Two longtime Rolla residents are seeking election to the Rolla City Council in the Fourth Ward.
Mike Samaras, who moved to Rolla in 1987 and quickly became a part of the local business community, is challenging incumbent Lou Magdits, who moved to Rolla in 1991.
Each candidate stresses his business background. Magdits has academic degrees and years as a corporate executive. Samaras has years as an independent businessman, owning and managing businesses in Rolla.
Magdits has been on the council for nine two-year terms. Samaras is running to “bring a fresh face and new breath” to the council.
Here are their responses to the Rolla Daily News questionnaire:
1. Briefly describe your background, including education, current employment and work experience, voluntarism, public service and family.
MAGDITS: My wife Nan and our three children relocated to Rolla from eastern Pennsylvania in 1991. My academic background includes BS degrees in Chemistry and Business as well as an MBA in Finance. I am currently the Director of Raw Materials for The Doe Run Company. In that capacity I am responsible for sourcing the raw materials for the company's recycling division as well as managing the sales of the lead metal alloys produced by Doe Run. My public service includes: 9 terms on the City Council, Member of the Board and Executive Committee as well as a former officer of the Rolla Regional Economic Development Commission, Member of the Tax Increment Finance Commission, Chairman of the city's past Fiscal Advisory Committee, and a current and past member of several of the City's ad hoc and standing committees.
SAMARAS: I moved to Rolla back in 1987, where I started working at Alex’s Pizza. From there I have become a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, owner of Atlas Realty, Member of the Chamber of Commerce, Member of the Missouri Realtors Association, graduated from Missouri Brokers School, and help run Greek Farms LLC.
2. Why are you running for this office?
MAGDITS: All forms of government will continue to face challenges associated with maintaining or enhancing services with the available levels of funding. Citizens are wary of tax increases and economic growth in the next few years is likely to be slow. Local government must prioritize needs, spend money prudently and re-invest current and future tax dollars wisely. I want to be able to contribute my experience and expertise in doing those things.
SAMARAS: I am running for this office to bring new ideas to the table. I am running for this office to bring a fresh face and new breath into the council.
3. Why are you a better choice for the voters than your opponent?
Page 2 of 4 - MAGDITS: Academic degrees in Business and Finance, 18 years of experience in working with the city's budget and a long career in the private sector managing large budgets all give me and the citizens an advantage in seeing that we achieve our collective objectives.
SAMARAS: I believe, with my financial background, that I can help with city planning and financial solutions.
4. Why should the city use tax increment financing to bring retail business to town?
MAGDITS: Let me answer this question, when and under what circumstances should the city use tax increment financing (TIF). TIF allows local communities to re-invest a portion of future tax receipts into various economic development projects. TIF is complex and those representing the city's financial interests must understand the nuances. As a member of the council and the TIF Commission I have been part of three TIF related projects. Each time I have learned something and developed the following guidelines for myself to follow on behalf of the citizens. TIF should be used: for projects that bring to Rolla an added benefit and not at the expense of existing businesses and services, have tangible and measurable benefits that exceed the investment of future tax revenues, re-invested future tax revenues should be directed to public infrastructure and only rarely used to improve private property, TIF should be provided for the least amount of money and for the shortest period of time, TIF is part of an overall business negotiation and finally, eminent domain should not be used to develop private property, only public infrastructure.
SAMARAS: The city should NOT use tax increment financing to bring new business in. With examples like California, which during 2008 had over 400 TIF districts with an aggregate of over $10 billion per year in revenues, and over $28 billion in debt due to TIFs, along with having to discontinue use over lawsuits, it is hard to lobby using tax money to lobby new businesses. Everyone should have to finance their own business on their own experience and credit. Taxpayers should not be paying for this.
5. What’s your solution to the funding of The Centre after the recreation sales tax ends Dec. 31 of this year?
MAGDITS: Since The Centre and Splashzone have been consolidated into the Park and Recreation Department as part of a significant cost reduction, the question of funding is now a broader issue than just The Centre. The annual operational deficit of The Centre is approximately $175,000. The rest of the Park and Recreation department has a gap in funding between expenses and the property tax revenue of approximately $300,000 per year. The latter is subsidized by the General Fund and the former will need a proactive solution. An increasing General Fund subsidy will crowd out funding for the two other large budgets of the General Fund which are police and fire. Operational revenues at The Centre will grow slowly and I do not think there are any more significant cost savings to be obtained. The property tax associated with funding the rest of the Park and Recreation Department has not been sufficient to break even at least in the 18 years that I am on council and is also unlikely to grow very much in the future. I think the steps to consider are the following: a sales tax of a nominal 1/8 cent to provide a financial safety net for all of the Park and Recreation facilities and activities, a potential increase in user fees especially for county residents who use the active components of the Park and Recreation systems (like residents of Rolla, they likely pay sales taxes however do not pay any portion of the property tax like the residents do). Finally, I think we need to consider ways to increase the usage and hence revenues of The Centre.
Page 3 of 4 - SAMARAS: On the subject of funding The Centre, I was considering the idea of privatizing it. That being said, maybe some outside knowledge on the subject could breathe new life into the structure, and also free some of the taxpayer’s money for other uses.
6. Do you want to loosen, rescind or leave untouched the workplace smoking ban?
MAGDITS: I would like to see the ordinance modified to allow for several, targeted exemptions, for example cigar and hookah lounges as well as tobacco shops. Places that are for a dedicated purpose and will not have an impact on non-smokers. People that would go to one of these facilities would be adults, using a legal product, participating in a legal activity and making a conscious decision to being or working there. They are making a lifestyle choice. I am not a smoker and I am not pro-smoking. I feel we need to recognize a person's right to choose especially if it does not impact anyone else. The current ordinance reached just a bit too far in my opinion.
SAMARAS: On the subject of the workplace smoking ban, I would leave it untouched, as is.
7. Should the city continue with the water fluoridation program?
MAGDITS: Yes and until such time as credible health associations and agencies deem otherwise.
SAMARAS: Did not respond.
8. Are there any departments that need drastic improvement in performance?
MAGDITS: Every department, employee, councilperson and staff member could always improve by some level however I do not see any department needing a drastic overall.
SAMARAS: On the subject of public departments needing drastic improvement, I would agree that they would need to become more transparent. The public has a right to know, down to the cent, what our money goes into doing. Maybe think about reorganizing the system if there are seemingly redundant roles being filled. My main concern is transparency, however.
9. Is John Butz doing a good job as city administrator?
MAGDITS: I am a longtime member of the committee that reviews John as well as being a member of the original committee that hired him. I can attest to both his performance and his attributes. John's tangible skills include being knowledgeable and experienced in municipal operations, finance and statutes. His intangible skills include honesty, integrity and likeability. John leads by example, fosters teamwork and does a fine job representing the City of Rolla.
SAMARAS: And finally, yes, John Butz has my approval as City Administrator.
10. What question would you like to ask and answer?
Page 4 of 4 - Neither candidate responded.