Pratt City Commission candidates Bill Hlavachick and Willy Peltier said growth is the key to a bright future in Pratt, Karen Detwiler and Nelson Burrell spoke for lower taxes and utility rates to recruit businesses and retain population and Lucus Kumberg took a middle ground at Thursday’s candidate forum sponsored by the Pratt Tribune and Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce. About 70 people attended the event at the Pratt Community College Carpenter Auditorium.


Pratt City Commission candidates Bill Hlavachick and Willy Peltier said growth is the key to a bright future in Pratt, Karen Detwiler and Nelson Burrell spoke for lower taxes and utility rates to recruit businesses and retain population and Lucus Kumberg took a middle ground at Thursday’s candidate forum sponsored by the Pratt Tribune and Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce. About 70 people attended the event at the Pratt Community College Carpenter Auditorium.

“I think we need to do everything we can to promote growth and provide infrastructure,” Peltier said as a wrap-up of his earlier statements.

He mentioned Prairie Parkway Business Park as an example — when lots, roads and facilities are available “people see opportunities and get involved.” He noted that approximately 60 residential lots are now available (at the city-owned Sand Creek Development). He also pointed to the city’s Green Sports Complex which he said new hotel owners list as key factors as their decision to build in Pratt.

“If the town is to grow, the infrastructure must be in place,” Peltier said.

Hlavachick said in remarks after the forum, “we (the city) out to be out in front leading the pack” when it comes to economic development, and said that there has been interest in Sand Creek from the very beginning.

“You can’t ask businesses to come to the community without building lots,” he said in prepared remarks during the forum. “The businesses are out there.”

He also noted, “Pratt needs, number one, to make sure local businesses are taken care of,” and listed jobs and maintaining the viability of Main Street businesses during summer street construction as key issues.

“Our citizens cannot afford for us (the city) to be in the real estate business,” Detwiler said, advocating active promotion of the town to private developers and to future residents. The community has a lot to offer: beautiful parks, good schools, a wonderful hospital, a historical museum and a miniature railroad, nice ball parks and tennis courts.

Very little is gained in offering incentives to new businesses, she said, because high taxes and utility rates make it difficult for them to thrive. Reducing tax and utility rates will benefit everyone in the community by leaving more money in people’s pockets.

“I want to see us fill every vacant building on Main Street with a retail business,” she said. “I think that’s possible, but it will take a unified commission and your (residents) input.”

Burrell listed as key issues confronting the City of Pratt accountability to its citizens and reducing taxes, which he said are the second highest in the state. He also said his online research indicated that Pratt’s electric rates are 4 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour higher than in other communities in a town where 8 percent of the people live below poverty level.

It is the duty of the commission to protect existing business but bringing in new business and a younger workforce is essential, he said. A deterrent to that is “how expensive it is to stay in Pratt,” and there is an unwillingness to support recruitment.

“Our economy is struggling,” he said. “It’s tougher and tougher for many of us to live in Pratt.”

The youngest candidate, at age 31, Kumberg pointed out that his generation is unrepresented on the commission.

“I want to see our community grow without over-burdening the taxpayer,” he said. “There is a perception that the city is in a holding pattern and, as we all know, perception becomes reality.”

He advocates responsible growth, fiscal conservatism and transparent city government. The city needs to develop a sound, coordinated economic development policy based on familiarity with the city’s assets, both economic and non-economic.

Kumberg also said that reducing taxes would come at the expense of jobs and services.

Candidates were divided on term limits for commissioners, implemented by public vote last year. Hlavachick and Peltier both spoke in opposition to the question submitted by an audience member. Burrell and Detwiler favor limits, and she mentioned in opening remarks that she may have “knocked on your door to get one or both petitions signed.” Kumberg noted that while he does not support limits in a town the size of Pratt, the people did.

To a question about controlling costs of government, Hlavachick said the city has reduced its mill levy by almost 10 percent since 2004. Peltier said spreading the tax burden with growth was the way to reduce costs to Pratt people.

Detwiler recommended a review of the city budget to “find areas of waste or not immediate need” that can be put off until later. Burrell said the city manager’s salary is not in line with the income level of residents.

Two city commissioners will be elected on April 5. Advance voting is available now.