Buena Vista mayoral race hinges on finances

By Billy Crosby

Buena Vista was on the front page of The Wall Street Journal last year because of its mounting debt, so it might not be a surprise that money is the key issue in its mayoral race this fall.

Candidates Thomas Keiser Jr. and L.F. Hogan are both worried about the millions of dollars the city still owes from its golf course development fiasco.

“This is the worst I have ever seen it,” said Keiser.

In 2003, the City Council borrowed $9 million from ACA Financial in New York to build a municipal golf course. As collateral, it put up the course, City Hall and the police station. The hope was that the golf course would attract tourists to the area and give the community an economic boost.

When the economy soured in 2008, however, demand for golf declined and interest waned in purchasing home lots adjacent to the course. When the city couldn’t make its debt payments,  ACA agreed to pay half of each payment for the next five years and said the city could repay this money without interest in 25 years.

Thomas Keiser Jr.

Keiser, the city’s volunteer fire chief, was raised in Buena Vista and has never left. He also works for Advance Drainage Systems. A former City Council member, he said he wants to get the city back to where it was before the recent financial downturn.

His first priority would be selling the residential property around the golf course as originally planned, by starting a committee to help market the property to investors. “We need to sell this property without costing the taxpayers anything,” he said.

Keiser, 46, also wants to assure voters that he doesn’t plan on increasing taxes.

“We certainly can’t raise the taxes anymore,” he said. “They are already very high and we can’t afford that.”

Hogan, 70, formerly worked as a volunteer for Buena Vista’s rescue squad. He is now the vice mayor and has served on City Council for 15 years. Hogan has no specific plan to fix Buena Vista’s economy, but he said everyone needs to talk through it.

L.F. Hogan

“It’s just a matter of us sitting down and putting our heads together and figuring out what the best thing to do is,” he said.

Since nearly defaulting on its golf course loan, Buena Vista has been in an economic slump. Keiser wants to let companies that consider locating in town know that Buena Vista is working toward becoming economically stable again. He says that he will try to bring a lot more industry into the city.

Hogan believes that repairing run down property around town will make it seem “more attractive to prospective industry.”

Both candidates would like to bring in more business, so that new property tax revenue could be used to fix up Buena Vista’s public schools. Keiser and Hogan also agree that the city’s sewage treatment plant needs to be redone.

If the city needs substantial budget cuts, the candidates differ on where the ax would fall. Keiser said he would “just take a look at each department and make small cuts to each one. That way you don’t jeopardize or crush one single department.” However, he doesn’t believe that the city will have to do that.

Hogan said that he would cut aid to non-profit service agencies and that he would look at the other agency’s budgets to cut, based on their importance.

Keiser said he plans to put out signs this week to spread the word about his campaign.

Hogan said he has spent no money on this campaign, and does not plan to spend any. His campaign has been going out and telling people about his plans, he says. “I’ve lived here for 70 years,” he said. “If people don’t know who I am now, then I don’t know what to tell them.”

Both agree that there will be no animosity toward the winner, regardless of who it is.

“If he wins, I’ll pat him on the back and wish him well,” said Hogan.

The Mayor in Buena Vista serves a two-year term and has a vote on all City Council issues. The current mayor is Mike Clements, who declined to run for re-election.

Buena Vista City Hall

Elections for City Council and School Board will also be held Nov. 8. Jane Armstrong, Steve Baldridge, Lisa Clark, Billy Fitzgerald, Lewis Plogger, and Bob Thomas are running for the three open City Council seats. Armstrong and Plogger are running for re-election. Margaret Byers, Teresa Ellison, and Wayne Flint are seeking re-election for the three open seats on the School Board.

All Buena Vista candidates will attend a forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Parry McCluer Middle School hosted by the Buena Vista Junior Woman’s club.