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City council candidate, Ward 2: Joe Balsanek

Name: Joe Balsanek

Age: 70

Occupation: Retired professor Hamline University and Inver Hills College (30 years), retired member of the Air Force/Air National Guard (22 years), business owner (Designs Plus, 40 years)

Education: Community College of the Air Force A.A, Adrian College B.A., Ohio University Master of Fine Arts

Family: Married 47 years to Betsy, three married children, six grandchildren

Civic involvement: Past Commander Hastings American Legion (two years), Member of HPAAC, Retired Enlisted Association Armed Forces, Minnesota Garden Railway Society, Ward 2 City Council (2009 to present), Member Board of Directors Dakota Communication 911 Centers, Chairperson City Public Works Committee, member City Park and Rec Committee, member City Administrative Committee.

Q: Why do you want to be on the city council? A: I’m the only veteran, retiree and business owner on the city council. It’s important to keep those constituencies represented. The past eight years have been rewarding, helping residents find solutions to concerns they have. For example, I’ve held neighborhood meetings and email discussions on the MnDOT proposal to change the speed limit on Highway 55 between the middle school and Todd Field and helped neighbors in their opposition to the cell phone tower by Roadside Park. I developed a neighborhood watch group dealing with a level 3 sex offender who moved into Ward 2. I also served on the city’s task force for the Riverfront Renaissance project, seeing to it that neighborhood input became a reality on the finished product in Vets Memorial Levee Park and the Rotary Pavilion. And as a retiree I have the time to devote to the details involved in projects like those.

Q: What is the most important issue the council needs to address? How would you address it? A: Every issue is important to me. We need to welcome new businesses to Hastings. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our community. In my eight years on the city council we have seen over 30 new businesses established here. Existing businesses have continued to reinvest and expand. One major goal I have is to develop a new high technology business park on the west side of town, offering alternative energy utilities such as wind, solar and geothermal options to companies looking to relocate.

Q: The city has been a partner for a few major development projects recently. Is this a practice the city should continue? Why or why not? A: I’m excited to see the former Hudson Building transformed into the Great Rivers Landing with 65 market rate apartments, two restaurants, shops and a destination 300 seat banquet hall. There are also plans for a boutique hotel on the site of the old bank building downtown. I’m very proud of the Artspace Lofts breaking ground soon with 35 apartments, retail and an exhibit hall. These two projects will transform the Historic Downtown into a vibrant business district. We need to continue to expand our tax base with businesses like this to offset our residential property taxes, and our city can offer progressive public, artistic and recreational services.

Q: What is your opinion on the city’s current fiscal status? What aspects of the city budget, if any, would you like to change? A: Over the past four years, with steady economic growth in Minnesota, the city tax rate has been trending downward and should see another drop of approximately 4 percent in 2017. There is one fiscal change I’d like to see occur and that is the fee we charge for our water and sewer hook-ups for new or expanding businesses. I’ve already asked the council and we’ve directed the city staff to review our charges, which haven’t been recalculated in over 10 years, and I’m confident that we will do better on making those fees less restrictive. This, again, is the key to keeping our residential and business property taxes spread out equitably and moderately.

Q: In 2014, a city-funded community survey identified drugs and youth crime as two of the most pressing public safety issues here. How can the city effectively address those concerns? A: We need to be diligent in keeping youth crime and crime in general low. I assisted in developing neighborhood watch-groups and I encourage residents to report any suspicious activities. Is there a real problem with youth crime in Hastings? Statistics show that we are a very safe community and our crime and drug problems are low to average in comparison to other cities our size. With our joint powers agreement between the city and our school system, there is constant dialogue that stresses educating our students in good citizenship and high moral standards.