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KEARNEY — First Ward voters in Kearney will have three candidates to choose from this April. Those seeking election to the two-year term are incumbent Kathy Barger and challengers Gabe Coffelt and Jason Pierret. At 18 and a high school senior, Coffelt is the youngest candidate to file for Kearney office.

Each candidate was given a questionnaire about city issues and asked to limit responses to 50 words per answer. Answers are published in alphabetical order of candidate last name. Candidates also were given the opportunity to expand upon their answers in video clips for the digital version of this story. The clips attached are some of the most elaborative answers they provided.  

What is the biggest issue facing Kearney, and how, if elected, would you work to resolve it?

Barger: “Funding everything the city needs and citizens want is Kearney’s biggest issue. Working to pass the use tax is the first step. Next is responsibly managing the inevitable economic development for the community. Supporting good commercial development relieves some of the tax burden of citizens.”

Coffelt: “The biggest issue facing Kearney today is losing the hometown feel as we expand. I would resolve it by working with the parks department to create more community activities that create a small-town feel.”

Pierret: “Infrastructure and attracting business. Kearney has invested in our infrastructure, but more could be done. I’d work with the mayor to reallocate budget items to look at the long term. As for business attraction, work to incentivize business and make it easier for them to set up shop in town.”

Is the city’s police force adequately staffed and funded to keep the community safe? If not, what would you change?

Barger: “The police department has found creative ways to equip officers while holding down costs. COVID funding allowed the city to provide better working facilities. Our officers have a real presence in our community. However, I would like to see more officers hired.”

Coffelt: “If the use tax passes, I would advocate for funds to get more police to protect the community.”

Pierret: “As the city grows, our police department needs to as well. Adding one to two more officers will be necessary in the short term. Specialized training and equipment should be a priority for issues involving computer/phone crimes. An animal control position and a better facility are also warranted.”

Does the city do an adequate job of providing and funding family-friendly amenities for residents? If not, what would you like to see added and how should the city fund it?

Barger: “We have a great parks/trails system and the amphitheater is unique to cities our size. The skate park is well used. The splashpad and upgrades to Lions Park will be completed this year. The proposed use tax could be used, in part, to expand our recreational offerings.”

Coffelt: “I believe we could always improve the city, and I believe with the rebuilding of Lions Park, we are on the right track to making the town more family-friendly.”

Pierret: “As the city grows, amenities need to grow, too. The splashpad addition is a great start, which I was on the founding committee for at the (Kearney Enrichment Council). Adding a dog park is a low-cost, viable option, and we should continue to look at a community center long term.”

Do city leaders adequately communicate information to residents about matters that affect them? If not, what will you work to change if elected?

Barger: “There is always room for improvement. The city is redesigning its website to make it more user friendly and informative. The site will be easier to update, so news can be pushed out more frequently. I would like more effort towards social media and marketing.”

Coffelt: “Communication could be improved in the city. I would like to expand the way city officials use social media to reach the public.”

Pierret: “Mayor (Randy) Pogue has done a better job than his predecessors in keeping the communication open and I applaud him for that. I have seen little to no communication from the aldermen. I’ll maintain a social media account with regular summaries of ideas/concerns and what happened in the city meetings.”

Are you in favor of the use tax on the April ballot? Why or why not?

Barger: “Yes. Shopping trends continue to change from brick-and-mortar stores to online shopping. The use tax will help the city recoup revenue it’s losing due to that change. Additionally, it levels the playing field for our local retailers, putting them on equal footing with out-of-state competitors.”

Coffelt: “I am in favor of the use tax. It would allow Kearney to continue this track of growing bigger and better.”

Pierret: “Yes. While I’m not a fan of taxes simply to tax things, our community businesses deserve to have a level playing field when it comes to taxation. The use tax will provide the city additional revenues to continue to provide a high quality of living in Kearney.”

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com, 903-6001 or @myCTAmanda1 on Twitter.

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