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City Council Election 2011: Interview with Matt Ferris

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Matt Ferris is one of two Republican challengers for this year’s race for Columbus City Council. Matt ran for the same position two years ago and lost by a very narrow margin. Matt is running on a platform focused on job creation, spending reduction, and a refocusing upon safety and core city services.

Below are Matt Ferris’ answers to 15 interview questions that specifically address the concerns of Columbus Underground readers:

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your personal, professional, and political background?

A: I was born and raised in New Philadelphia, Ohio. I received both my Bachelor of Business Administration (2001) and Master of Business Administration (2002) from Ohio University, and have been helping families and businesses plan for their insurance and financial needs since 2003. I began my career with New York Life Insurance Company in Charlotte, NC, and moved to Columbus in 2006. My wife and I live in German Village.

I have been a small business owner since 2007, when I started my financial services business, Ferris Financial, LLC, in Columbus’ Brewery District. I moved my business to the south part of Downtown Columbus in 2010. I currently serve as President and Financial Advisor.

I ran for Columbus City Council in 2009, and lost in a very close race. I missed being elected by less than 0.5%, or approximately 1,200 votes. During my race in 2009, I was the only candidate or elected official with a plan to balance Columbus’  budget without raising taxes or laying-off police and firefighters. In doing so, I lead the only organized opposition to the massive 25% tax increase.

Q: What drove you to run for City Council, and what are your primary areas of interest when it comes to Columbus issues?

A: Columbus’ budget problems prompted me to run for Council in 2009. Because of irresponsible spending on the part of city leadership, Columbus faced a 25% tax increase. I felt that my skills as a financial advisor would be useful in bringing the city budget under control, while avoiding a tax increase. I am running again in 2011 because I see the same reckless spending habits continue. If City Hall continues down this path, I fear another tax increase is inevitable. My primary areas of interest are the city’s budget, jobs, and crime.

Q: The topic of economic development is a hot issue in Central Ohio, with renewed emphasis through the Columbus 2020 program. How do you specifically define “economic development” and what specific types of programs will help the regional economy grow over the next five to ten years?

A: Economic development happens when the free market is left alone to create a good or service that people want. I am against most “economic development” programs thought up by politicians because, in the long-run, they usually fail. The best thing government can do to create jobs is to stay out of the way of true job creators.

Q: Downtown Columbus has grown residentially and commercially over the past 10 years, due to public investment and a renewed national focus on urban living. What further needs to be done from a public policy level to continue the growth of the core of our city?

A: I completely reject the premise of this question, as downtown growth is pitiful when compared to the amount of public funds that have been wasted in the name of its growth and development. There are plenty of empty commercial buildings and sparsely inhabited residential buildings to attest to this. Our downtown will only experience wholesome growth when the politicians and other central planners let the private sector use private funds invest in the type of development people actually want.

Q: A common anecdotal complaint about local government centers on a lack of adequate city services: unplowed streets, lack of curb-side recycling, potholes, too few proactive police patrols, et cetera. Is this a funding issue, a geographic issue, or something else entirely?

A: This is a budget prioritization issue…period. When City Hall spends money on non-essential services, essential services are neglected.

Q: It’s practically a daily occurrence that a national publication produces an article on the growing importance of public transportation networks to young professionals and the Millennial generation. Does our lack of rail transit hurt our ability to attract young talent to our region, and if so, what needs to be done to address this issue?

A: I do not believe that our lack of rail transit hurts Columbus’ ability to attract young talent. The lack of job opportunities is what affects the city’s ability to attract talent. Columbus has some of the shortest commuting times of any major city in America. Until commute times increase significantly, due to an explosion of new jobs, I want to focus the city’s scarce resources on more pressing needs than rail transit.

Q: Small businesses are the cornerstone of our economy. What are the biggest challenges that our small business community currently faces, and what would you do differently to address those challenges?

A: Small businesses in Columbus are faced with high taxes and burdensome regulations. The most devastating taxes and regulations are handed down from the federal and state governments. I would use my position on City Council to lobby the state to lighten these burdens so that small businesses can become more profitable and hire more employees.

Q: Several years ago, Columbus was ranked the No. 1 “Up & Coming Tech City” in the country. What role does Columbus city government play in continuing to support our technology-friendly environment from a city services perspective?

A: None. City Hall cannot legislate prosperity in any industry. The best thing it can do is to keep taxes and regulation to a minimum so that innovators are free to innovate.

Q: The recent announcement that the City of Columbus and Franklin County would be purchasing Nationwide Arena has quickly become a hotly discussed topic. What is your personal stance on this issue, and why is it a good/bad deal for taxpayers and a good/bad deal for the region?

A: I am strongly against this deal. The recent trend of using our tax dollars to bail out corporations must stop. This is America. You have the right to succeed, and you have the right to fail. I would like the Blue Jackets to stay in Columbus. However, it must be a private solution without the use of taxpayer dollars. If Nationwide Arena is such a hot asset, then why do Nationwide Development and the Dispatch need to dump it off on the taxpayers?

Q: A portion of the revenue from the Columbus Hollywood Casino is being earmarked for the purchase of Nationwide Arena. Where else should the Casino revenue be spent, and what percentage should be earmarked for redevelopment of West Side neighborhoods surrounding the Casino?

A: Casino money should be spent on core city services only. Columbus will need to replace $40 million in state funding that it normally receives into its local government fund for police and fire protection, as this money will be phased out over the next two years. The reality of the situation is that the city cannot currently afford to redirect casino revenues to anything other than core city services, no matter how temping other expenditures might be. The mayor and city council have stated they would use some casino money for the neighborhoods. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Q: According to an article published in April by USA Today, the inner core of Columbus (defined as a 3-mile radius from the center of Downtown) saw 45 percent growth in the number of 20 to 40-year-old residents, a faster growth rate than the rest of the region as a whole. In the years ahead, as these young professionals look to buy homes, have children, and further invest in their community, what specifically needs to be addressed to keep them engaged in central-city neighborhoods?

A: Without getting into why those statistics are misleading, the only things that will keep young professionals with growing families downtown are good schools and safe neighborhoods. I should know because my wife and I fit into this demographic. If families feel their neighborhoods are less safe, and their educational options are inferior to those in the suburbs, then of course they will leave. This has been happening for many years.

Q: Beyond programs that target the young professional demographic, what types of programs and initiatives would further accelerate the revitalization of urban Columbus neighborhoods, such as Franklinton, The King Lincoln District, The South Side, Weinland Park and beyond?

A: I again reject the premise of this question. There are no government programs or initiatives that can revitalize urban Columbus in the long-run. The best urban revitalization program is a job. There have been a number of government programs, such as the Home Again program, that have done little to nothing in cleaning up neighborhoods. How many tens of millions more does the city have to waste before people realize this fact? The best way we can truly revitalize urban areas of our city is with job creation. When people have jobs they are willing to invest their own money into neighborhoods. If government was able to clean up neglected areas through spending money, then we should have seen the fruits of this scheme pay off by now. We haven’t.

Q: Arguably, the largest issue on this year’s ballot is SB5. What is your stance on this issue, and why do you feel it’s important for voters to vote “yes” or “no” on this issue?

A: As I have stated many times in the past, I am favorable to Issue 2. However, if Issue 2 passes, I do not believe that it will be as good, or as bad, as most people believe. At the end of the day, we need responsible elected officials who will make appropriate decisions about city finances. If we fail to elect good leaders, no legislation on earth will save us from our own mistakes. I will vote “yes” on Issue 2, so that cities have more flexibility to avoid future tax increases and responsibly control their budgets.

Q: Several weeks ago, local leaders met to discuss the importance of arts funding and the growth of the creative class as it relates to economic development. How can Columbus invest in the creative community, specifically as it relates to smaller arts collectives and individual artists?

A: We are fortunate to have many individuals and private businesses that support the arts and the creative class. If art collectives and individual artists need funding, then they should obtain it from private sources. Taxpayer money should not be used to fund any business or individual. City Hall has put our city in a budgetary conundrum and Columbus simply does not have the money to fund these groups. This is the economic reality.

Q: Please summarize in one sentence why our readers should vote for you in November.

A: After years of debate-free rubber stamping at City Hall, I will bring the common-sense questioning and commitment to real priorities that Columbus City Council has failed to provide, and that the city desperately needs.

More information can be found online at MattFerris.org.

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