NEW ULM New Ulm City Council Ward 1 candidates Ruth Ann Webster and Joel Boehlke debated approaches to growing business, the Council's recent pay raise and downtown snow removal during the Tuesday candidate forum hosted by the New Ulm League of Women Voters at City Hall.
Boehlke introduced himself as a resident who had lived in New Ulm and returned. He said he wanted to see the town grow as destination city. He said the decisions made by the Council make little sense to him.
Webster introduced herself as a 12-year veteran of the Council who discusses the issues carefully and thoroughly, even when was no easy answer is possible.
When asked to address any specific issues about their respective wards, both candidates said they expected the coming discussion on the special assessments from the Minnesota River levee would be a big topic. Boehlke added he was concerned that citizens felt they were not listened to by the Council.
Regarding the prioritizing of city funding in the face of rising costs, Boehlke said the City needed to look at new ways to create revenues, such as licenses with fees for rental houses similar to Mankato. He also said he was against the Council's decision to raise pay for councilors and the mayor.
"Yes, you work hard. But, there are people in this community that haven't had a raise for years," said Boehlke.
Webster said she would focus on the City's current plan of scaling back what the it does and focusing only on maintaining what it can currently provide.
The next question was what the candidates would do to bring in more factories to New Ulm to grow jobs. Webster said the City did not have as much direct influence on the matter as organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, but it could do things like promote the school system to keep the City full of skilled works or simply being a consistent regulator.
Boehlke said focus should be on supporting organizations like the New Ulm Economic Development Corporation and working on factors that stop businesses, like high utility costs. He said there needed to be more of a focus on supporting organizations like the New Ulm Economic Development Corporation. He said the Council must look at factors that stop businesses from coming, like high utilities costs.
Regarding the dumping of snow in South German Park, Boehlke said he has complained about the location for a long time and is frustrated by its noise impact on nearby residents. He said he did not know yet where the snow could be dumped, but said he would like other sites to be seriously considered.
Webster said she also had issues with the South German Park as a snow dumping site. However, she said doubling the cost of removal if the snow were dumped at other sites added too much cost to New Ulm citizens to justify. She said the location was ultimately needed as a balancing act for the whole city.
The issue of Council decision to raise pay for Councilors was also discussed. Webster said it was needed because of how low New Ulm was compared to other similar towns. She said the person who brought up the idea had calculated that Councilors were making in the range of $2 per hour given the number of hours they worked.
"People should get paid enough to at least hire a babysitter watch their kids when they perform Council business," said Webster.
Boehlke said he was appalled that the Council gave itself a raise because it was inappropriate given the current financial situation. He said he had learned to work on low pay as a teacher and that he was running for Council regardless of whether he got paid.
When asked about how the candidates would improve quality of life for young couples in New Ulm, Webster said she they should focus on maintaining and making available the local park system, which is invaluable to these families. Boehlke said that enough young couples were leaving New Ulm that the focus needed to instead be on creating reasons for them to live here.
In closing statements, Boehlke pointed to his history and time in New Ulm. He said he could make the difficult decisions needed. He also reiterated his criticism of the Council approving a raise, stating that he didn't needed the raise to serve.
Webster said she had been with the Council for the past 12 years through all of its trials like the AMPI fire. She said that she was glad to have finally seen some action on the Minnesota River levee and wanted to see it through to its conclusion.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)