About 50 people packed a room at the YWCA Tuesday night to hear from Helena's mayoral and city commission candidates in a public forum.
Moderator Tim McGonigal, an anchor and producer for KXLH, asked questions on topics ranging from how to bring more business to Helena to how to deal with homeless youth during the 40-minute forum. The candidates were given most of the queries in advance in order to have prepared statements.
Mayor Jim Smith is seeking his fifth term. When asked about a perceived lack of affordable housing in the city, Smith noted the 800 residences overseen by the Helena Housing Authority. About 330 of those are located in Stewart Homes, which he noted are in need of updating.
Smith said city officials can leverage their authority via the use of community development grants. He also noted a seven-bed youth facility that has been built on city land.
Wilmot Collins, who is running against Smith for mayor, said every year he hears about Helena supposedly getting affordable housing.
"We keep talking about it," Collins said.
"When I'm elected, we will get off our laurels and get this done."
Collins referenced city-loaned property.
"The land by itself, it's no use," he said. Collins did not note any particular project in which to utilize the property.
The candidates noted a need to work on economic development and other issues, though they didn't pinpoint exactly how to fund these projects.
Collins was asked how he planned to tackle the issue of homelessness, especially among the city's youth. He said the majority of Helenans wouldn't admit there is a problem here.
"Each of us here live in our own bubble. We do not see the homeless," he said.
"It keeps rising. What are you doing about it? Nothing."
Collins told attendees he has spoken with teens who are sleeping in cars, parks and abandoned buildings.
"They don't deserve this. They deserve our support," he said.
When asked about working to bring more livable wages to the city, Smith noted a recent expansion of Boeing Helena. That will bring with it 10 to 15 new jobs, he said.
"The program is working here in Helena and we can keep it working," he said.
The six candidates running for city commission include Commissioner Andres Haladay, who is seeking a second term, as well as Justin Ailport, Mark Burzynski, Sean Logan, Heather O’Loughlin and Gary Spaeth.
Commissioner Dan Ellison is not seeking a third term.
All of the candidates who were asked about a proposed county jail levy to address overcrowding at the detention center voiced their support for the proposal.
Spaeth said he actively promoted the passing of the levy the last time it went before voters and remains in support.
Logan said he agrees the levy is necessary.
"I see it as an investment that we need to make," Logan said.
Ailport voiced his support of assisting the overcrowded facility. He said it doesn't make sense to pay contracts to house inmates elsewhere, which the county is doing now.
Another question posed by the moderator focused on drug abuse and how to combat it.
Burzynski suggested having more police officers focusing on drug issues. He also suggested requiring medical professionals to assess for potential drug and alcohol abuse in order to help patients access treatment options.
Haladay said Helena's drug issues is one of the reasons he pushed back during a discussion about cutting a position on the Helena Police Department last year. Expansion of treatment courts is a better option, he said.
O’Loughlin voiced her thoughts on bringing better-paying jobs to Helena. She said it would be smart to speak with companies already here, such as SoFi and Pioneer Aerostructures, about what attracted them to the area.