City government transparency, traffic and safety issues continue to be at the forefront of political conversations in Roswell this election season.
During a city council debate Tuesday, candidates for posts 1, 2 and 3 came together to answer questions about themselves, their goals and their campaigns. Questions ranged in topic from development to historical assets, but government transparency and transportation issues continued to take over much of the evening.
Post 1 candidates Don Horton and Marcelo Zapata were asked questions about Roswell's historical assets, development, traffic and balancing tax bases.
Both candidates gave ideas on how to re-envision the city's historical assets and how to connect the historic district with the Chattahoochee River. Horton said the city needs its own department with its own staff for the historical assets.
"It would be great if we had a single organization that managed all of those assets so that there was a coordinated effort from the river all the way up to Norcross Street in marketing those particular assets," Horton said.
Zapata also brought up the city's historic houses and cemeteries, saying that the city needs to find different uses for all of them.
"We have all these historic homes that definitely need to be taken more investment, be more creative of how we're going to use...those historic homes," Zapata said.
Horton and Zapata also discussed balancing the tax base. The current tax base weighs a majority on the residents — 73% of taxes are on residents and 27% on commercial businesses. Horton said the city needs places to put businesses in order to attract them and change the balance. He also suggested redeveloping “some of the underutilized shopping malls and strip malls.”
"It may mean that city hall is going to have to purchase some of those properties so that we can take control of redevelopment," Horton said. "But I think they only way we're going to get new businesses in here to change the tax base is by providing space for new businesses to come in."
"We are so heavy on residential tax base that now it doesn't allow us to give a better tax credit or tax exempt for 65+ (year old) residents of Roswell," Zapata said. "I've been talking for four years about getting more economic development, getting tough on economic development and going in search of these developers who specialize in destination places."
Post 2 candidates Mike Palermo and Geoff Smith were asked questions about pedestrian/bike safety and their investment priorities for the city.
Palermo said that pedestrian safety is crucial and that he is a big advocate for multi-modal paths.
"We need to create so many more opportunities all throughout the city where you cross two lanes, you have that safe pedestrian refugee area and then two lanes," Palermo said. "It's safer with a stroller, with a dog, with your loved ones."
Smith also brought up filling in sidewalks and ensuring connectivity through the city, but said the biggest problem is that the city does not have the funds.
"The Roswell loop is something I'm very passionate about and I think is a really great idea that we have," Smith said. "We just don't have the money to fund it right now...we have to increase our tax base... if we have more dollars to play with we can promote this cool stuff in and connect to these different places so people don't have to get in their cars and drive somewhere."
The candidates were also asked about their top infrastructure investment priorities for the city an how they plan to generate funds. Palermo said his priority is making sure Roswell has a vibrant community, which includes ensuring Roswell's connectivity, filling in sidewalk gaps and keeping the balance of improving pedestrian safety and reducing vehicle traffic.
"We need to continue to push and make sure we get that funding," Palermo said.
Smith said that his plan is to create a community improvement district along Highway 9 and the Holcomb Bridge Corridor. According to Smith, a community improvement district is where all the community property owners pay an added tax every year, and at the end of the year the owners decide how the funds are spent.
"I believe we can do that in the Holcomb Bridge Corridor," Smith said. "We can use those funds to improve the infrastructure there, to improve the landscaping...to start using those funds to give some personality and some color to the Holcomb Bridge Corridor, which will increase property values and drive revenue."
Post 3 candidates Keith Goeke, Christine Hall and Kay Howell brought up city transparency and transportation issues. Candidate Lisa Holland was unable to attend the debate due to a prior commitment.
The three candidates in attendance called for bringing written transcriptions back as a way to improve city transparency.
"For city governments to have a positive and successful relationship with its citizens, trust and transparency are crucial building blocks," Goeke said. "Without such, you get citizen disengagement and voter apathy, which can only have a negative impact on the city. Residents need to feel like their voices are being heard and not ignored."
Goeke also said that he wants mayor and council votes to be visible and searchable by citizens, a pledge to keep meetings open and avoiding decisions behind closed doors, disclosing donations on related votes, and that mayor and council host city council sessions in east Roswell throughout the year.
Hall called for work sessions and meetings to be earlier in the day so that more residents can attend.
"Also the ability to ask questions during those meetings, or just limiting to the end of the meeting a short 15 minute session where the residents can ask questions," Hall said.
Howell also wants to bring Town Hall to Roswell "so people can have input and let people know on the council." Town Hall is a way to contact government officials through Facebook and improve citizen interaction.
"I think that anytime you have your citizens in a democracy involved with your decisions, that's the best thing you can get for the city," Howell said. "Bringing written notes back allows people to search and do research on the city."
As far as transportation, candidates spoke about the Historic Gateway Project and fixing the reversible lanes from Highway 9 to the square and improving traffic flow in the area.
Goeke said that the city needs a citizen transportation commission to voice the needs and concerns of the community.
"Currently (Roswell Department of Transportation) are more focused on moving Cobb County and other neighboring commuters through Roswell at the expense of our quality of life, our business and economic development," Goeke said. "Improvements are needed."
Hall said that she sees the win in the safety factor of the project and said that she attended the initial project meeting in 2009.
"It's a nice looking project but we need to go on a little bit of a road diet with it," Hall said, "We need to look at the roundabouts and see if we can make them a little bit smaller."
Howell said her first priority is safety, but also wants to keep the treeline and go back and look at some of the old designs.
"I think we should make sure that we're keeping the community involved, keep the trees as a highway into Roswell and be sure to put safety as the first condition," Howell said.
The last day for citizens to register and be eligible to vote in the 2019 general election is Oct. 7. Early voting begins Oct. 15, with Election Day falling on Nov. 5.