NEW ULM - New Ulm City Council candidate Ruth Ann Webster emphasized working to maintain the City of New Ulm's popular programs and parks in the face of mounting budget cuts as part of her run for Ward 1.
Webster said budget uncertainty caused by continue cuts to Local Government Aid (LGA) by the Minnesota Legislature will be the biggest issue facing the City over the next four years. She said that since LGA comprises well over 20 percent of the City's funding, changes in the funding can radically alter the City's budgets. She said LGA is too large of a fund source to give up entirely without severe cuts to City programs. She said the focus on to be on working the lawmakers to make it more predictable, or at least have them work on telling cities about changes with enough time to properly plan.
For her own ward, Webster said that determining the special assessments for the new Minnesota River flood levee will be the big issue for next year. She said the levee is unique because the City has never created an assessment for this type of project in the past. She said the emphasis has to be on communicating with the affected landowners so that they can understand what the City ultimately decided, even if not all agree with it.
Ruth Ann Webster
When asked about the number of vacant storefronts in the downtown area, Webster said she was concerned, but it was more abstract what the Council could do about it. She said the skills and resources to deal with it were better held by organizations like the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce.
"I don't go along with the idea that the City should be in the business of setting up local businesses or selling storefronts," said Webster, "The City is good at things like fixing streets or maintaining police officers. The City isn't good at determining whether downtown needs another gift shop or shoe store."
On the topics of the City's subsidies, which face cuts this budget, Webster said she only supports maintaining subsidies for the historic organizations of the New Ulm Battery, the municipal band and the Concord Singers. She said the City had a problem were more and more organizations crept into the subsidies. She said that if none of the subsidies had existed from the start, she would have opposed create any subsidies to begin with.
Webster also discussed the controversy over the recently approved pay raise for Council members. She said she voted for and supported the raise because of the amount of work Council members have to put into the position. She said that people constantly underestimate how much hard work is involved. She said that the raise brought the Council into range of other city councils while still being on the low end compared to the others.
"If something is worth it, you pay for it. Value in our society is expressed in terms of money," said Webster, "If you want to ensure that you get good, skilled people into these positions, you have to be paid competitively."
Regarding the Council taking up an advocacy role on topics beyond New Ulm specific issues, Webster said she supports advocating for topics with a local consensus like Hwy. 14, but she opposed social issues due to their divisive nature.
Finally, Webster was asked what change she would make to New Ulm if she had the complete means to do it. Webster said that if funding was not an issue, she would build an outdoor water park and a state-of-the-art community theater complex similar to the Guthrie Theater in town.
Webster concluded by talking about how she felt she differed from her challenger Joel Boehlke. She said she felt she brought brought significant experience from her 12 years on the Council. She said it let her fully understand how each choice the city budget would impact the city. She said it also taught her what factors were important for the City, such as having long-term employees that can plan five years out.
Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org