Mack enjoys helping grow tax base
NEW ULM — Incumbent Fourth Ward City Councilor Larry Mack is running for a second term on the council.
Mack said he is running for a second term because he still enjoys the work.
“I feel I have just begun,” he said.
Having learned a lot in his three and a half years on the council, Mack enjoyed the process of talking with city residents, answering questions and receiving feedback. He also wants to maintain New Ulm heritage and character while helping grow the city’s tax base.
Mack’s first goal is to finish up the work started on the Reinvest in New Ulm (RENU) projects. In his first term, Mack served the initial RENU committee that selected the projects. He is now the vice-chair of the RENU Oversight Committee.
“Now we’re hopefully going to start building in 2019 and I want to see these projects get completed,” Mack said.
After RENU, Mack said his next goal as councilor is to grow the city’s tax base.
“By serving on Planning and Zoning we have added over 150 units of apartment-style housing,” Mack said. “Four years ago we started with 200 units being proposed.” The city has also added other housing. The rise of row and town homes is important for changing demographics.
Growing New Ulm’s workforce is a top issue for Mack. The city’s workforce was related to several other issues. Mack said employers are trying to find enough applicants to fill open jobs. At the same time, there is a statewide struggle to create daycare provider positions.
The city has taken initiatives to hire a consultant to look into the daycare crisis across Brown County.
“One of the other big issues is trying to fill store fronts downtown,” Mack said. “Retail as a whole worldwide has taken a dramatic change.”
Mack was uncertain how the city could fill the open store fronts, but was open to creative suggestions.
“I feel New Ulm does a good job marketing,” Mack said. He was pleased with the staff in place including retail and EDA experts, but all communities are facing this problem and New Ulm will need to find a solution.
At a recent council meeting, it was suggested the closed shops could be rented out to temporary gift shops or seasonal stores and Mack was willing to consider this option. At this point, with the mall closed and several other shops empty, Mack feels all ideas are on the table.
Housing continues to be a struggle in New Ulm. The State Street Apartments parking regulation proved to be a controversial issue. The city council passed a variance changing the land density requirement for the apartments and reduced the parking requirement for the project.
Mack supported the project as it gives people on a lower income a better place to live. Mack wants the city to focus on workforce housing next. Housing is often an obstacle to bringing in new employees. By bringing in employers, the city gets strong industry.
“If you get industry, I think we can get retail, because then you get shoppers,” Mack said.
This last year, the holiday garlands became a hot button issue after one of the garlands caused a short resulting in a fire at a downtown business. This has led to a discussion of whether the holiday display should continue.
“All the constituents that have reached out to me have said we need to keep [the garlands] downtown,” Mack said. “That is New Ulm. That sets us apart and makes us unique.”
Mack acknowledged the method of decorating downtown might need to change. A building study will be needed to determine if the garlands can safely be attached to downtown businesses. With the study and easements, Mack thought a revitalization project for downtown could be necessary.
“We have a downtown action team that has been looking at putting benches,” he said. “Maybe we’re going to have to restructure downtown for future visioning. The last overhaul was in the mid to late 1990s.”
The cost of continuing the garland display into the future is unknown. Typically, building repairs are the building owner’s responsibility, but if the repairs are needed as part of a city holiday display, who is responsible?
Mack said it was a difficult question, but he was willing to spend some city funds if the majority of New Ulm citizens wanted to continue the holiday lights. He would need to see numbers on the cost first, and the cost of alternatives.
New Ulm has an extensive park system. Mack was asked if there are any changes or additions he would like to see.
“Our first priority is to maintain existing parks,” Mack said.
Mack feels there are opportunities to maintain parks like Riverside and improve playground equipment at other sites.
Second, he would like new parks to come to newly developed areas, which can be created through the funds from the parkland dedication fee.
“I could see another two or three parks going in the next five years, but we have to find a way to pay for them,” he said.
The Hermann hill has become another point of contention. The council struggled with the best method to re-landscape. The issue has currently been passed to a special committee.
“I am glad we have community people who are passionate about the hill,” Mack said. “We will see what they come back with. It would be nice to see if it could be complementary with what is across the street, but nothing is set in stone.”
Mack doubts if a grand staircase is necessary at Hermann, but does feel it’s something the city needs to take responsibility for.
“It’s our monument and our image,” Mack said. “We have an opportunity to do something neat and hopefully capture that integrity.”
Mack suggested the Hermann hill could be reconstructed alongside the Monument Road.
Mack said his overall goal if re-elected is to maintain the character of New Ulm and its history, while trying to grow.
“If we are not changing, we are not moving forward,” he said. There will be challenges to adapting to a new retail environment and RENU impacts taxes.
“Going forward with the future budget we know we’re going to have a hiccup where things are going to get expensive, meaning we’re going to have to raise taxes,” Mack said. “We have to staff these facilities and maintain them. We will need to take a hard look at the budget.”
Mack has served on the city council since January 2015. He is a sixth-generation New Ulm resident and has been employed by 3M for 19 years. Mack said he has no wife or children, allowing him the time to commit to the city.
Mack said he is the best person to serve on the council through his past experience with the council as well as serving on the RENU committee and the Planning Commission.