by Dennis Dalman
Four people vying for two seats on the Sartell City Council participated in a civil public forum Oct. 15 at the Sartell City Council chambers.
The candidates are incumbents Steve Hennes and Sandra Cordie and challengers Amy Braig-Lindstrom and Mike “Spike” Piotrowski.
About 30 people attended the forum, which was sponsored by the Sartell Chamber of Commerce. Members of the St. Cloud Area League of Women Voters facilitated the forum, with Charlotte Stevens as mediator.
All questions came from the audience that night. Candidates were limited to two minutes for their responses.
The following are the questions and brief summaries of how each candidate responded:
Braig-Lindstrom: She has fresh ideas and believe in efficient government based on community partnerships. She is relatively new to the area and wants to bring creative ideas and promote community involvement to create new and exciting things in Sartell. She believes the public comment period before council meetings should be expanded.
Cordie: Lived in Sartell since 1974, first on east side, then on west side. It’s a great place to raise a family. She was involved in many committees and, with her family, was named Sartell Citizen of the Year in 2001. She was also a member of the planning commission.
Hennes: He is a strong believer in community service. Joined the Army and served in Vietnam. Belonged to many organizations and volunteer groups. He was elected to the city council is 2006 and 2008. He is proud of helping the council expand city services in tight financial times. He is a member of the Area Planning Organization and Metro Transit.
Piotrowski: He has lived two years in Sartell, a “new guy” on the block. His is a banker for Wells Fargo and has a bachelor of science degree in business administration. Was president of the St. Cloud Jaycees and long involved in the United Way. He grow up in Little Falls. Public service is an honor and a privilege. Being new to the area would help him be more objective as city council member.
How can you grow raise revenues and grow the tax base?
Cordie: Lack of funds is always a frustration on the city level. But the city’s schools, city amenities and other factors make people want to visit or to move to the city. The Sartell Economic Development Commission is a strong plus in encouraging businesses to move here.
Piotrowski. Tough question. From living in Little Falls, he knows the challenges of growth. Sartell is lucky as it is located near other cities and can share in regional growth. Sartell must cultivate its own uniqueness — i.e. clean, safe, livable city. It’s dangerous to think too big too fast. Keep going with what we have, step by step, and the tax base should grow too.
Braig-Lindstrom: It’s vital to diversity the tax base. Infrastructure development is key, along with trails and other amenities. All of those things are appealing to newcomers. Sartell’s strong public-private partnerships are a big plus — such as the new Central Park, the Bernick’s Arena and the Farmers’ Market.
Hennes: Recent news shows Sartell is way ahead of other communities in housing starts. Sartell had been doing many things to attract new residents and businesses. One thing that could really help is development of a “Town Center” in the PineCone Marketplace area to make widely admired amenities like some renewed cities in Iowa have. It’s also important to try to find a new tenant for the now-defunct Verso paper mill.
Should neighborhoods be allowed to choose their own garbage haulers? (There are now five garbage haulers operating on city streets.)
Hennes: The city council has considered that question many times in the past, cognizant of how heavy trucks can wreak havoc, over time, with city streets. Maybe the city could be divided into sections, assigning a truck to one of the sections. That way, the garbage-hauler businesses could have relatively equal access without the duplication of so many trucks on the streets of a particular neighborhood.
Piotrowski: He hasn’t considered that topic, but he is a strong believer in free-market capitalism and survival of the fittest, and the city probably shouldn’t interfere with that process. However, maybe — as Hennes said — the city might divide up the city for fair access.
Braig-Lindstrom: She worries about the heavy-truck traffic that she sees all the time as a stay-at-home mom. She worries about safety issues in that regard. Sauk Rapids gives haulers a certain percentage of the city. Capitalism is good, but maybe the city could come up with something fair for all haulers.
Cordie: The city could be sectioned off, assigning a hauler to each section. Or perhaps the city could rotate hauler access. It is defiitely hard on roads.
What about a community center?
Piotrowski: First, find out what the community wants, on which things will money best be spent and then balance what the people want with what the city can afford.
Braig-Lindstrom: Yes, we need a center. Teens, especially, need something to do in Sartell. There is also a need for seniors to have amenities. For teens, maybe foosball, table tennis, ping pong, etc. It would also be good to have a kitchen and affordable meeting rooms. A toy exchange and book exchange would also be good, if the center should lack an official library.
Cordie: A task force was recently formed for a center, and Sartell will almost certainly have one in a year or so. It may not be a “Cadillac” center, but hopefully someday it can host a library. We should build only what we can afford. We should also work closely with the schools to avoid duplication and to determine needs.
Hennes: Definitely for it. It would be good to add the center onto the current city hall. Make the center for multi-age groups. Make sure there’s a place for the Senior Connection and for the Sartell Historical Society.
If local government aid is ever restored, how would you spend the money?
Cordie: Trails, for one thing, especially a trail to Oak Ridge Elementary School, and widening the road to that school. Also invest more money into seal-coating to preserve roads as long as possible. Put some money into the Sartell Volunteer Garden Club and put some funds into the community center.
Braig-Lindstrom: She agreed with Cordie. An outdoor community pool would be nice. Also, provide stipends for kids to do city projects, such as painting so children get a sense of ownership. Start developing an events place.
Piotrowski: It’s vital to learn what people want. Safety should be paramount in projects considered. The money could be used to reduce property taxes. We should remember not everything needs to be done at once. Must balance immediate needs with long-term ones. Most importantly, the city must manage its growth.
Hennes: The city and staff have done a great job in managing after the aid cutbacks. Sartell is the lowest in taxes of all the area cities and one of the lowest in the state. There is a need, however, for one more police officer, finishing the fire department building and amenities in the coming community center.
What will be the greatest challenge in Sartell during the coming decade?
Braig-Lindstrom: Finding something for the Verso property. But that won’t be easy. And try to help families who lost their Verso jobs to stay here. Also, the city badly needs something for teens to do. Bored teens can lead to trouble.
Piotrowski: The current and future challenge is to control city growth. Some cities, including Sartell, can grow too big too fast. We should always live within our means and try our best to maintain a steady tax base.
Hennes: The comprehensive plan for growth and updating it is a crucial step. The medical campus can be expanded. What’s really needed is a large hotel/motel complex to lure visitors. Also, we have to keep maintaining infrastructure.
Cordie: We should keep what we have and balance needs with what we can afford. Public-private partnerships have been important and will continue to be even more important for future needs. It’s vital to work, step by step, with the school district. We have to carefully figure out where we’re heading.
How do you feel about consolidating services with other cities, especially in a sluggish economy?
Piotrowski: A great question. If consolidations can bring efficiency, they should be considered. Why should the city re-invent the wheel if there is a perfectly good one that can be used? There will always be opposition to consolidations, but they should be considered.
Hennes: Yes, as much as possible. But in some respects, no. For instance, the fire department manages nicely on only $300,000 a year. Sartell has already done some consolidation-type of services, such as the compost site, Metro Bus service, a legal-services contract with St. Cloud and the impressive mutual-aid agreements, including the 82 fire departments that helped out after the Verso disaster.
Cordie: City identity is important so the police and fire department should be off-limits when it comes to consolidation. We already do lots of sharing. One good way to help the city is to have more neighborhood safety programs, like National Night Out.
Braig-Lindstrom: She agrees with Hennes and Cordie. We deserve our own police and fire department. It’s important the police get to know Sartell residents and their children on a personal level. The Verso mutual-aid response was incredible. Consolidations should be explored, but it it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Should neighborhoods be allowed to set up their own services, like street cleaning?
Hennes: Yes, to some degree. But it’s risky because agreements can easily be broken as people move out and move in. Such agreements could lead to chaotic situations and misunderstandings.
Cordie: Ditto to what Hennes said. It could open a real can of worms.
Braig-Lindstrom: For some things, such a safety issues, neighborhood agreements could work, but mostly, not in favor. Such agreements could lead to willy-nilly or chaotic situations.
Piotrowski: You can’t please everybody. If neighborhoods can do some things better, fine. We should focus on economies of scale to get things done and do some delegation. Also, we must be aware of what others are doing.
How do we maintain our amenities and control our expenses in a stagnant economy?
Braig-Lindstrom: It’s a good thing new people are still choosing Sartell to live in. Revenue will likely grow because of that. We must be on top of maintenance of infrastructure. We should also keep a handle on such expenses as retiree pensions.
Cordie: We have a really good staff and administration. That is a big help. Also, the way staff works closely with businesses is a very good thing. We should seek more grants whenever possible and be sure we get our share of business referrals via the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce, of which Sartell is a member.
Hennes: Our city staff is excellent. They do a great job of staying within budget. The public-private partnerships have done wonders for the city. Extensive volunteerism has also been a huge boost. Retired people have been extremely helpful and will continue to do so as everybody gets older.
Piotrowski: Our economic outlook in Sartell is brighter than places elsewhere. 90 percent better than the rest of the country. Still, we must control our expenses and understand costs through a strategic plan. We can’t rely on snapshots but must think in terms of a long-range motion picture. Cost-benefit analyses are vital every step of the way. We don’t have to spend every dime we have just because we have it. Our goals must be realistic.
What’s your opinion on trails?
Cordie: We are constantly planning for trails and make them part of our developers’ agreements.
Hennes: We have 50 miles of trails, and we should work on more connections to them, such as joining onto the Wobegon Trail.
Piotrowski: He loves to walk trails in the Heritage Drive region and often takes his little dog for walks there. They are great trails, and the green spaces are so important for a city. Again, the community needs should determine what trails are needed.
Braig-Lindstrom: A big reason her family chose to move to Sartell are its trails. They remind her of trail systems she experienced while traveling in northern Europe. She and her family love to bike along the River Road. We should seek grants for the “Safe Roads to Schools” program. A trail to Oak Ridge Elementary School is badly needed.
Hennes. He’s lived here since 1974 and is very proud of the city. He said he enjoys being a voice for the community, even when it comes to tough decisions. We are fortunate to have a great city staff. What he would like very much is a “Town Center” that would make Sartell THE city to come to.
Piotrowski: He’s a newcomer to the city, but that would make him a good council member as it would help him be objective with no baggage or biases. He has experience and is knowledgeable. He would take a council job very seriously, considering it an honor and a privilege.
Braig-Lindstrom: She has had many experiences in many places she has lived, including Iowa, Arizona and New York. She’s a quick learner, pro-active and asks tough questions. She would like to be a voice for the community, including for new people who come to the city.
Cordie: She has lived in Sartell since 1974. She has done a multitude of volunteer tasks and was, along with her family, named “Sartell Citizen of the Year” some years ago. She likes to consider all sides of any issue. One of her constant goals is to maintain the city’s amenities and to help get new ones for all groups, young and older. Safety issues are also a constant concern.