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Highlawn district race pits officer and businessman

Oct. 03, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Addressing housing issues, collecting delinquent fees and revamping the tax structure are among priorities for the candidates running for Huntington City Council's District 8 seat.

The district includes the Highlawn neighborhood of Huntington and a small portion of the downtown area from 18th to 22nd streets between the Ohio River and 8th Avenue.

The race features independent candidate Richard "Dick" Strode, a former police officer and retired businessman, running against Democrat Tom McGuffin, who is retired from ACF Industries. Strode was not on the primary ballot and gained the required number of signatures from registered voters in his district to be placed on the general election ballot. McGuffin defeated incumbent Councilman Kirk Gillenwater in the primary.

McGuffin, 61, said he is running for the council seat because he thinks he can move his district and the city forward.

"There are a lot of changes that need to be made," McGuffin said. "Of course, you don't know what a lot of them are until you get into office."

McGuffin said he would focus on bringing more street paving to Highlawn because he thinks the area has been neglected in recent years. He also said the Police Department has made a huge dent in the drug problem in Highlawn, but he wants to work with law enforcement leaders to ensure response time is improved.

From a citywide perspective, more attention should be paid to supporting existing businesses, he said.

"We've let a lot of our tax base slip away by trying to bring in new businesses, and we've forgotten about the existing businesses," McGuffin said. "Maybe they need a curb cut or a parking spot or something. We just need to give them more attention."

McGuffin also said he would look for opportunities to consolidate services with other governmental entities and would help set up a program with Marshall University to get more students involved in city affairs.

Strode, 68, said he is running for office because his district is in "total disarray" from absentee landlords who don't take care of their property and don't do enough to lease to responsible tenants.

"Every block has substandard housing," he said. "The city doesn't respond either -- doesn't respond very fast to the problem or not at all. All laws and ordinances need to be enforced on these issues."

Strode also said he would like to bolster the city's ability to collect delinquent fees.

"I don't understand how the city can tow away a person's vehicle if they don't pay a parking ticket, but we can't resolve the issue of what we do with people who don't pay their refuse or municipal fees," he said. "I don't have a specific solution, but I'm definitely not for amnesty. That's like rewarding bad behavior."

Implementing a 1 percent sales tax in exchange for reductions in the business and occupation tax is a good start toward fostering a stronger business climate in Huntington, Strode said. The city also should work with property owners on leasing their spaces to businesses, he said.

"I've always personally felt that the rent to start a business in this town is too high," Strode said. "We should go to property owners and ask them to reduce their rent."

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