Squaring off: Five city council candidates tackle financial, social issues during candidate forum

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The five candidates running for the two open seats on the La Mesa City Council faced the public in a forum sponsored by the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce Thursday evening. During the scheduled hour and a half exchange, candidates were asked questions ranging a variety of issues ranging from from the city’s finances to the homeless population.

The five candidates running for the two open seats on the La Mesa City Council faced the public in a forum sponsored by the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce Thursday evening. During the scheduled hour and a half exchange, candidates were asked questions ranging a variety of issues ranging from from the city’s finances to the homeless population.

With the city currently facing a $31 million unfunded employee pension, the candidates were asked if the unfunded pension should continue being paid and, if so, where the funds would come from. La Mesa city councilwoman Ruth Sterling, who is running for reelection, said the city has been paying $500,000 a year toward fund liability and believes the city should continue meeting that obligation.

She added that payments had come from the city’s general revenues which had been saved for that purpose. The city needs to continue exploring opportunities for consolidating public safety as a means of saving money, Sterling said. Patrick Dean, who is running for the open seat on the council said he was confident the city’s finance department could handle the city’s pension funding. “I cannot solve that problem myself,” said Dean.

“There is a good team in place in the City Manager’s finance department; They are working to solve that problem and Gov. Brown is working on pension reforms,” he said. Candidate Laura Lothian wants to make reducing our unfunded pension liability the number one priority. Lothian said she would reduce the pension liability by raising more city revenues. She believes this can be done by filling our 450,000-sq. ft. of retail, industrial and office space with businesses that are a good fit for La Mesa, she stated in campaign material. She also believes that “privatizing” certain city services would help cut costs and provide more funds for paying the pensions.

“We waste $2.5 million annually on just interest payments,” she said. Shannon O’Dunn said La Mesa has dedicated employees who are “part and parcel” of what the city is today. She agrees that the unfunded pension should be paid but does not advocate privatizing city services. “We need to keep work in house,” she said. Kristine Alessio said slashing pensions is not the answer to the pension debt La Mesa faces. She believes that outsourcing city services works in circumstances where there is no in-house talent for specialized services.

The next public forum will be hosted by the League of Women Voters at 7 p.m. Thursday Sept. 27 at City Hall. The La Mesa First United Methodist Church will hold its candidate forum at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. l7. The church is located at 4690 Palm St.

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