Five candidates running for two Modesto City Council seats agreed they want to pave more roads and hire more cops, but finding ways to pay for those services in a time of lean budgets set them apart at a Monday night debate.
"Read my lips, 'No new taxes,' " said Chair 1 candidate Robert Stanford, invoking President George H.W. Bush.
Two of his opponents, attorney Robert Farrace and account executive Dave Lopez, wouldn't rule out raising taxes.
Lopez, a four-time candidate, said he would propose a road tax with a six-year sunset on the ballot so voters could see their money working for them.
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"It'll end up before voters where it belongs," he said.
Farrace said he wanted to avoid new taxes but said it would benefit the area to become a "self-help" county. The designation refers to communities that charge extra sales tax to pay for road repairs, which then entitles them to more cash from the state for the projects.
"It's crucial that we find a way to pay for that. It's also crucial (to hire more police officers) ... without raising taxes," he said.
Brent Maynor, a fourth man in the race to succeed outgoing Chair 1 Councilman Bob Dunbar, did not attend the League of Women Voters debate.
Chair 1 candidates shared the dais with two men running for Chair 6, incumbent Brad Hawn and retired businessman Tom Maher.
Maher twice referred to a Bee editorial Sunday that endorsed Hawn. Maher, 72, also sought to goad Hawn into a discussion on police overtime.
Hawn, 52, didn't take the bait.
He defended his record on the council, saying he took on complex issues, such as improvements to the city's sewer and water systems. He said he wanted another term because "I really want to make Modesto a place to be proud to be from."
Maher deferred on the details to some of the questions asked by moderator Marie Bailey, but he said he would pay close attention to the city's budget and "listen. I will make decisions and not cede to the city manager or staff."
As for the budget, Hawn said he would look for creative ways to pay for city services, though he has not ruled out asking voters for a tax increase of some kind.
Maher suggested the city re-visit its priorities, making sure it paves roads that are in need of repairs, for example.
Stanford, 41, spoke most passionately about his intent to curb gangs and take on teen drinking. "I don't believe the current City Council treats these issues seriously enough," he said.
Farrace, 43, and Lopez, 40, offered different takes on a pro- posal to create a new entertainment ordinance, which stemmed from complaints that clubs were consuming too much public safety resources.
Lopez said the revenue the city gains from the entertainment core was too valuable to jeopardize.
"We've got to keep the revenue going because that is a huge revenue source. The ordinance needs to reflect the inside security of those nightclubs so they can take care of their patrons," he said.
Farrace said the ordinance should include a mechanism for the city to recover the money it spends on problem venues. "Ideally we'd like to see the busi- nesses that cause those problems be the ones that bear those costs," he said.
The League of Women Voters debate will air Saturdays at 8 p.m. on Comcast public access channels.
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.