Menifee City Council Candidates Debate Budget Issues, Discuss City's Potential Growth and Safety at Public Forum

Debate over the City of Menifee budget and suggestions for the growth and welfare of the community h...

Debate over the City of Menifee budget and suggestions for the growth and welfare of the community highlighted Thursday night's candidate forum, sponsored by the Menifee-Perris Valley Democratic Club.

Menifee residents listened to platform statements from Mayoral candidates Darcy Kuenzi and Scott Mann and city council candidates Sue Kristjansson and Bill Zimmerman during the 90-minute event, held at Provident Bank in Sun City.

Candidates were given five minutes each for opening statements, followed by a question and answer session. Questions from the audience were handed to a moderator on index cards and screened before reading to the candidates.

The candidates agreed on many points, including the priorities of public safety and the need for more comprehensive care for seniors in the Sun City core. But Mann, a former city council member, disagreed with Kuenzi and Kristjansson on the status of the city's budget.

Referring to a handout he distributed before the meeting, Mann told residents that the annual budget recently approved by the city council is a "deficit budget, not a balanced budget." He pointed to city documents projecting general fund expenses totaling $797,000 more than expected revenue, and projected expenses totaling roughly $2.3 million more than expected revenue in other funds.

"I will continue to be a fiscal watchdog for the city," said Mann, referring to his background in public finance. "This council is draining your reserves with deficit spending."

Kuenzi and Kristjansson disagreed, saying the budget is balanced. Kristjansson pointed to reserve funds of approximately $5.8 million and the tendencies of revenue and expenses to fluctuate.

"The budget is fixed," she said. "There's an influx and an outflux throughout the year. I beg to differ with Mr. Mann. We have over a 25 percent surplus."

All the candidates acknowledged the legal requirement of the city to submit a housing element plan, approved recently by the city council. In it, city officials followed state and federal guidelines by designating the city's ability to accommodate 2,734 new housing units by 2014, including more than 1,000 low or very low income households.

All agreed, however, that these are only guidelines that might never become reality. Candidates tried to ease the fears of residents that there might be be the addition of low income housing, which could decrease home values.

"There are a lot of fears and myths associated with affordable housing," Kuenzi said. "It's required by state law. I think the concern should be if we have more of this housing, where should it be? You already have affordable housing in Sun City."

Zimmerman, a planning commissioner who is running for a city council seat in District 3 (southeast Menifee), spoke about the importance of wise decisions regarding development in the community.

"Anybody who says they want to stop growth and take away someone's right to build, that's irresponsible," he said. "As a planning commissioner, my role is to make that growth the best it can be.

"Look at the Countryside Marketplace. That's our lifeblood here. We wouldn't have been able to incorporate as a city if we didn't have that center. Heritage Lakes is another important part of the city's growth. Do we want to stop or slow the growth? No, but we make to make it the best it can be."

Mann said one of his goals as mayor would be to work to achieve more consensus votes of the city council.

"There are too many 3-2 votes," he said. "I believe there have been several agenda items where, with a little more calm debate, they could achieve consensus."

Responded Kristjansson, who is running in District 1, which includes Sun City:

"I yearn for the day our meetings are so boring that people don't feel compelled to come. We should just conduct our business. But that does not mean I won't call out when I feel the need to. We can have civil disagreement."

The Democratic Club will invite the other candidates to attend a forum at its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 13.


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