CENTRAL — The two Republican candidates for Central mayor both say economic development is crucial to the future of the city.
“We need good-paying jobs so people can live here and work here and spend their money here,” candidate Jr. Shelton, 62, said recently.
Candidate Dave Freneaux, 54, agreed.
“We need to figure out what kind of businesses we want that won’t encroach on the rural lifestyle everyone here enjoys,” Freneaux said.
Voters in Central will go to the polls April 5 to choose the city’s next mayor. Early voting started Saturday and runs through March 29.
This is the first time Freneaux, the co-owner of a transportation business and the founder of a weekly newspaper, has run for office.
Shelton, a Realtor with C.J. Brown, ran unsuccessfully against Watts for the seat four years ago.
Both candidates cite the city’s proximity to Baton Rouge Metro Airport — about 3 miles — and the interstate system as attractive incentives to draw businesses to the city.
“Hooper Road is a prime spot for economic development. I could see hotels and corporate headquarters in that area,” Freneaux said.
Shelton said Central would be perfect for business parks or distribution centers for major companies such as Amazon and FedEx.
“Also, Central is ripe for a major medical complex. Something along the lines of the Baton Rouge Clinic,” Shelton said.
But how will the mayor attract those kinds of businesses?
“You have to start with phone calls. You have to network with folks and make relationships. Get out of the office. You go out and sit down with these people,” Shelton said.
Freneaux said the next mayor will have to be open to new ideas.
“There should not be anything that we turn away from,” Freneaux said. “We should talk to everybody but then identify businesses to similar communities and look to see if that’s fit for us.”
Freneaux also said because there is no foot traffic in Central due to the lack of a downtown area, the city’s proposed Central City Center, which would house City Hall as well as provide amenities such as a walking path or possible park, could help drive future economic development.
Shelton has said he would back the Central City Center project with the existing state funding that has been set aside, but he isn’t keen on spending any of the city’s general fund reserves on the project.
Another issue that has cropped up in the election is the size of the City Council.
Both men said the council should switch from five at-large seats to five district seats so representation will come from all parts of the city.
However, the two disagree after that.
“I’m not for expanding government. There is no need for more than five district seats,” Freneaux said.
But Shelton said there should be five district seats as well as two at-large seats, bringing the total number of City Council seats to seven.
Freneaux has criticized Shelton for trying to expand the council, but Shelton said the configuration he is proposing would help prevent the five district members from making political power plays for their areas. He also said the seven members would allow council members to break off into committees to research and discuss city issues before they are voted on at council meetings.
Shelton said two new members on the City Council would cost about $20,000 a year, and that could come from cutting the city attorney’s contract from $80,000 a year to $40,000.
In 2012, the seven-seat council was approved by the City Council, but it was vetoed by Watts.
Both Freneaux and Shelton said addressing the city’s infrastructure needs, including drainage and road maintenance, is another important challenge facing the city’s next mayor.
Freneaux said planning is great but the city needs to take action to tackle the problems.
“We have dedicated funding for drainage and road maintenance, but we need to launch those plans on our infrastructure needs,” Freneaux said.
The city collects no property taxes — only sales taxes — to fund city operations. The candidates said the city suffers from about 50 percent sales tax leakage — which is when residents spend money in other cities and parishes.
Shelton said voters tell him they wonder if the city is spending the city’s money wisely, and they discuss issues that are important to residents such as infrastructure.
“Surplus is great, but are we doing everything we can with it? There are things we can do now with our dedicated funds: light intersections, have better striping,” Shelton said.
The city often waits to address drainage until it’s an emergency, Shelton said.
Both men said they are the best candidate for the job.
“Trust is important. People need to feel like they can trust the mayor to work on their behalf and not just for certain groups or individual people,” Shelton said.
Freneaux said he is the real fiscal conservative in the race.
“I have the proven fiscal responsibility. I have always been fundamentally involved in this community, and I have the experience to run a $6 million city,” Freneaux said.