Much of the Chandler City Council’s time in the coming months will be devoted to dealing with the many budget challenges the city faces.
As a result, finances was the primary topic of discussion when Kevin Hartke and Donna Wallace — who are vying for the last open Council seat in November’s election — met separately with the Tribune’s editorial board last week.
Chandler aims to cut $74 million from its budget during the next few years, which has resulted in project delays. Most notably, a permanent museum for the Chandler Historical Society, initially slated for completion in 2012, has been pushed back indefinitely.
“Some of the decisions that have been made are ones that I didn’t agree with,” said Wallace, who served on the Council from 1998-2006. “A museum that was approved twice by voters is so far on the back burner than nobody is even talking about a time frame.
“That’s unfortunate, and had good fiscal decisions been made — the biggest bang for the buck for the people of Chandler — things might have been different.”
However, both Hartke, who served on the Council in 2008 as an appointment after Martin Sepulveda’s military deployment, and Wallace said that Chandler’s toughest economic days might be behind it.
“We are beginning to see an easing of the economy, signs of some recovery,” Hartke said. “So how do we respond? We have some projects to do, and we have made some drastic cuts … The budget will still be tight, but there is still a cloud because the state is still struggling.”
Both said a new City Hall was necessary, but criticized the excess of the $73 million structure, which opens for operations at Chicago Street and Arizona Avenue later this month.
Wallace said a better alternative was purchasing the former Rocky Mountain Bank Building, which is located at 25 S. Arizona Place and houses offices of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce.
She said that structure could have been bought for less than $10 million.
“I always felt like we needed our own City Hall, so we weren’t paying rent in a building,” Wallace said, “but I never felt we needed a Taj Mahal.”
In terms of job creation, both candidates cited the necessity of attracting business downtown and to the area surrounding Chandler Airpark and the Price Corridor.
The next Council will hire a city manager, a job vacated when Mark Pentz retired in June following a sometimes-stormy 6½- year tenure. Wallace said that Pentz’s annual base salary of $169,811 was too much for a city-manager position.
In a city manager, Hartke said, Chandler needs: “Someone with experience with a budget the size of Chandler’s.
Someone needs to be able to look ahead, as we grow and get closer to our capacity. Those are issues that you need a city manager to be sharp with and able to work with the mayor and Council.”
Wallace has made repealing a 48-percent pay raise that took effect in 2009 — it lifted the mayor’s annual salary to $36,000, the rest of the Council to $20,000 — as one of her signature issues.
She said that, if she were to bring the issue up to a vote, a current Council member will second her motion.