Ottawa city commissioners said they thought the community and Franklin County were fortunate to have local legislators representing them in the Statehouse Wednesday at the League of Kansas Municipalities’ annual City Hall Day in Topeka.
City officials from across the state gathered Wednesday morning at the Capitol to meet with their local legislators about issues important to their communities, followed by presentations from selected legislators in the afternoon.
“I thought the City of Ottawa was well-represented,” Gene Ramsey, city commissioner, said. “[State Rep.] Blaine Finch [R-Ottawa] was one of our featured speakers, and he did a very good job.”
Ramsey — who is wrapping up his 19th year in office, including five terms as mayor — was making his final appearance at City Hall Day. He did not seek re-election this spring. Ramsey and others said Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax plan and the budget were some of the key issues discussed during the day.
Jeff Seymour, Franklin County Development Council executive director, who also attended the event, said he too was impressed with Finch’s speech.
“With the tax proposals currently on the table, Blaine made a good point that this is not the time to rush to finish the session,” Seymour said. Legislative leaders have set a goal to wrap up the session in 80 days, rather than the prescribed 90-day session. “Blaine said, ‘Now, more than ever, is the time for thoughtful discourse.’ I agree that lawmakers ought to take their time and make sure any changes in the tax plan do not have unintended consequences at the local government level.”
Seymour said he is all for Brownback’s push to make Kansas a business-friendly state. But at the same time, Seymour said, he would not want to see any changes in the governor’s march to a “zero income tax” goal that would result in a lack of funding at the local level that would hinder economic development.
State Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, and state Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, who also represent Franklin County, were on hand for the day’s events as well.
“Sen. Tyson is taking a close look at the tax bill on our behalf,” Jeff Richards, city commissioner, said.
Tyson serves as vice-chair of the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee.
“She is trying to limit unfunded mandates [in the budget],” Richards said. “And I think Rep. Finch is showing strong leadership. I think it speaks very highly for our county.”
Finch, who was elected by his legislative peers to serve as chairman of the House Freshmen Republican Caucus, said at a legislative coffee Feb. 2 in Ottawa that it is going to take a lot of hard work, intense talks and compromise to solve the state’s budget issues.
“The point is, we’re staring down the barrel of a $700-million deficit,” he said. “ ... The budget is the most important thing we do.”
Linda Reed, city commissioner, said she thought Finch, a former Ottawa city commissioner and mayor, would do a good job of representing Ottawa’s interests.
“We had a full house in here Saturday [for the legislative coffee],” Reed said of the commission chambers at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa. “It’s a real comfort to know that [Finch] sat in these same [commission] seats and knows what we go through. It takes some of the fear and trepidation out of what might happen in Topeka.”
Sara Caylor, city commissioner, said City Hall Day also provided an opportunity to meet with area legislators who have represented Franklin County in the past, such as state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and state Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence.
“It was nice to see our old friends Sen. Holland and Sen. King, who said they are still looking out for our best interests,” Caylor said.
Blake Jorgensen, Ottawa mayor, echoed many of the commissioners’ sentiments about the day, and he urged local residents to get involved in the legislative process by contacting their state and national representatives. He said lawmakers want to hear from their constituents as they mull over key issues.
“Politics is a contact sport,” Jorgensen said. “[Lawmakers] won’t know how you feel about the issues if you don’t contact them.”
Doug Carder is senior writer at The Herald. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org