Mayor candidates debate as election approaches
Red Wing mayoral candidates faced questions ranging from economic development ideas to allowing chickens in town at a public forum Thursday.
Twelve days before a special election for mayor, five of the candidates made their pitches and answered audience questions at City Hall.
They reiterated opinions on key issues such as Mississippi National Golf Links, budget priorities and silica sand mining. They also hit on different topics including the library book budget.
Many said revitalizing downtown and attracting businesses is a priority for Red Wing.
John Sachen said the businesses should consider hosting events, raffles or "something to bring people back downtown." Filling vacancies also would be a priority.
Samantha Tix said she would encourage businesses and building owners to turn empty upstairs properties into apartments and condominiums. If more people live downtown, there will be more action there, she said.
The candidates also discussed how they would appeal to a business looking to possibly open in Red Wing. Many cited the workforce, scenery and location, fiber network and quality-of-life aspects such as good parks and schools.
"We have a spirit of innovation that can't be beat anywhere," Dan Bender said.
"It really is an easy sell," Sachen said.
Chris Nelson said there needs to be a mix of businesses aimed at local residents and tourists, and at all ages and interests.
Ernie Stone said empty spaces should be utilized for meetings, classes and other enrichment activities.
The budget is also a key task for the City Council and mayor, and most candidates said updating and maintaining the city's infrastructure and supporting public safety is critical.
Tix agreed those would be her focus, along with public works. Nelson said he would focus on those needs citizens cannot meet themselves.
Sachen said the city also should consider capital investments that could save money in the future, such as in solar panels.
Stone said the city needs to avoid expanding and build up existing services, infrastructure and programs.
"We have a really good base," he said.
Bender added streetlighting to the list. He said the city spends thousands of dollars a month on electricity and could update to something more efficient.
The candidates also were specifically asked about the library book budget, which was been an issue in recent years.
Bender said he would support increase the book budget for the library. He said it would be more efficient for the library to have the materials here rather than borrowing from other regional libraries, even if the upfront investment is more expensive.
Many of the other candidates said they would support community solutions such as book drives.
"As a community we can help alleviate the strain on the library," Tix said.
The candidates said a solution for the future of MNGL needs to come soon.
The course closing is affecting other organizations as well, Nelson said.
"Whenever a business goes down it definitely affects the other businesses associated with it," he said. He said he wants to see the course re-open but run by a private entity.
Sachen said the city was in a tough situation, but it is time to look for a solution that involves opening the course, especially for youth golf programs.
"It's another thing Red Wing needs to provide for their youth," Sachen said.
"We need to have a public golf course in the community," Bender said, whether it is city owned and run, leased or completely run by an outside party.
They also addressed the controversial issue of silica sand mining.
Stone said there should not be silica sand mining within the city limits, near developments and housing. But he said there is an opportunity for it in more remote areas, if done properly, and it could provide an economic benefit to the area.
Nelson said he supports sand mining because it will create jobs and expand the business base. He said the existing ordinance will guide the process.
Sachen said he is not in favor of silica sand mining. He added the cities and townships need more state and federal support on the issue.
Tix also said she does not support silica sand mining in Red Wing. Bender said in general silica sand mining is unnecessary.
"There are other technologies that exist to do the same thing we do with silica sand," he said.
All candidates said the federal government should keep its promise on nuclear waste storage, saying it is a major issue especially for residents near the plant.
Candidate Beth Kocina was unable to attend the forum due to a family emergency, organizers said.
The forum, organized by Red Wing League of Women Voters, will be re-broadcast on Channel 6 a number of times before the June 11 election. For more information, check television listings or visit www.red-wing.org.