by TaLeiza Calloway
Balancing the city’s budget was a common thread in responses given by city council candidates during a forum Oct. 28.
Sponsored by the St. Joseph Action Group, the forum was held in the council chambers and moderated by St. John’s University professor James Read. About 15 people showed up to hear from potential leaders.
Five candidates are vying for two open four-year council seats. Incumbents Renee Symanietz and Bob Loso face challenges from Troy Goracke, Thomas Gustafson and Matt Killam.
While candidates agreed fiscal management is a priority, each has different goals beyond the budget.
Incumbents were asked to talk about goals they set for the city before their last election, which of these goals has been achieved, which ones have not and future goals.
“I don’t set personal goals,” Loso said. “I deal with the issues as they come. Issues change every week.”
As for future goals, Loso said his goal is to continue maintaining the budget and trying to make sure the city’s expenses and revenues match.
Symanietz said she has really pushed to make the information on the city’s website better for the last four years. A new website is slated to debut soon. She is still fighting for the connection of the Wobegon Trail between St. Joseph and Waite Park.
New candidates were also asked to share their goals and plans to achieve them.
Goracke is a strong supporter of building a high school in St. Joseph; something he says will bring more people to the city and provide another reason to stay.
“With population growth and more students going to the community school, we foresee more students going to school here,” Goracke said. “My goal is to work with District 742 to have a high school here in St. Joseph.”
Gustafson said his goals include getting a budget that leaves a surplus every year. He has also stressed the need for positive growth and investment in the city’s industrial park.
For Killam, working with the St. Joseph Economic Development Authority and the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce to establish the city’s tax base is an area of focus for him.
Candidates also shared ideas on increasing transparency and televising all open meetings.
“Being transparent is a big thing,” Gustafson said. “I think the city is moving in the right direction.”
Killam and Goracke agree it’s important for the decisions made by city officials to be shared with the public. Killam said he’d like to see meetings live streamed online at some point.
Loso said he is in favor of televising meetings if it really is all meetings and not certain ones. He said sometimes they lose people coming to meetings because they are televised. Both Loso and Symanietz encouraged more people to come to meetings to see decisions first hand. Symanietz also reminded audience members some meetings are closed for legal reasons.
Plans for a community center and what amenities should be included was another topic evaluated during the forum.
Killam views the community center as a large and complex issue. As a parent, he would like to see a kitchen and even a playground area but it all depends on funding.
“It really depends on how much we can incorporate in the budget,” Killam said.
Before moving forward with a community center, Gustafson said more input from the public is needed and a plan for how the city will pay for it so it doesn’t become a tax burden.
Goracke said amenities for a community center have to do with specifically what the people want. Whether or not it’s a recreation center or a community center will help determine the amenities, he said.
Loso reminded the audience the specifics about what’s going into the center have not been determined and it will come down to money. The city has about $1.5 million in sales tax funds to support the center, Loso said.
“We are fiscally constrained,” Loso said. “It’s a tough decision.”
Symanietz said an open house held last month shed a lot of light on what residents want.
“The biggest thing I heard was a need for a basement for storage,” she said, “and it should really be for all ages.”
Michael McDonald, one of the event’s organizers, said the venue for the forum was an improvement from last year when it was held at Sal’s Bar and Grill in St. Joseph and it was hard to hear candidates at times, he said.
“I think it went well,” McDonald said. “We had a good turnout. I think this was a good place to have it.”
More than 15 people attended the forum. St. Joseph Action Group member Ellen Wahlstrom was pleased by what she heard from candidates.
“I think the candidates were prepared and presented themselves well, “Wahlstrom said. “I think anyone listening or viewing will come away better informed and can feel (confident) about their voting decision.”
For those unable to attend the forum, it will be rebroadcast on cable access channel 10 by Midcontinent and channel 19 by Charter. The forum will be replayed from 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, Saturday, Nov. 3 and Sunday, Nov. 4.