NEW ULM New Ulm City Council Ward 3 candidates Les Schultz and Chuck Hanson brought different perspectives on topics like building a New Ulm water park and the Council's recent pay raise during the Council candidate forum hosted Tuesday by the New Ulm League of Women Voters at City Hall.
Hanson touted his prior experience on the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce and working a prosecuting attorney in Watonwan County. Schultz introduced himself as a councilor finishing his first term as a write-in candidate who is director of the Brown County Probation Department.
Hanson said he wanted more strategic planning of the City of New Ulm's infrastructure. He said Ward 3 is the fastest growing ward due to growth corridor out by Menards and Wal-Mart, and the planning for this area needed to occur now. He also said he had heard many comments about strong interest in building a water park similar to the one in Sleepy Eye. He said he thought Ward 3 would be a great location.
Schultz said the biggest demographic in the New Ulm population was 62 and old, so there needed to be a big emphasis on understanding how tax increases and cost-of-living increases impacted their limited, fixed budgets.
The next question was on balancing the need to maintain City operations against raising costs. Hanson said they needed to work on find a way to maintain the parks and the beauty of the downtown area. He said he was appalled by recent decision to raise pay for the councilors and the mayor.
Schultz said the focus needed to be on determining what the City wanted to maintain. He said it was a big factor in the budget discussion of which subsidies the City may have to cut.
The candidates were asked what they would do to bring in factories. Hanson said that he opposed efforts by the Council to cut funding for things that bring in businesses like the New Ulm Economic Development Corporation. He said that the City needs increase its support for these programs and create less of an adversarial relationship with the Chamber. Schultz said the Council should focus on keeping prohibitory factors like taxes and utilities cost low.
A similar-themed question asked about balancing the needs of senior citizens on limited budget against the need to raise costs to building projects like the suggested water park. Hanson said the key is increasing the number of young families that settle in New Ulm. He said that by growing the tax base this way, the City generated more income without having to increase the tax burden, which would impact seniors.
Schultz said the thoughts needed to be on how the City should apply the options available to it. He pointed to the half-cent sales tax that will expire soon and whether it should be put towards other places that need help.
The Council's pay increase was also an issue. Hanson said that when he filed for council he did not realize it was a paid position. He said that he thought people should not care about the pay in the position and the raise was not needed. Schultz said he felt the raise was reasonable, particularly since New Ulm was the lowest paying of all similar cities surveyed.
Finally, the candidates were asked how they plan to improve the quality of life for young couples in New Ulm. Schultz said he focused on keeping parks and children's programs from being cut during the current budget decisions. He said he believed that there were ways to get around budget constraints and still get these projects, such as the water park, built.
For closing statements, Schultz touted his hard work in learning all the ropes of the City departments since being elected. He said during that time, the City has built new entrance signs and finalized the Minnesota River levee. He said he would focus on bringing down utility rates in the next years if elected.
Hanson said he brought deep family values and would bring the same work intensity he displays at a prosecuting attorney. He said he loves having roots in New Ulm now and would work to make his children want to live here after they completed their educations.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)