PRESTON – Residents in Preston, Idaho have a choice between two candidates for mayor when they vote in the upcoming November 5 General Election: incumbent Mark Beckstead and newcomer Dan Keller.
During a meet-the-candidates forum in Preston Tuesday night at the Worm Creek Opera House, Beckstead emphasized the need for improving the city’s infrastructure, specifically the aging water and sewer systems. He also talked about the importance of getting feedback from residents.
“We’ve tackled some really hard issues from streets, to water, to sewer,” said Beckstead. “The thing that I want to make sure that we’re always doing, is the very best for the majority of people. As we consider the future and how we’re going to pay for these things, everybody’s voice needs to be heard as far as what’s the best way to do it.”
Beckstead and current city council members have debated for months and listened to suggestions from residents on how to pay for a new sewer treatment plant, mandated by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and a secondary source of culinary water. City leaders recommend raising utility rates, but have yet to vote on the amount of an increase.
Keller agrees updating the city’s sewer and water infrastructure is imperative. However, he would like to find a way to do that without raising utility rates.
“I am the only one that has promised to listen to and figure out a way to do these required improvements that the city needs without raising their taxes or fees,” said Keller. “I don’t know if I can do it, but I’m gong to try.”
He continued, “The sewer problem is an unfunded mandate, where out of the blue the EPA, the DEQ, the bureaucrats say you have to have it by this magical date and they’ve given us no way to finance it but stick it to the tax payers. If they’re going to mandate this, they should give us a funding option.”
An area of frustration for residents is the so-called “Road Diet” which was implemented on State Street in the summer of 2018.
Citing safety concerns, the lane configuration change was approved by the city leaders despite objections from many residents. Crews converted the undivided four-lane roadway to a three-lane undivided roadway made up of two through lanes and a center two-way, left-turn lane.
Some residents complain that traffic in downtown Preston is congested and slow.
Candidates were asked if changes to the State Street striping were necessary?
“We don’t have enough room to have the perfect main street as far as getting traffic through safely and also having the convenience of having four lanes,” said Beckstead. “There just isn’t space without taking away the parking.”
He continued, “Once in a while you get inconvenienced, but if we can keep people safer and the walkability in downtown is better now than what it was with the old system. There’s pluses and minuses, for sure, but it had to be done.”
Keller disagrees and would like to see the street back to four lanes.
“I think it’s a total bunch of nonsense,” said Keller. “I’ve talked to most of the businesses in Preston and all of the very successful businesses say it’s hurt their business.” He added, “If it’s even possible, we need to get back to a vibrant Main Street.”
There are two, four-year seats open on the city council. Candidates for those positions include incumbents Terry Larson and Brad Wall. Also running are Brent Dodge and Tonia Brown.
You can view the entire forum on Facebook here.