City council, 2nd Ward, Joe Balsanek, running unopposedHere is a profile on Joe Balsanek, who is running unopposed for his 2nd Ward City Council seat in Hastings.
Q: Please share with us your background information, including information about your family, your education, your career and community and government involvement.
A: I’m a retired college professor, having taught at Ohio University, Hamline University and Inver Hills College. I was also a 22 year veteran of the Air Force’s Minnesota Air National Guard. I also established and owned my own company, Designs Plus, which created and built theatrical production designs for many theater groups in the Twin Cities, the Renaissance Festival, Victorian Christmas Fair and the St. Paul Winter Carnival. The company also designed and built home additions, swimming pools, decks and landscaping.
Degrees include an A.A. from the Community College of the Air Force, B.A. from Adrian College (Michigan) and a Master of Fine Arts from Ohio University.
Family: wife, Betsy, married 43 years and three adult children: Jennifer Herber, who teaches at Hastings Middle School; Laura Storey, who works for People Incorporated; and Joseph, who works for the Mayo Clinic. We are delighted to have six grandchildren. My hobbies are my grandchildren, golf, hunting, fishing, model railroading and building dollhouses.
Q: What makes the city of Hastings a good place in which to live and work?
A: I have always felt that the residents and businesses of Hastings display a wonderful sense of pride in the history, charm and vitality of our city. We have the flavor and vitality of a Twin Cities suburb, but our citizens also take pride in the historic homes and buildings, the Mississippi and Vermillion rivers and our rich traditions, such as the LeDuc Mansion, Rivertown Days, our Veterans and youth athletic organizations and our houses of worship. Then there are our new traditions, such as the Black Dirt Theatre Company, the downtown car shows, the New Bridge Theatre Company, the YMCA and the Hastings-Prescott Area Arts Council, ushering in even more community involvement. Hastings also has a wonderful array of businesses, shops and restaurants, both big and small. From a civic standpoint the Hastings Park and Recreation program is one of the crown jewels of our city with the wonderful trail system and wealth of parks, athletic fields and playgrounds, all within a close proximity to all our residents. We have fulltime police, fire and rescue departments that are also augmented with highly trained and dedicated volunteers.
Q: Each year, the city agrees to a certain number of infrastructure projects, including street improvements and water line upgrades. Is this a good plan? How can it be improved?
A: The infrastructure program where we rebuild and upgrade our streets, water and sewer lines and other utilities is vital in keeping our property values as well as our health, safety and welfare stable. These projects will continue into the future and to a certain extent are mandated by government agencies such as the Met Council, and the state and the federal laws of the land. The city has a fair and equitable assessment policy whereby property owners are only paying about 25 to 30 percent of the total cost of the project. The remainder is borne by the rest of the community’s property owners. Compare this to a city like Edina, which assesses 100 percent of the street project cost on to each affected property owner within the project. The city council also restructured the sale of our street repair bonds this year, which saved taxpayers over $600,000.
Q: The city parks and recreational facilities get top marks. How can we ensure that continues?
A: I have already referred to our Park and Recreation program as one of the crown jewels in our city. Even with the tight budgets the city has experienced in the last four years, we’ve been able to maintain our program, expand our trail system, purchase new equipment and repair and replace items as needed. How do we keep our system functional? We all have to be vigilant and teach pride on the part of our children to respect the equipment installed for their benefit. We also have an excellent park and rec staff that knows how to look for regional and national level grants that help to augment the city budget and priorities.
Q: Are the city’s financial issues being addressed correctly? How should an increased demand for services with a growing population be addressed?
A: The city budget is tight but workable, given the amount of our tax base. This has been accomplished by city administrator Dave Osberg and the city’s department heads setting realistic priorities with oversight by the full city council. I’m very proud of the way city staff helped the council save money by reducing the city’s debt by over $12 million since I’ve been on the city council. On the other hand, it is a shame that the Minnesota State Legislature has eliminated the revenue source known as “Local Government Assistance” (LGA). Over the last four years it has been phased out. That means over $11 million dollars due to Hastings has been eliminated. LGA was a great funding program whereby the state said, “Here’s some money. You as a city know best how to use these funds.” It was a great way to get back to a grass roots use of financial resources. But now that money is gone. The city has to make do by keeping budgets flat. And we also had to go through the painful process of reducing our city staff from 121.75 fulltime equivalent positions to 106.53 FTE.
Q: How can the city’s tax base be broadened to decrease the property tax burden?
A: The city’s tax base has increased minimally over the past four years because of a decline in property values and a lack of new building projects, all of course due to the Great Recession. We need to expand our business base and we need to get the housing market going again. The more we expand the property tax base with these kinds of building projects, the more we’ll be able to expand the services that the City of Hastings can offer its residents. The Hudson building and property, for example, will generate a new wealth of tax revenue, but first a plan of action and a developer have to be retained.
Q: Why should the voters on Nov. 6 mark their ballots for you as their city councilmember?
A: The one item I am most proud of in my first four years as your Ward 2 City Council member is my ability to be accessible to constituents. I enjoy helping people. It could be anything from a request for a variance, a trash pile in a neighbor’s yard, a request to clean up a foreclosure property, questions about the Hastings bridge, solving an assessment problem, removing snow from a blocked sidewalk, to changing the timing of the Highway 55 stoplights. The list goes on. I have always felt that no request is too much or too little. Another item I’ve taken pride in is making sure our taxes stay reasonable and realistic. We have a dedicated city council that works well together despite any differences we may have on issues. That is of paramount importance when it comes to running our beautiful city.