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Mayoral candidates outline visions and hopes

Mayor candidates Samantha Tax (left), Chris Nelson and Ernie Stone listen during a Thursday debate at Noontime Kiwanis. (Republican Eagle photo by Sarah Gorvin)1 / 2
Red Wing mayor candidates Beth Kocina (left) and John Sachen listen to Dan Bender answer a question during a debate Thursday at Noontime Kiwanis. (Republican Eagle photo by Sarah Gorvin)2 / 2

Six people hope to become Red Wing's next mayor, and just a few weeks before the special election they told some local residents why.

The candidates debated economic development, the city budget, taxes and a number of other issues Thursday. Many agreed on priorities such as revitalizing downtown, but had different opinions on silica sand mining and other topics.

They generally agreed Red Wing needs to be better promoted and increase tourism.

"I think I would be a good mayor because I can show other people how great Red Wing is," Samantha Tix said.

Dan Bender said he would be the "head cheerleader" for Red Wing as mayor, ensuring people know about all the assets here.

"I felt the urge to step up and do something for the city," Chris Nelson said.

Asked about the city budget, the candidates debated how much funding should go toward quality-of-life items and if there are areas that need to be trimmed.

"I think it comes down to balance," John Sachen said. He said there are opportunities for government to partner with local businesses or groups on some services.

Bender said the budget should be balanced, and it also should reflect a vision for the city. Many people enjoy the parks, theater, library and other assets.

"If we want these things ... it's going to cost us," Bender said. He said a good fee system could help cover some of those costs.

Tix said the city could utilize volunteer services for some work such as maintaining parks. She added other decisions on spending should come from the community.

"Really we need to listen to the citizens," Tix said.

Nelson said he would go line-by-line through the budget and look for redundancies and unnecessary spending.

"One of the hardest things to do as a government is show tough love for your city," Nelson said, but some pieces might need to be cut or shifted to the private sector.

"The city of Red Wing does have a spending problem," Beth Kocina said.

The candidates also discussed revenue-gathering options such as the local option sales tax, which failed in the last election.

"I would hope we could find more creative ways rather than adding another tax," Sachen said.

"The outcome of that referendum spoke volumes," Ernie Stone said.

Any extra funds, such as tax money available with significant improvements at Xcel Energy's Prairie Island nuclear plant, should go toward repairing infrastructure and other backlogged projects, most candidates agreed.

"I think we need to step back and say what have we been putting off?" Sachen said.

"Let's take care of those issues that are stopping us from moving forward," Nelson said.

Throughout the debate the mayoral candidates discussed their vision for the city in the coming years and how they would contribute to that.

"I've come to decide that the vision is going to be your vision," Stone said. He said talking with citizens, city staff and the council will be critical.

"My vision for Red Wing in the next few years is to maintain the active community that it is today," Bender said. He said citizens need to remain engaged and the city should maintain and enhance assets such as recreational opportunities.

Sachen said the city needs to refocus on its comprehensive plan and make sure all the boards and commissions are working toward the same goals.

They all mentioned the need to revitalize downtown, attracting businesses and filling empty storefronts.

Bender said the city needs to support existing manufacturing and industrial companies, but also "make sure we don't overstretch industry to the detriment of our environment."

Bender said he does not think silica sand mining is in Red Wing's future and Tix said she does not support silica sand mining in the city. Sachen also said Red Wing's mining ordinance likely would keep any such projects out of the area.

Nelson said opening up the area to silica sand mining, if done properly, would help diversify the local industries and businesses. Stone added there are better ways to mine silica sand than methods such as those seen in Wisconsin, and it can be done safely.

They also discussed the mayor's role, all citing the importance of listening to citizens and gathering input before making major decisions.

"That's what it's all about, cooperation and listening to the community," Kocina said.

Tix said Red Wing does have a weak-mayor system, so "there isn't a lot of power in it, except being a voice for the citizens."

"It is what you put into it," Stone said of the mayor's position.

The mayoral special election is June 11.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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