TRACY -- Five candidates are competing for two available seats on the Tracy City Council.
Roger Birdsall, incumbent Michael Maciel, Charles Manne, Raymond Morelos and Nancy Young had their first test of the election waters Monday evening with a public debate.
The event at Kimball High School, moderated by Tracy Press editor Jon Mendelson, opened with questions on the animal shelter, public safety, attracting new business, the airport, Measure E (the half-cent sales tax passed in 2010) and the proposed aquatic center.
There was easy agreement among all candidates on the need to fund and build a new animal shelter, when the question surfaced during the first few minutes.
Measure E also took a lead during the debate. While all candidates agreed there needs to be better public information on where the money goes, most candidates said they were reluctant to back it.
The topic of cutting police and fire services was touched on throughout the debate, with uniform worry among candidates about the possibility of cutbacks.
"You cannot cut safety services," said Birdsall, 69, owner of Birdsall Chevrolet. "You need to look at personnel in other departments. We need to work on the revenue stream ... Our airport can bring in more business and money."
"Public safety takes about 80 percent of the general fund," said Maciel, 62, a retired Tracy police captain. "If we are forced to make more cuts, we may need to cut unfortunately.
"I've committed to Tracy police and fire not to cut their budget," said Manne, 33, a Tracy planning commissioner. "I'm raising my family here, two kids and one on the way, and I cannot cut their safety. We need to raise revenue and attract new business, not cut public safety."
Morelos, 67, owner of El Castillo Cafe, shared the same opinion: "We have to maintain our quality of life with police and fire," he said. "As a city, we cannot build things we don't have the money for. We cannot take money from the general fund that funds our police and fire."
"We need to ensure police and fire are safe and that we will feel safe in Tracy," said Young, 42, a businesswoman and board member of the Boys and Girls Club. "We need more community volunteerism ... and we need to invest in our youth to reduce crime of the future."
The proposed aquatic center and Ellis development, with a cost estimated at about $30 million, was greeted with less than enthusiasm from the panel. Although the idea of having a water recreation facility for kids was endorsed, the price tag of the proposed aquatic center was met with reservations.
In contrast, the possibility of extending the airport's runway was mostly met with favor.