Radio forum spotlights candidates
Seven people running for Winnebago City Council took to the airwaves Wednesday night to make their case on why they want to be elected on Nov 4.
In an hour-long forum aired on KBEW Radio, the candidates each answered the same five questions in front of a crowd of nearly 50 people.
In the race for two four-year term seats, incumbent Rick Johnson faces Scott Robertson, John Schavey, Michelle Weringa and Chris Ziegler.
For a two-year position, Bob Weerts and Bret Osborn square off against each other.
Johnson, who was appointed to the council last year, says he wants to remain on the council because there are many things he still wants to see done and “he’s still learning a great deal about the job.”
Robertson says there’s a need for leadership and teamwork, and that’s why he decided to run. He says while he’s been president of the Winnebago Chamber of Commerce, with the help of people and teamwork membership has gone from 27 to 50 since last spring.
“I want nothing but good things for Winnebago, and it’ll take working together as a team,” he says.
Schavey says he doesn’t have any “hidden agendas” and only wants to see Winnebago grow by filling any empty buildings in town with new businesses.
In her second try for a council seat, Weringa also sees a need to have a strong job market so people don’t leave the city, especially young adults.
“I want to put Winnebago on the map. When you say Winnebago, people will know where it is,” she says.
From 2005-07, Ziegler worked for the city and he thinks that would help him serve if elected. He says dealing with the various city departments and committees gives him the skills and experience necessary.
“I think I bring a lot to the table. I have a lot of know how and a lot of want to,”says Ziegler.
All five candidates say maintaining the city’s infrastructure is important to attract new businesses and keep Winnebago growing.
Johnson says the council and Economic Development Authority have worked hard on business expansion and the city recently completed some street projects and more are planned in the future. He says good infrastructure is needed for economic growth.
Luring businesses by emphasizing Winnebago’s assets and what the city has to offer is needed, say the candidates.
Weringa says the city shouldn’t bring in businesses that aren’t needed and making sure the school remains open will help with economic development and keep people in town.
Low-interest loans must be provided for potential business owners, say Robertson and Schavey.
Robertson says city leaders need to be aware of any needs a business might have and assist them in any way to keep them going.
Ziegler says city officials have done an excellent job, citing the new grocery store and Casey’s, adding he did research work for the convenience store project.
“I have a ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality,” says Ziegler, explaining that new businesses will bring others into the city.
Despite a housing study in 2006, the candidates for the most part think the city has adequate affordable housing for anyone wanting to move to Winnebago.
Robertson says the city may want to consider looking for a private investor outside the city to build housing units. He says federal grants also could be used to rehabilitate houses.
With the Small Cities Development Grant, says Ziegler, Winnebago received $700,000 for 50 projects.
“That was a phenomenal, phenomenal effort. We fixed up a lot of properties,” he says, adding he helped administer the program.
Ziegler says the city’s housing committee has not met for several months and that group has to be “re-energized and re-focused.”
He says local industries have workers who do not live in the city and by having adequate housing they could live here and spend their dollars in Winnebago.
When it comes to property taxes, all the candidates agree that it’s not realistic for residents to expect no increases or cuts. With rising costs for everything, they say maintaining services — such as police, fire and ambulance departments — is going to increase.Johnson, Schavey and Ziegler agree that city officials should look at making cuts in the budget.
“We really have to look at the way things are run and stuff we are buying,” Schavey says.
Adds Ziegler, “Tax increases, it’s inevitable. But, it doesn’t mean we can’t toll the line and make some cuts and hard decisions.”
All of the candidates say the biggest challenges facing the city are keeping the school open, finding a new business to go into the JM Manufacturing vacant plant and creating jobs.
Bob Weerts and Bret Osborn agreed right off the bat — either man would do a good job serving on the council.
Weerts, who has been a councilman, says he wants back on the council because there are some things that need to get done. He says keeping the school open and finding a new tenant for the JM plant are vital.
“If we don’t keep the school going, we’re in a lot of trouble,” says Weerts.
He says there should be funding for new businesses but it shouldn’t be given away.
Osborn says he’s served on the Planning Commission since 2000 and wants to contribute any way he can to the city.
Economic development also ranks high for Osborn.
He says the downtown area is strong, however, there are other businesses in town that need support.
He says residents also have to support the stores they already have.
“The people of Winnebago have to shop locally. That will help keep businesses in town,” he says.
Others agree maintaining streets, water and sanitary systems are critical.
How would they deal with rising property taxes?
Osborn says he realizes residents have seen hikes recently, but local taxes aren’t as high as some surrounding communities.
He says residents must understand that city services residents have become accustomed to are going to cost more in the coming years.
“We can’t move back from services Winnebago already has to lower our taxes,” he told those in attendance.
He adds cuts can be made, but he wants to try to maintain services the city has.
Weerts says the budget can be cut and some of the work done by city employees can be done cheaper by an outside service. He gave an example where a Wells company has been hired to mow city property.
“I think we need to be more efficient in what we do,” he says.
Osborn says the city faces numerous challenges on a daily basis, which includes creating and maintaining jobs for residents in the city and area communities.
Weerts says current economic conditions have hurt rural towns like Winnebago.
He says losing JM Manufacturing was a shock because it took everyone by surprise.
“We have to keep businesses that are here vital. You have to visit with businesses. We have to be proactive with the people we have in town,” says Weerts.