City, county candidates square-off at Blue Earth forum
Blue Earth area residents had an opportunity to hear the candidates for City of Blue Earth mayor, city council, and Faribault County Commission speak at a special forum on Oct. 11.
However, organizers were disappointed that only 22 residents took advantage of the chance to hear them and ask questions.
Sponsored by the Government Affairs Committee of the Blue Earth Area Chamber of Commerce, the event was billed as a chance to “Meet the Candidates.” It was held at 9 a.m. at Hamilton Hall.
Attending were the two candidates for mayor – incumbent Rob Hammond and Les Wiborg; the three running for city council – ward 3 – incumbent Rick Scholtes, Paula Kelly and Gary Meyer; the two running for county commissioner – district 1 – incumbent Barb Steier and John L. Roper.
Each of the candidates introduced themselves, then answered questions presented by the moderator, Dr. John Sawyer, and from the audience.
The primary question was a generic one, asking what the candidates felt were the two biggest issues in either the city or the county, and what they would do to work on these issues.
Here is a brief synopsis of each candidate’s answers on Saturday. Watch for a more in-depth response in next week’s Register.
John Roper is one of two candidates running for Faribault County Commissioner from District 1.
Roper says there are numerous issues on the county level, but his numberone is the need for the commissioners to listen to county residents.
“People have a lot of concerns and they want the board to listen to them,” Roper says.
His second biggest issue is the new law enforcement center. He feels it needs more attention than what it is getting.
Current commissioner Barb Steier says that while listening is important, residents elected her to make decisions.
“I put in 800 to 1000 hours of research and discussion into the new law enforcement center before we made decisions,” Steier says. “And we did not take those decisions lightly.”
Steier suggested two main issues other than the LEC.
Her main item was road reconstruction projects. She told the Blue Earth residents that two blocks of main street in downtown will be replaced in 2011 or 2012.
“That will have a major impact on those businesses downtown,” she says.
Her second issue deals with human services in the county.
“It has been the most rewarding and the most frustrating part of my job,” Steier says.
She pointed out several issues dealing with this item, including having to fund an additional $300,000 over the budget for out-of-home placements for kids.
She says there are a lot of programs the county winds up funding that are not in the budget.
“Last year we used $150,000 to $200,000 of our reserves to cover these, so that we can keep the tax increase at 15 to 20 percent, and not go even higher,” Steier says.
Blue Earth Mayor
Candidate Les Wiborg says he feels the most important issue is streets.
“It is everyone’s main concern,” Wiborg says.
He thinks next year the council needs to trim the budget and that would allow them to put more money into street construction.
Wiborg’s second issue is job creation. He believes the city needs to work with the new county economic development corporation to help find new and better job opportunities for citizens.
Incumbent Mayor Rob Hammond agreed with Wiborg that streets are the number one issue.
Hammond says the council has to have fiscal responsibility when it comes to incurring debt, and that is his second issue.
He says when he first got on the council the city had $20 million in debt, and it has been trimmed to $15 million.
“Any effort to go forward on a project, like streets, has to include consideration of debt,” Hammond says.
Blue Earth City Council
Gary Meyer, a Ward 3 council candidate, says holding spending down is a priority for him.
“We can’t continue to raise property taxes 20 percent every year,” he says. “But we do need good streets.”
His other main issue in the city is to pay off the current debt.
Paula Kelly agrees that streets are a consensus major issue in Blue Earth.
“It is difficult to address because it is very expensive to replace them,” she says.
One idea she proposed was to limit heavy traffic from most of the streets in town, to protect them from further damage.
Incumbent councilman Rick Scholtes also listed streets as his main concern.
He related that he serves on the street committee, and the city plans on doing a five block street replacement next year.
“That cost is estimated to be between $800,000 and a million,” he says. “We need to look at different ways to fund these projects, other than taxes.”
Scholtes says another main issue is business growth and retention.
“The more businesses we have, it reduces taxes for everyone,” he says.
“We need to find a way to have younger people come back to Blue Earth and invest in businesses here,” he adds.