Two candidates making their first run for office face a former mayor in Tuesday's primary election for mayor of Frankfort, where a new "pay-as-you-throw" garbage-collection system has become a key campaign issue.
Donna Hecker and Kyle Thompson tout new ideas to address the capital city's ills, while city commissioner Bill May, who was mayor between 1996 and 2009, cites his record and experience. May served three consecutive terms as mayor but was prohibited by law from running for a fourth.
The three are seeking to succeed Mayor H. "Gippy" Graham, a former state representative who succeeded May in 2009. Graham did not seek re-election.
The top two vote-getters will face off in the Nov. 6 general election.
The race for campaign funds is tight among the three. May, the former mayor, has raised $9,447 and spent $7,551, according to records filed with the state Registry of Election Finance. Thompson has raised $8,770 and spent $8,760.97. Hecker has raised $10,865 and spent $7,551.50.
Thompson, 36, a former assistant county attorney in Franklin County, said his top priority would be public safety. There has been a noticeable increase in property crimes, such as burglary and theft, he said — his house was burglarized in 2009 — and the city needs to find revenue to hire more police officers.
"At the end of last year, the city commission voted to essentially spend $1 million on buying trash cans for the city of Frankfort," Thompson said. "That would have paid for three police officers, their salaries and benefits for 10 years. Do we need trash cans or do we need public safety? In my mind, I think it is a no-brainer. We clearly needed public safety."
Hecker, 54, doesn't agree with Thompson on the severity of crime in Frankfort. She cites information showing that Frankfort's crime rate is lower than the national average.
"We did have a spike in the murder rate in 2010 — we did have five murders that year," Hecker said. But the general pattern for Frankfort is to have one or no murders a year, she said.
Hecker said she would like to see more money devoted to community policing and to see more interaction between the police department and neighborhood associations.
"I would like to see more financial resources applied to that sort of policing, to revisit the community-policing initiatives that were so popular and so widespread before 9/11," Hecker said.
May, 53, said public safety was his priority as mayor, and it would be his top priority should he become mayor again. He said the city is hiring four new police officers.
"A spike in the murder rate is not indicative of the true picture of crime in Frankfort," May said. "One has only to look at previous years to see that that is not an indicative year. We still have a low crime rate compared to others."
All three candidates say the city's "pay-as-you-throw" trash and recycling program, which replaced flat-fee solid-waste pickup earlier this year, needs to be tweaked.
Under the program, the only one of its kind in Kentucky, residents are charged for the collection of their household garbage based on the amount they throw away. The idea is to create an economic incentive to recycle more and to generate less waste.
It works: In April, residents generated 30 percent to 40 percent less trash than a year ago, and they recycled 80 percent more than a year ago, public works director Jeff Hackbart said.
If trash won't fit in a container, the city charges $3 for each bag of excess. Residents face a $25 fine if they set out trash that's not in the cart or in city-mandated bags.
The program came under fire from landlords, who complained that they faced fines for violations caused by their tenants — a problem that has been addressed by the city commission to put the onus on tenants.
May, who voted against the program as commissioner, said "pay as you throw" is "the number one complaint" he hears from residents.
"So I'm going to be working with department heads on ways that we can look at making this system easier for our community," he said.
May said he would "definitely be willing to consider" dropping the program once the city has completed its five-year lease-purchase agreement with the company that supplied 20,000 trash and recycling carts.
Thompson opposes the program and said he thinks it will cost more than anticipated.
"What I would like to see is a tweaking of that so that the individuals who have normal-sized families aren't punished financially by the size of their family," Thompson said. "Make it to where individuals can utilize the system as much as they could before."
Thompson said he also has "a real problem with the way that the city essentially requires you to place overflow trash in the bags that they authorize. I don't think it's the job of local governments to get into the lives of individuals so much that they're controlling which trash bags you use."
Hecker defends the program, but she said it "would have been perceived as more equitable" if all residents had to pay something. "As it stands now, I pay nothing. My garbage fee has actually been eliminated," she said.
Hecker said the city should do more to educate residents about the program's benefits.
"I would like to see more hands-on involvement with the board of commissioners and the community," Hecker said. "It would have been a wonderful gesture of outreach if the mayor and the city commissioners had walked some of the routes with the sanitation crews and had engaged people face to face about their concerns."