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KINGSBURG – Organizers of the Oct. 16 town hall that featured the six candidates running for City Council hope those in attendance come away more prepared to make a decision during the Nov. 6 General Election.

The Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce hosted the town hall at the Kingsburg Senior Center and Chamber Board President Jason Poynor served as the moderator.

“I got to meet the candidates and hear a lot of great feedback from the community in what they’re looking for in a councilman or councilwoman,” he said. “I think the whole turn out went well. It was our first time doing a live Facebook feed. We had a lot of comments and questions come through.”

Chamber Director Kaitlyn Castaneda agreed that since the Chamber’s goal is give the community a chance to learn who is running, she too is pleased with the attendance and the questions.

“They get to learn about their positions and where they stand on things. I thought it was really informative.”

Poynor said the session allows residents to meet the candidates in person and get to know them on a more personal level.

“I just hope they see their candidates for who they are and how real they can be. I think the Q and A is a fantastic avenue to take since it’s not a rehearsed answer. Usually, your first response is how you truly feel. I truly think whomever gets elected will do great things in the community.”

Kingsburg recently moved to voting by district, thus the candidates are running to represent the area of town in which they live.

In District 1, the candidates are Jewel Hurtado, incumbent Staci Smith and Nathan Williams. In District 5, it’s Melissa Bethel, Vince Palomar and Sirina Resendez seeking a seat. Only residents who reside in their district may vote for one of these candidates.

Mayor Michelle Roman’s seat was also up for election, but no one filed to run against her and she’s already been reappointed.

The candidates started off answering an introductory question about why they’re running in the first place.

District 1 candidate Hurtado said she was hoping to represent the area in which she grew up and has wanted to serve the public since high school and joined the Associated Student Body.

“Coming out of high school, I realized there’s so much more than to this than just being proud of your town,” she said of the research she does to keep abreast of city issues. “I want to see representation from this side of town I came from and grew up in.”

Smith said her goal in seeking to keep her seat is to keep up the town’s quality of life and continue listening to the citizens.

“When I was elected to the City Council four years ago, my goal was maintain the charming qualities we all enjoy. I did this by listening to what you want.” Smith said she’s listened to residents’ concerns about safety, business growth and building more green space for families.

“For two years we’ve working to come up with a safety tax that was put on the ballot and passed as Measure E. It will bring in more than $900,000 each year and will be spent on police and fire [departments] so they can have better equipment to do their jobs and keep our families safe.”

Smith said she’d also keep working on Economic Development Committees to promote incentives that draw businesses to town and building parks for families.

Williams said he’s running so he can use his financial prioritizing skills from his career to help the town grow and prosper.

“The reason I’m running is simply because Kingsburg is my home and I want to maintain and develop our home to what we know and love.”

District 5 candidates, meanwhile, say their community involvement is spurring them on to do more.

Bethel said after living in town for more than 26 years and raising her children here, she’s already been involved with a variety of sports teams and she’s served on the Community Services Commission for several years. She’s served as that Commission’s chair since 2008 and has been involved in numerous public park projects.

“I look forward to representing District 5. It’s not my voice; it is the citizens’ voice. That’s what I’m here for.”

Palomar said he’d like to put his long-time coaching experience to work to serve the town. Born and raised in Kingsburg, Palomar has coached thousands of children in wrestling, football, soccer, baseball and softball. He’s also involved with the Dala Horse Trot, teaches youth Bible study and is involved with an adult Bible study group.

“I feel the opportunity to making a bigger difference in Kingsburg and District 5. I love this town and would consider it an honor and privilege to serve this community.”

Resendez, a mental health social worker, said she’s eager to represent her area of town and bring more diversity to the Council especially since the town’s Hispanic population is increasing.

“I believe people like me need a voice. The voices of minority populations, especially the vulnerable, need to be heard.”

The next question delved into what their primary goal for their first year would be on the Council if they were elected.

Smith said safety is one her highest goals, as is making sure the promises made regarding Measure E’s funds are kept. Measure E is a one percent sales tax that went into effect Oct. 1.

“We’ve already hired two police officers and we’re working on hiring three more firefighters and purchasing an engine that will be here early next year,” she said of those funds.

Williams agreed public safety is a high priority in town and wants to see the second fire station in town staffed.

“The [police] chief is working to bring us to three officers on every shift. We’re moving to 2-0 staffing, which is two firefighters on the fire truck which is vitally important. I think the missing piece to that is staffing our second fire station. This is something I believe we can do without initial costs as ambulances generate funds for the city. We already have the station built; we just need the staff in there.”

Hurtado said she’d keep working on building communication between residents and the Council.

“My primary goal would be to bridge that gap between City Council and its constituents. Every neighbor should feel like their voices are not only being heard, but respected. This includes involving our young people and by revamping our youth council, we’ll inspire our children by teaching the importance of community service and helping them stay out of trouble.”

Bethel said she sees improvements that need to be made in her area of town and will get input from her neighbors as to what they feel needs changing as well.

“My primary goal is to have an open ear and listen to the people that surround my neighborhood, because it’s not about me, it’s about the people. Some of the things I see, as a parent and a citizen, I’d really like to focus on safety.”

Palomar said he’d like to get the ball rolling on building a regional sports complex since there’s so many youth involved in sports in town. Aside from showcasing the talented youth, a complex would also bring more funds into town.

“A complex would bring revenue to Kingsburg through softball, soccer and baseball tournaments. Teams pay entry fees. A good snack bar will bring revenue. Teens and families will eat at our restaurants. Valley teams will stay at our hotel and motels. People would shop at our businesses. Our youth deserve a sports complex and it will bring a lot of revenue to Kingsburg.”

Resendez said she’d focus on revitalization and would like to see a community recreation center built with after-school programs.

“Right now, it costs $140 per month per child to attend the after-school program. I have three young children and we cannot afford that even with my full-time and my husband’s full-time jobs. In my district, this is not feasible for parents who are struggling to make ends meet. I see the needs of District 5 residents and I’ll make every effort to address and make changes and better serve our community overall.”

Candidates went on to answer questions about other issues facing the community and answers ran the gamut from having City Council meetings live streamed to improve communication, bringing a big box store back to town to increase general fund revenues, tackling crime, maintaining conservative family values and supporting business growth.

When asked what Kingsburg’s biggest assets are, the candidates focused primarily on the people who live there and touched on how involved community members are in numerous arenas from academics, sports and faith organizations. Others touted Kingsburg’s agriculture base, close-knit community and volunteerism.

“We do have room to grow, Bethel said. “We have a community that still wants to get involved.”

Hurtado touched on the town’s proximity to Highway 99 and how they should take more advantage of the commuters traveling through the area.

“Being located right off the freeway, we’re accessible to travelers giving local businesses an opportunity our magic and thrive economically.”

Candidates also answered questions about improving Kingsburg’s quality of life. Most want to sustain what they believe is already a good community, but see areas of improvement such as beefing up security through police staffing. Others saw a need to help the town’s community stay active in positive activities.

“I want to put more towards our future. We have young families and children. We need to do more after-school programs for all ages and we need more outdoor activities. We need to keep our youth engaged. That would give us an even brighter future,” Bethel said.

Resendez said she’d focus on improving amenities on Heritage Park that lacked water fountains, restrooms, electricity and tables.

“In these times, people need a welcoming place for leisure and relaxation for the stresses of everyday life. We also need to make sure Measure E funds are distributed fairly to the areas with more needs.”

Smith said she’d continue to working with Council to hold business owners responsible to get their structures repaired. Some sites have sat abandoned for years and thus are not drawing customers to the Downtown and other areas.

“There are other properties in town that have recently sold or are in escrow and we’re waiting for those to be rebuilt bringing new life to our Downtown. These buildings will provide much-needed space for businesses that want to open up here in Kingsburg,” she said.

The Chamber also took questions from residents watching online and in the audience. They were quizzed about how they draw more visitors to the Downtown area, what programs could be initiated for youth interested in the arts, what they’d do with a $1 million grant and how they’d bring a big-box store back to town to revive the economy.

Overall, Castaneda said she feels voting is an important civic duty and hopes residents head out on Nov. 6 better armed to make an informed decision. She recalls turning 18 on Election Day and said it was such a priority for her she was in the booth voting for the first time.

“These people represent our community and town. They’re ultimately the ones who’ll be putting in parks for us and finding the funds for different items. It’s important to vote because they represent you.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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