Your Voice, Your Vote: Sparks Mayor Candidates Square Off

Sparks Mayor Geno Martini and challenger Gene Newhall
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SPARKS, NV - KOLO 8 News Now is committed to helping our viewers learn more about the candidates who will appear on the November ballot.

In the first of a series of reports, Sparks Mayor Geno Martini and challenger Gene Newhall sat down with KOLO 8 News Now to discuss a list of issues.

We began with economic development.

Years ago, Sparks used the now often controversial STAR bonds as an incentive to bring the Legends Shopping Mall to town.

Neither candidate is prepared to make that deal again, but both still favor the idea of tax incentives for new businesses.

"What we need to do is have a broad based tax incentive to get more business to come to Sparks and open up shop," says Newhall. "And if that means giving them a cut in tax for a year or two, maybe even a cut in business licenses and other permits they might need to get them going, get them started."

"Everyone else is doing them," says Martini. "Everywhere that you go or hear from. When people come and talk with me about moving their businesses here, they're telling me about incentives that they are offered in other districts and areas.

So, I wouldn't have a problem with it as long as we keep it down a little bit. Maybe STAR bonds in their first inceptions were a little over the top."
But not every business is welcomed by everyone. The possibility that Legends will be getting a WalMart has brought a protest from some residents.

"They bought the property and they have entitlements just like anyone else," says Martini. "If you bought a piece of property and want to put a house on it as long as it's zoned for in the right way for that, you should be able to do that. Walmart is the same way."

"I don't know if it's the right project to be there or not, but I don't think we had much choice."

"A lot of people are up in arms about Walmart," says Newhall. "I personally like the stores that go out to Legends. I just don't like the way Legends was laid out. It's a nightmare to get in and out of and it's just going to get worse with Walmart."

While Legends has seen growth, many would say the downtown has languished.

The city once had plans to change things there with a combination of public and private development. City offices and condos. That never happened, so we asked what the candidates would do there?

"We need an entertainment venue," says Newhall. "Something to keep people coming here day in and day out. Visitors from all over. I'd like to see a sports entertainment center built so we can attract the big names like Jennifer Nettles, Sugarland, WWE. Things like that."

"We're working with the Nugget," says Martini. "We're working with Bourbon Square to try to draw some people down there. We've got some people who have called us and looked at getting some property down there. So, we're getting to where we want to be and it will be there soon, I believe."

Like many communities still emerging from the recession, Sparks has a problem with vacant buildings, both commercial and residential. We asked the candidates for solutions.

"We work hand in hand with EDAWN," says Martini, referring to the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. "That's been our best process lately. We just can't afford right now to hire a person that's specifically for economic development. Having said that. the city is always willing. I'm meeting weekly with people. I meet with people that are talking about bringing new business here."

"We need to come up with ideas and take care of these problems," says Newhall. "Stop worrying about coming up with new projects like Kiley Ranch or whatever to put in new businesses. We need to fill in the old businesses first, then concentrate on new businesses."

Finally, declining revenues have dictated some deep budget cuts in recent years. As things improve we asked what should be restored first.

"One of the things is public safety," says Newhall. "We've heard a lot about the Reno Fire Department having its share of problems. I'd like to get more people into our fire houses, get more firefighters and fire stations. We need to know if a fire breaks out we have enough people to cover it.

"And the second one would be to get someone to find new businesses to come into Sparks."

"We're not in jeopardy of losing people or houses or homes or buildings because of our fire department," counters the mayor. "Our fire department now the way that it is staffed does a tremendous job.

"I would look more to doing something with our parks. We've had to cut back on maintenance there which has been very critical and now we're starting to get complaints. And always streets and street rehabilitation, curbs and gutters. The flood project is another thing. All those things need funding."

Geno Martini, Gene Newhall. Sparks voters will choose one as their Mayor. Your Voice, Your Vote.

Note: The video of the entire unedited interview with the candidates may be seen here on this website/

Next week we'll be talking with Washoe Sheriff candidates Chuck Allen and Tim Kuzanek.