Next Tuesday is Election Day, and four Columbus City Council seats are on the ballot. Four incumbent council members are running for re-election, challenged by three candidates backed by the progressive organization Yes We Can.
And then there's Scott Singratsomboune, who is pitching himself as an independent voice on Council and completely self-funding his campaign.
Singratsomboune was born and raised in Columbus, and he’s a product of the public school system. In 2005, he deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army, and now he’s an accountant and a reservist. Singratsomboune points to education as his central campaign issue.
“If I didn’t have the right people at the right time to intervene in my life to get me from being a failing high school student into a successful army soldier, I could be living a very different life right now,” he says. “I’m in Olde Towne East and there are a lot of kids in my neighborhood and I worry if we do not find them opportunities they’re going to have a hard time later in life.”
In candidate forums, the primary bone of contention that separated challengers from incumbents is the city’s use of tax abatements. Current council members defend the practice as an important tool for attracting new businesses.
Singratsomboune doesn’t exactly disagree, but he says more oversight is needed.
“We need tax incentives, and I fully support tax incentives, but what we also need is analysis after the fact and a stringent process to make sure that we’re getting winning deals for the city,” Singratsomboune says.
And he quickly ties the issue back to education.
“Tax abatements directly reduce school funding,” he says, “and so if we’re going to do that, or have that effect on the schools we need to see what effect we’re having on the schools and are we getting something that’s worth it in the end.”
One of the biggest challenges Columbus faces is in the coming decades is building enough affordable housing to keep up with a surging population. The city committed $50 million to the effort earlier this year, but Singratsomboune sees gaps in the current approach.
“I would like to find ways to provide property tax relief for seniors, especially seniors living in heavily tax abated neighborhoods where their property taxes have gone up but the seniors are surrounded by all new neighbors that live in tax abated properties,” Singratsomboune offers.
Singratsomboune also points to programs to help fund home efficiency improvements, micro-lending and down payment assistance.
The city offers a number of homeowner assistance programs already, but those focus on emergency repairs and roof replacement. For assistance becoming a homeowner, various organizations like Homeport offer programs to help out with a down payment. There are also a number of local efforts to keep seniors in their homes so they can age in place.