Name: Ralph Rauterkus
Occupation: Director of information systems at Polar Semiconductor, a high-tech manufacturing firm in Bloomington. I have been with them 28 years. I am responsible for all of the business, financial, engineering, manufacturing and customer service systems.
Education: Graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 1980 with a B.S. degree in mathematics and computer science. College of St. Thomas master’s courses; 1985-87
Family: Wife Mary for 32 years. Two grown children and one grandchild
•Red Wing City Council; 2009-present, president 2011-present; Red Wing Port Authority, 2009-2010; League of Minnesota Policy Committee, 2009-present; Red Wing City Advisory Planning Commission, 2004–2008 and chair 2006-2007; and Red Wing Riverfront Trail Committee, Red Wing Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, Sheldon Theatre volunteer, Red Wing School District Finance Committee, Leadership Red Wing, high school marching band chaperone, YMCA youth coach
What is the biggest issue facing Red Wing right now?
The biggest near-term issue is empty store fronts in the downtown. The Downtown Action Plan adopted in November 2009 outlines many opportunities to strengthen the downtown core to preserve and sustain Red Wing as a premier historic river town. Making highway intersection improvements and enhancing the pedestrian connection to the river will be key components to improving the economics of our downtown.
The biggest long-term issue is the removal of nuclear waste stored within the city. We have made great strides, in recent years, with the state Legislature and Public Utilities Commission in their understanding of the extraordinary costs associated with being a host community of a nuclear generating plant. We continue to work with Xcel and the Prairie Island Indian Community to make the state and federal agencies aware of our concerns and hold them accountable to remove the nuclear waste as promised.
What would you bring to the City Council?
I have worked hard the past four years with integrity and a passion to serve our community. I’ve asked tough questions, challenged staff and evaluated city operations. Under my leadership as council president, we embarked on a process to complete and communicate a strategic plan, which is now being used in our decision-making. I am committed to a continued open collaborative, public process.
I bring a wealth of civic experience and private sector skills. Five years on the Planning Commission, four years on City Council and two years on the Port Authority. During my time on the Port Authority I worked to bring a fiscal and governance focus back to the agency, which is now well positioned to foster future growth within the city. I have the private sector skills that are essential to the position, having 32 years of technical and management experience working in high-tech manufacturing.
What would be your highest priority or priorities if elected?
During the great recession of the past four years we worked with city staff to eliminate positions and to hold down labor costs. This was a time of drastic cuts in state aid and we refrained from filling three much needed police officer positions. Now is the time to fill one of those positions.
My second priority is to focus on deferred infrastructure projects. There is much deferred maintenance that needs to be done now so we do not burden the next generation. During the financial crisis of the past four years we opted to cut back on infrastructure investment as a short-term way to assist in managing the crisis. With the planned significant property value increase of Xcel over the next 15 years, we have the opportunity to capture the increased taxes they’ll generate to reduce significantly our capital infrastructure backlog while keeping our city’s operational expenses fairly flat.
What are your thoughts on revenue options such as the proposed local option sales tax?
During the last four years of financial crisis the state made drastic cuts in our state aid, in total about $3 million. State aid was 19 percent of our general fund in 2008 and will be 6 percent next year. We need to continue to seek ways to diversify our city revenues and rely less on fluctuating state aid. Many cities did this with utility franchise user fees, which our citizens have rejected.
Twenty-nine cities have a local sales tax, which they use to fund capital projects which in turn improve their citizens’ quality of life and tourism. Our citizen committee has recommend projects that will spur job and economic growth. Approximately 30 percent of the revenue from a local sales tax will be paid by folks outside our community thus allowing visitors to assist in paying for these key regional projects. If voted in, the tax would end in 20 years.
What is an issue or concern you think needs more public discussion?
While we have focused on setting a solid foundation to position our city for a better tomorrow, there still needs to be a community discussion on how to keep Red Wing vibrant in the decades to come.
With baby boomers retiring and demographics shifting to an aging population, what can we do to ensure that our employers will have the appropriate workforce available to them? How do we keep this city a welcoming place for young families? What can we do to foster entrepreneurs? How can we use our natural, historical and cultural assets to create excitement within our community for the next generation? What should we do today, in the near-term, to give us options for the future?