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Council candidates talk issues at recent forum

Bryan Alpaugh, left, and Tina Folch talk about their priorities at the Oct. 20 candidate forum.

Local political candidates for city council participated in a candidate forum last Thursday, Oct. 20, sponsored by the Hastings Chamber of Commerce and Hastings Community TV.

In a nice change from national politics, all the candidates for city council, Minnesota House of Representatives and Minnesota Senate abided by the rules set by moderator Tom Wright of Hastings Community TV. There were only two interruptions — one by council candidate Joe Balsanek (Ward 2) when he got mixed up about the order in which he and his opponent were to respond, and the other by council candidate Trevor Lund (Ward 4) to ensure his opponent got a chance to answer a question, as the moderator had accidentally jumped ahead in the program.

All eight candidates for city council participated in the event. Although all eight answered the same questions, the forum was divided by ward, allowing only two candidates into the spotlight at a time. Wright gave each candidate time to introduce themselves before asking them questions about why they are running, their thoughts about the Hastings business climate and their ideas to improve Hastings. Each candidate was also given an opportunity to ask their opponent one question before making their final statements.

On business

When it came to the local business climate, candidates generally spoke favorably, with incumbents offering more confidence in current and recent business development and new candidates suggesting there’s more room for improvement.

“We’re in fine shape,” Ward 3 candidate and incumbent Tony Nelson said, adding that the city should use existing developmental tools like TIF, tax abatement, city purchase and fee waivers when appropriate to help businesses.

Ward 2 candidate and incumbent Joe Balsanek pointed to the dozens of businesses that have come to Hastings or expanded here since he first joined the council as evidence of a healthy business climate, while suggesting that the city should next work on building a high-tech business park.

“We’re prime territory for new business,” he said.

Danna Elling Schultz, incumbent for Ward 4, also suggested bringing a high-tech business park to town by leveraging the Hastings Economic Development and Redevelopment Authority’s (HEDRA) resources. She also suggested continuing to offer business incentives that helped some local businesses grow here, and said the city should also focus on promoting more tourism.

Tina Folch, Ward 1 candidate, acknowledged the city’s growth but also noted a few concerns, including the cost of local sewer and water access charges (SAC/WAC), and the need to find and keep skilled labor. Her opponent, Bryan Alpaugh, said the business climate is good, but he wanted to work with the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce, Dakota County and state offices to create more economic opportunity here for business.

Adam Estenson, Ward 2 candidate, said Hastings is on the brink of growth, thanks to the Highway 61 bridge and the Riverfront Renaissance project. He said the city needs to take a hard look at how it interacts with existing businesses and assess whether or not it’s treating them equally, if fees and taxes are too stifling or if the city just needs to get out of the way.

Lisa Leifeld, Ward 3 candidate, said she’s been concerned about businesses that consider moving out of Hastings. She said that government should be an advocate and partner to business, not a roadblock. She said Hastings needs to attract and keep business.

Trevor Lund, Ward 4 candidate, said Hastings has room for improvement when it comes to business. He suggested the city put more focus on economic development and being proactive in attracting new businesses. He also said that the city should work on developing existing vacant facilities before breaking new ground.

Ideas for Hastings

When asked their ideas to improve Hastings, council candidates had answers that ranged all over, from loosening historic preservation restrictions to building a new marina. One area where a number of candidates agreed, however, was tourism. Specifically, they talked about how to get people to visit Hastings for the first time.

Alpaugh said he’d like to make Hastings a visitor destination, suggesting promoting more development along the river and continuing the Riverfront Renaissance project onto the Vermillion Street corridor. Plans for Vermillion Street are already underway; the city’s 2017 budget so far includes funding for HEDRA to start working on a Vermillion Street redevelopment plan.

Estenson said that adding more events involving biking or winter sports could attract new people to town.

“The reason you never come back to Hastings is if you’ve never been here before,” he said.

Elling Schultz noted tourism as part of her three-pronged approach when asked about business. She said she wants to continue working with the Chamber to develop tourism efforts and echoed Estenson’s sentiment that once people come to Hastings, they’ll stay.

In other comments, Folch noted that the rigid constraints of the Historic Preservation Commission need to be restructured to put less burden on homeowners. She also suggested beefing up the police force and improving the look of the city’s main corridors where they come into town.

“We need to breathe new life into these gateways,” she said.

Balsanek pointed to the concerns over WAC/SAC fees and said that the city has room for improvement. In separate meetings, the city is already working on developing rate adjustments for water and sewer charges. As part of that process, the city is also assessing existing WAC/SAC fees. More information on that discussion will be available soon.

Community engagement was another issue for Estenson, one shared by Leifeld.

Leifeld’s other idea to improve Hastings was to take a more conservative approach with the city budget.

Nelson’s ideas looked to the river in the wake of the Riverfront Renaissance and even suggested that the city could explore refurbishing Lake Rebecca to create a marina.

“We need to utilize the river more,” he said.

He also said he wants to find a development for underused areas in the area of Highway 61 and County Road 47.

Lund said he had two main areas of concern for the city, first to attract more restaurants and retail to Hastings and business that gives people more things to do. His second point was ensuring that residents feel their interests are represented on the council.

Elling Schultz also suggested the city needs to hold neighborhood meetings to discuss traffic, and said that there’s a need for a community service officer to help address concerns about youth crime and drugs.

Complete videos of candidate’s responses can be found online on the Hastings Community TV YouTube channel.