(EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated at 2:34 p.m. Oct. 14 to reflect Sam Allen's job change on Oct. 11.)
By BECKY KISER
The four Hays city commission candidates appearing in Wednesday night's forum at Fort Hays State University's Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center all believe this community is a great place to live.
They also agreed it needs to continue growing by increasing its population through retention of current residents and attracting new residents.
How to do that is where candidates Sam Allen, Dr. Reese Barrick and incumbents Sandy Jacobs and Shaun Musil, differed in their ideas and opinions.
Following the one-minute opening introductory statements, moderator Dr. Brett Zollinger, director of the Docking Institute of Public Affairs, kicked off the fast-paced questioning by asking the candidates what the top priorities are facing the city of Hays in the next two to four years.
"Really, the top priority doesn't have that much to do with the city commission," answered Barrick, director of the FHSU Sternberg Museum of Natural History.
"Hays needs to grow and progress because we're losing population in western Kansas. That (also) means we need more housing - a variety of housing of different affordabilities. We need childcare. We need to bring people and bring jobs to Hays.
"These are all tied together."
Barrick is a member of the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) advisory commission and has lived in Hays for 12 years.
Jacobs, the current mayor of Hays and a retired banker, "totally agrees with the school bond issue. I think we have a serious need and have a great group of people that are facing that issue."
A forum with Hays USD 489 candidates followed the city commission forum after a short break.
Jacobs, who has served as a commissioner the past five years, also said infrastructure "should be in front of us at all times.
"We have a tremendous (city employee) staff that brings us great recommendations."
Jacobs is also a proponent of quality-of-life issues and believes such projects help retain current residents and attract new ones.
She quoted a former commissioner who said "the best thing we need in this community is 5,000 more citizens."
"We're going to work real hard to make that happen," Jacobs said.
Musil has lived in Hays for 25 years and co-owns the downtown Paisley Pear Bistro and Wine Bar with his wife, Heather.
Although he has three children who are students in USD 489 and at FHSU, Musil is most concerned about employment and housing in Hays.
"We need more housing. We need more jobs. I think the commission is currently doing everything possible to bring more housing and attract more building," Musil said.
"I know in the last year and a half, we've had 30-plus structures built, whether it's been a house or duplexes. We need that and we need more of them. ... Unfortunately, the prices have gone up so it's slowed some of it.
"I believe if we get more houses here we'll get more people working, from minimum wage to the high-end wage. We need both of them.
"To me that is the number one priority, not only for the city commission, but it should be for everybody in this community."
Musil later said city commissioners "need to help Hays schools get a bond passed."
At age 20, Allen, a Hays native and graduate of Thomas More Prep-Marian High School, is considerably younger than the other candidates. He started a new job Monday with HaysMed as a customer service representative for the surgical unit. Allen was recently appointed to the Hays CARE Council.
He agreed the city should help with a proposed school bond but is more focused on making Hays attractive to young adults.
"We need more retail jobs, which are desired by college kids."
Allen talked about the need to retain college students in Hays after they graduate from FHSU, NCK Tech or the Hays Academy of Hair Design.
"That's why we need to make housing more affordable for these people who just graduated college and may be in debt or struggling financially."
"I love hearing stories of the people who came here, fell in love with our community, and they stayed," Allen said. "That's what we need. That's what's going to build our city the best, I believe."
In order to attract people from smaller towns across northwest Kansas, building a retirement community near HaysMed is being discussed by several groups, including Grow Hays. The project might also incorporate a childcare facility.
The daycare industry it tightly regulated by the state.
Jacobs said a workforce requires childcare, while Allen noted that a findings committee has been organized by the Hays Chamber.
The candidates were asked about economic development incentives for potential builders and developers.
Musil "prefer[s] we don't use incentives" but believes the city has a "good checklist" of requirements for them.
The city's economic development policy was recently rewritten and updated.
Jacobs explained that recent large retail development projects Garden City and Dodge City were funded by "major incentives" from those cities.
"We must be open to all options," Barrick said, "but we can't give away the farm." "If it's needed, I will support it," said Allen.
The audience of approximately 65 people listened to questions and answers of the candidates submitted prior to the event, as well as during it, with those coming from the gathered group and an online livestream audience.
Both Allen and Barrick have regularly attended city commission meetings since announcing their candidacies.
The ballot for Hays city commissioner includes Demetrius Chance, who no longer lives in Hays.
Hays voters will cast their ballots for three commissioners. The top two vote-getters will be elected for four-year terms; the third person with the most votes will serve two years.
The candidate forums were sponsored by the Fort Hays State University Student Government Association, the Docking Institute, the American Democracy Project, the FHSU Dept. of Political Science and the Hays Chamber.
The entire forum is available below, courtesy of the FHSU Tiger Media Network (TMN) YouTube channel.
The election is Nov. 2. Advance voting starts Monday.