Candidates speak out – Tahoe residents get first-hand remarks
The most heated topic of Thursday’s City Council candidates debate was about future use of the Lake Tahoe Airport, which has been criticized by some as a drain to the city’s budget.
While incumbents Tom Davis and Judy Brown said there is no way the airport could be used for something else other than an airport because it is in a man made stream environment zone and because of regulations established by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, newcomer Stephen Reinhard argued that his vision of a recreation complex could be realized through discussions with TRPA to install environmental improvements that could allow for other uses.
The forum, held in the City Council Chambers, was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of El Dorado County and the Tahoe Daily Tribune. There were about 200 people in attendance.
Brown pointed out that the regulations are based on the Airport Master Plan, which involved many years of planning and involved several governmental agencies including the TRPA, Caltrans and League to Save Lake Tahoe.
Davis added that the Airport Master Plan is a court settlement agreement.
He also said that the airport brings in between $15 and $20 million to South Shore a year and the loss of the airport would be a loss of revenue to the community.
Gunnar Henrioulle, the obvious transportation candidate, said he wants the airport to be an intermodal hub of transportation in what he wants to be a transportation oriented community, which uses environmentally friendly fuels.
Michael Phillips argued that the airport is a necessity for emergency purposes. He pointed out that South Lake Tahoe is in a geographic bowl and in the event of a natural disaster or medical emergency the airport could be vital.
“You can’t put a price tag on a human life,” he said.
Jerry Oldenkamp declared, “We need the airport open.”
Employee benefits and salaries was another major issue.
Jerry Oldenkamp said that if he were elected he would be willing to forgo benefits for himself as an elected official, but that he wants city employees to have increased salaries. He pointed out that employee salaries were low compared to other jobs in Tahoe. But Brown said that with the additional benefits employees get, the situation is not as bleak as Oldenkamp had said, to which he replied: “When’s the last time you were able to go down to Raley’s and by a loaf of bread with a benefit?” He said that city employees are underpaid for what they do.
Brown pointed out that employee contracts need to be multi-year contracts and that the city needs to find creative ways within those multi-year contracts to retain and recruit quality employees.
Davis agreed and added that their could be a possibility to work in better programs over a multi-year contract period.
Phillips wants to work on providing additional incentives for employees.
“I hate the saying ‘it’s a good job for Tahoe,’ ” he said.
He added that city employees need to be the back-bone to the community.
Reinhard said that if people are working for the city, they should have no problem living in Lake Tahoe, so he supports keeping the salaries and benefits as they are.
Henrioulle said he wants to maintain the current wage and benefit packages.
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