NEW ULM - New Ulm City Council candidate Joel Boehlke is seeking a complete refocus of the City Council on growing jobs and making residents feel more welcome at meetings in his bid for Ward 1.
Boehlke said he sees the need to grow jobs so that young couples will settle in town as the most important factor for New Ulm's future. He said that prior efforts on the subject by the Council and the City of New Ulm has been too passive, and that more aggressive action is needed to guarantee new business actually move into New Ulm. He said that too often the limited job and housing options in town made the town's young people move away to start their families.
"We have to make New Ulm a place where people want to come and live," said Boehlke, "The current Council believes it's through maintaining our park systems and facilities. That's a wonderful idea. But, unless there's a job in New Ulm that somebody wants, there won't be any families with children to use them."
He said he wanted the Council to take an active role in looking into how it could help bring down rental rates in New Ulm housing and in business space in downtown. He said that the cost of setting up a business along Minnesota Street was so high that the business had to almost instantly turn a profit to survive.
Boehlke said one tactic he believes would help bring in business, particularly small businesses, would be to work on establishing buildings with several business suites that have affordable rental rates. He also said the focus should be on attracting technology jobs since he sees them as the growing job sector into the future.
Boehlke was also asked about whether the budget uncertainty the City faces due to frequent cuts to Local Government Aid (LGA), which comprises a large portion of the City's funding. Boehlke said LGA funds were too big of a portion of the City budget to give up without severe cuts. He said the City should be working hard with the Minnesota Legislature to find a way to make it more consistent on how much LGA will go out each year. However, he said the City should be working to make the issue irrelevant by significantly growing its tax base through more young couples settling in New Ulm. He said this would both stabilize the City's tax base and help to keep tax burden off the senior citizens population.
On the topic of the City's subsidies to local organizations like the New Ulm Battery or the Concord Singes, Boehlke said he supported City subsidies only if they are on a temporary basis. He said that in his experience with Autofest, the organization only received City subsidies for a few years until it was able to transition into funding itself. He said he would be willing to cut subsidies all together if it became a budgetary need. But, he said that in that situation, he would work heavily with the organizations to help them develop methods to be self sustaining.
Regarding the Council itself, Boehlke said there needed to be a significant change to make New Ulm residents feel like they were listened to and valued by the Council. He said that the first major step with that would be rescinding the recently passed pay raise for Council members. He said he would make removing the raise his first priority if elected, calling the move "appalling" in the current economic situation. He said another necessary step would be to have Councilors spend more time talking with people in their wards on a person-to-person basis.
When asked whether he supported the Council taking taking an advocacy role on topics beyond New Ulm specific issues, Boehlke said he supported the Council taking up any issue as long as there was a consensus for it among the citizens
For his own particular ward, Boelke said decisions on how the City specially assess the new Minnesota River flood levee will big a big issues next year. He said he was not against assessing, just concerned that the assessments were not too large.
He also said the dumping of downtown snow removal in South German Park was a big issue. He said he completely opposed the site even though other sites had a higher cost, and he wanted to look into the matter to see if any other options were possible.
Finally, Boehlke was asked what one large scale change he would make to New Ulm if he had the ability to make it. He said that he would bring the Council, the school board, the hospital board and the leaders of the biggest local companies like 3M and Kraft under one large City meeting to collectively work together to ways to end many of New Ulm's problems.
Boehlke concluded by explaining how he feels he differs from his incumbent opponent Ruth Ann Webster. He said that Webster was good person that did a good job on the Council, but he felt she was too focused on the City overall and not enough on her own ward. He also said he feels she is too focused on maintaining instead of trying new ideas, even if they seem crazy at first. He said he would also bring a special emphasis on hearing out residents that attend Council meetings.
Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org