New Brighton candidates address packed City Hall

Based on the standing-room-only crowd at a candidate forum Monday, Oct. 19, interest in the New Brighton mayoral and city council races appears to be high this fall.

Residents had the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates at the forum, which was sponsored by the New Brighton League of Women Voters at New Brighton City Hall.

Separated into two parts, the mayoral and city council candidates had the opportunity to address questions posed by audience members. Each candidate was able to give a two-minute opening and closing statement. They also were allowed a minute to answer each question.

Mayoral candidates Gina Bauman, a current council member, Dave Jacobsen, the incumbent mayor, and Val Johnson were all present.

For the two at-large city council seats, incumbents Mary Burg and Paul Jacobsen, were in attendance, along with challengers Susan Erickson and Richard "Rick" Moses.

Unlike a previous, more congenial forum, the atmosphere was electric throughout the night. That was especially true at the start of the city council portion, when Moses asserted that he and Erickson were "the only responsible adults" on the panel.

Questions about budget hikes

Moderator Kirsten Kjome asked the mayoral candidates what percentage tax increase they would strive for. She referenced the proposed 3.86 percent budget increase for 2016, which when added with other fees hikes could be considered an increase of more than 9.5 percent.

Dave Jacobsen said he entered a motion for the city's 2016 preliminary property-tax levy to be capped at 2 percent, but other council members didn't support the motion.

"Their point is we could lower it; we can't raise it when the final vote comes, but history says it has never been lowered," Jacobsen contended.

Bauman said the 3.86 percent increase is mostly due to streets upgrades. Bauman said she voted against the proposed 3.86 percent proposed increase at the Sept. 22 meeting.

She added that the $400,000 Xcel Energy franchise fee charged to anyone using natural gas and electricity in New Brighton is not something she will accept. "What people need to know is the $400,000 isn't giving you any more service," Bauman said.

Johnson said 9.5 percent is some serious money but it includes things residents may not want to give up, such as road improvements. However, she said she doesn't think a 10 percent increase every year is justified, but a 2 percent increase isn't a viable option when looking at how much city services and infrastructure cost.

"We need to treat this city as an investment, and we need to invest wisely. But I think we need to look at spending a little bit more money right now," Johnson said.

What about taxes?

The four council candidates also were questioned about city finances and property taxes. One audience member asked how the candidates would satisfy the needs of residents without raising taxes.

Burg said these needs couldn't be addressed without paying for them, adding that the Xcel franchise fee that was brought to the council doesn't affect the property-tax levy. Burg said the fee helps spread the cost out in a creative way to many properties.

"The levy affects property owners. The franchise fee affects everyone that uses our services but doesn't necessarily pay property taxes," Burg said.

Erickson said there is no way to fulfill the city's needs and not raise taxes without making cuts. She said there are ways to find things that can be trimmed from the budget, pointing out the increase in health insurance for staff.

She said she works in the private sector, and if there is an increase in health insurance premiums and co-pays, she has to pay it. Erickson doesn't think it would be much of a financial burden for municipal employees to cover their own medical rate hikes.

Paul Jacobsen said there are "two equations: how much you bring in and how much you spend." He said the city couldn't provide additional services without having a corresponding income stream.

He said if residents want a greater investment in their community, it would cost more.

Moses said it is important to separate the essentials from nonessentials. He said in the last year and a half, there has been a lot of emphasis on the nonessentials.

"You don't raise taxes suddenly willy-nilly just because you want something or because a certain segment wants something," Moses said.

Matter of public safety

Kjome asked the council candidates for their opinions on suggestions that New Brighton contract with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department for police services in order to save money, instead of having a city police force.

Moses said this issue came up several years ago, and it was decided that residents wanted their own police and fire department. Because of this, he does not foresee outsourcing police protection.

But Moses added, "If the police and fire department are so aggressive about asking for raises, they might price themselves out of a job eventually."

With that, he said he hopes outsourcing in the future is not needed.

Burg said the city's public safety department is nationally renowned. She said she would never give up the speed and support of the public safety department. Having the firefighters and police officers cross-train helps save money as well, she said.

Erickson said she would not outsource and agreed with Burg about the advantages of the public safety department's quick response time. She also said the city is required to provide these services through property taxes.

Paul Jacobsen said not only is the department nationally known, it is internationally recognized. The department partners with the sheriff's department and other police agencies as well, and he would never outsource, again citing excellent response times.

"If my house is burning down, I want to have our people driving the truck to get to our place, not somebody else," Jacobsen said.

Need for safe drinking water

When asked what they would do if money was no object, Johnson said she would "get clean water."

"Mayor Jacobsen and Ms. Bauman talk about the health issues with chickens. What about the health issues with our water?" Johnson said.

Johnson asserted she has seen people on her street get sick and die from drinking the municipal water.

Her remarks drew quick rebuttals from the other candidates.

Bauman said the current council has worked hard on providing safe municipal water, and that it is a critical issue.

Earlier this year, the Minnesota Health Department reported that the contaminant dioxane was found in the city's water supply.

"I think it has been addressed very well by every [elected official] that sits in one of these chairs. We have integrity and do not use somebody who has cancer, and you have no proof that somebody has drank our water and has cancer because of it," Bauman said.

She continued by saying that of the 10 states that measure dioxane in their water, Minnesota is one of the two states with the lowest levels allowed, which is "very little and barely traceable."

The source of the industrial chemical in the underground aquifer is the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills.

Dave Jacobsen referenced the four trips he took to Washington, D.C, with a legal and engineering team to get lawmakers to help the city force the Army to pay for water cleanup and monthly testing.

He said these are the people that would have to pay or determine how the city would get paid for the next 30 years.

"We won. We beat the Army and the U.S government again. We have received $59.9 million over a 30-year period. If we run out of money, they have to give us more," Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen said he doesn't know what more city officials can do to protect the New Brighton water system.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3. The polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Find your polling place at www.pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us or by calling 651-266-2171.

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or staffwriter@lillienews.com.

 

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)
Comment Here