(Source: By Stephanie Dickrell, St. Cloud Times, Minn. (MCT) ST. JOSEPH — Keeping a close eye on city finances, a new community center and expanding the tax base were key issues discussed at today’s St. Joseph City Council candidate forum.
The forum was sponsored by the St. Joseph Action Group: Preserving Special Places, and James Read, a political science professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University moderated.
All council candidates attended. They are: Troy Goracke, Thomas Gustafson, Matt Killam, Bob Loso, incumbent, and Renee Symanietz, incumbent.
Each candidate was given one minute for an introduction. Candidates were informed of the first four questions before the forum and were allowed two minutes to answer, on a rotating basis. The questions covered topics such as council transparency, the community center, the city’s budget and candidates’ specific goals.
“One of my goals would be to work with (St. Cloud) District 742 to have a high school built in St. Joseph,” Goracke said. He proposed a small school of about 500 students. He sees that as a way to attract business to St. Joseph and keep people in town longer.
Gustafson said his goal is to see a budget surplus every year before talking about other spending and wants to bolster an industrial park.
“But until a couple years of positive growth … I would not be for starting a community center,” he said.
Killam said his goal is to work with the Economic Development Authority and the St. Joseph Area Chamber of Commerce “to attract businesses into town, establish tax base, entice people coming into town,” he said. He wants to do so while maintaining the charm of the city.
“I don’t really set personal goals, I don’t come with a a personal agenda, I deal with what the issues are,” Loso said. He would like to maintain the budget while getting maintenance that needs to be done, such as the water tower and sewer line under Stearns County Road 75.
Symanietz cited her work on getting a new website and single-sort recycling in town. She said the biggest thing that happened during her two terms was the vote on Field Street, which she voted against.
She hopes to continue to push for the Lake Regional Wobegon Trail connection all the way to Waite Park and sees that as a way to attract business to town. And she wants to help shape what the community center will be.
“I’ll continue to support the Wobegon Trail, it’s one of the biggest things I’m fighting for,” she said.
The candidates also were asked their ideas about the city’s revenues and expenses.
Loso proposed taking 2 percent off every line item in the budget, and putting that savings to defray some of the costs of its debts.
“(The) only way a city raises revenue is by raising taxes and by creating other revenue sources,” he said. The city’s currently looking at two fee-based revenue streams, a street light utility fee and street maintenance utility fee.
“I’m not looking at increasing fees to people,” Symanietz said. She’d like to sell unused equipment and sees the new community center as a potential revenue source.
For Goracke, he wanted to decrease expenses and increase revenues. He’d look to population growth to expand the revenue the city gets and one way he’d want to do that is through building a high school in the city.
“With more people in St. Joseph, you would have less burden, taxes would go down, if you had more people paying into that pool,” he said.
“I’m not for any kind of tax increase,” Gustafson said. “That’s only going to drive people away.” He’d like to see an industrial park annexed to the city and business built up out to the freeway.
“It’s really important to understand the expenses and the revenues and how they affect your budget,” Killam said. “With my background, I bring something to the table on that.”
He said the city should be wary and plan for fluctuations in Local Government Aid. He also said he wants to plan for infrastructure improvements, so the city isn’t hit all at once with a big bill.
A big concern about the community center was getting public input on what residents would like to see, but also keeping in line how much they were willing to pay for it. There also was a focus on incorporating all ages into any new design.
Candidates pretty much agreed they’d like to see increased transparency from the city, including televising open meetings. On many issues, candidates said they would like more public input or involvement.
The candidates also agreed that collaborating with other cities to reduce costs on some services or work is a good idea.
The candidates differed on the potential effects of city and college policy changes on rentals. Another theme was consistency and fairness in enforcement of ordinances.
Later, the moderator took several written from the audience. Topics included working with adjacent cities to save costs, setting priorities for the city, the enforcement of city ordinances, annexation, attracting businesses, relations between the college, monastery and the city and finally how changes in rental policies both at the college and city level could affect the city.
Each candidate had two minutes for a closing statement.
©2012 the St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.)
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