City council hopefuls discuss range of topics at forum
Stillwater City Council Candidates in Wards 2 and 3 touched on a variety of issues during a Stillwater Gazette-sponsored forum Wednesday night at Stillwater City Hall.
Incumbent Ward 3 Councilman Jim Roush, his opponent, Tom Weidner, and Ward 2 candidates Tom Corbett and Ted Kozlowski spent one hour on topics ranging from traffic to property taxes.
Corbett and Kozlowski said major concerns in Ward 2 were traffic and maintaining a vibrant downtown. Kozlowski added that he’s heard numerous concerns about distressed properties.
Roush and Weidner both said providing public safety services and dealing with issues related to the Brown’s Creek Trail project were some concerns in Ward 3. Roush added that he wants to keep property taxes low, while Weidner believes there is more opportunity for future development in the area.
Candidates said the new St. Croix River bridge would change the dynamics of the community and that work needs to be done to make the bridge a good change for the community.
“Once the construction is done there is no question that downtown is going to be a quieter more enjoyable place,” Kozlowski said. He believes that the economic impacts of the immediate construction must be considered and that the city will have to find ways to keep the tourists and businesses downtown going
“I don’t want to see for rent signs downtown,” he said.
Corbett agreed with the business aspects but said the goal is to make Stillwater a destination city with more walking, shopping, and dining options. He added that the business community should determine how to deal with the economic implications.
Roush said the bridge will change the dynamics and the transient traffic will be less, but that the Brown’s Creek Bike Trail is going to change the city as well.
“The thing with the Brown’s Creek Bike Trail is the DNR and MnDOT are saying that the numbers of bikers to Stillwater will increase by the thousands. It will be tied into the Gateway Park in St. Paul. Bicycles will increase and without all the community pass through traffic it will be more desired,” he said.
Weidner sees the new bridge as an opportunity to join surrounding communities and work together for economic growth and development in business, downtown and on the hill.
The group offered mixed responses when asked if there were any justifiable situations to vote to raise taxes.
“If there was a service or amenity that my ward was asking for, and if it was above and beyond what we already have I believe that the benefits gained from this would be well worth the investment,” Roush said.
“My question would be is it necessary and is it immediately necessary. If infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, like the hole on Third Street, if it is an immediate need and serves the core services that would be the only time I would raise taxes,” Weidner said.
“I’m not up for raising taxes in Stillwater. Taxes haven’t risen as quickly in the last few years but there has been a 20 percent growth,” Corbett said. “We need to grow and develop our way in to raising taxes. The city raised taxes by 1.5 percent to cover the health care costs provided to retired city employees. We need to do better budgeting, and we need to work with that and not go beyond our means. So I would not raise property taxes in Stillwater.”
“Unless it’s the pledge of allegiance I don’t believe in pledges not to raise taxes,” Kozlowski said. “The increase my opponent talked about was likely contractually obligated. Tax records have remained relatively flat and we do need to focus on whether we’re dealing with wants or needs and determine our priorities but it is not unjustifiable to raise taxes, and there are fluctuations in how we can effectively raise money. There will be times that we need to raise taxes.”
In regards to a summer festival, the candidates agree that a summer event is good for the community. They also said the survey is a good way to get feedback from the community about the event going forward. The city’s role in organizing the event varied with each candidate.
Roush said the city is only responsible for permitting events and keeping it within the scope of what residents want and Kozlowski agreed with that statement. Corbett believes that the city should hear from various potential organizers and then make a decision based on bids going forward, increase the competition if you will. While Weidner believes that a summer festival should be organized by volunteers from the community and made for the community.
When asked whether Lily Lake should be permanently closed to swimming the candidates said they should proceed with caution and listen to the experts. Kozlowski didn’t have a concrete answer to the question, saying that science told him that swimming is fine there but his heart tells him to be a little scared. Weidner, Roush and Corbett called for more information to be shared with the public in signs, tests of the water and let residents make their decisions about swimming there or not.
In regards to a public swimming pool, Corbett said he landed not in favor of the city paying for it, but he called for a grassroots organization to get together and get donors. Roush, Kozlowski and Weidner believe that private partnerships are the way to go to save the city money. Weidner and Kozlowski said they’d actively pursue these partnerships. Roush believes that the city will look into the feasibility of looking at community pools and determining if it’s needed going forward.
Oct. 18 Lake Elmo City Hall:
Lake Elmo City Council, 7-8 p.m.
Lake Elmo Mayoral Race, 7:15-8:15 p.m.
Oct. 22 at Oak Park Heights City Hall:
7-8 p.m. Oak Park Heights City Council
Oct. 23 at Stillwater City Hall:
House District 39A, 7-8 p.m.
Senate District 39, 8:15-9:15 p.m.
Oct. 27 at Oak Park Heights City Hall:
Oak Park Heights Mayoral Race, 10 a.m.-11 a.m.