confidence to build the future we want for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.
Marshall Howden (Ward I Alderman)  Conflict of interest in city government.
Bob Simmons (Ward I Alderman)  Branson is a tourism dominated economy which is great but also presents great challenges to maintain quality of life for all of our citizens and that is complicated by the same addiction problems that most communities are facing today.
Larry Milton (Ward II Alderman)  Businesses not being in a financially healthy position to pay its employees a living wage.
Brian Clonts (Ward III-1 Year Term)  The lack of a deeper pool of potential employees and the lack of easily accessible, structured programs in the area to train this cadre.
Janet Rackley (Ward III-1 Year Term)  Need, for full time employment and a living wage.
Kevin McConnell (Ward III-2 Year Term)  Economic challenges consistent with a Tourist destination.
Ruth Denham (Ward III-2 Year Term)  I feel that Branson’s greatest weakness is the lack of a fair playing field. I am not a respecter of persons. Competition must be fair. It is imperative that out codes are enforced, straight across the board. There are times when a specific request cannot be met, due to perhaps the lay of the land, or new technology. Our Board of Adjustment is available for situations such as these. And if the case presents itself, sometimes it’s time for an ordinance amendment. When the amendment is adopted, fairness is pertinent. Keep the playing field equal!

* Even though his name will be on the ballot, Lucas Case, Candidate for Ward II Alderman, has withdrawn from the election. He was sent a questionnaire and did not respond.