The four candidates for Minot City Council emphasized investing in Minot at a candidate forum hosted by the Minot Area Chamber EDC Thursday.
Incumbents Lisa Olson, Mark Jantzer and Paul Pitner along with newcomer Zach Raknerud spoke about needs in the city and how to pay for them, particularly in a time of high inflation.
Pitner said it’s not realistic to rely on property tax increases and sales tax to generate more revenue.
“We have to be open for business. We have to get people to invest in Minot, whether it’s developers or people to live, work and play in Minot,” he said. “We need to become more economic development friendly.”
Pitner said his goal is a city that “supports our residents, supports our small businesses, invests in Minot, and I think we need to do a better job of that, because we can always do a better job, not that we’re doing a poor job now but we can always always get better. We should never be complacent.”
Olson said people expect good services even as inflation can be expected to drive costs up.
“We’re going to have to absorb some of that as well,” she said of costs, “but we can’t do it on the back of essential services. We still have to provide what is needed and necessary for our community.”
Jantzer agreed the council needs to ensure stability in essential services.
“We need to be efficient. We need to make strategic investments in things like technology that will make us more efficient and provide better service to our citizens,” he said.
Raknerud said Minot needs to make smart, short-term investments to grow the community beyond the 50,000 population that triggers more outside funding that can help with the budget.
Candidates spoke against foregoing employee raises and holding off on critical investments as a means of cutting budgets because of the negative consequences.
Olson recalled the council deferring the city hall retaining wall and fire station projects when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“That was a mistake,” she said. “Those projects are under construction now, but they’re costing our people a lot more money. So we do have to look at making further investments into our community and we need to see ourselves as the hub of northwest North Dakota.”
Raknerud said public employees shouldn’t take the brunt of budget costs.
“The reality is that our public employees here in MInot provide an incredible resource to us as a community,” Raknerud said. “When we talk about whether the avenue to reduce property taxes is staff and what they can do, I think that puts a burden on them that they don’t deserve.”
He listed staffing challenges, particularly in emergency services, as the biggest service gap facing Minot.
“A lot of it boils down to the attraction and retention of quality talent,” he said. “We talk about services that are understaffed. That’s simply less people doing the work. And so, looking at the future, I think we have to really ensure that the quality of the service doesn’t drop as a result.”
The candidates all supported Tax Increment Financing, as has been proposed for the downtown Big M building renovation by a development company. However, they noted a $5 million investment in a second downtown pedestrian bridge would not be wise, although there was support for keeping the idea alive in the city’s Capital Improvements Plan for a potential future bridge someday.
“One of the things that I’ve been disappointed with in the current council is this notion is that we shouldn’t put unfunded obligations in the CIP just because it’s not how we’ve done stuff in the past. I think as we talk about the Anne Street Bridge, there’s a lot of context that needs to be added to this conversation,” Raknerud said, referring to changes with the downtown high school, any potential land sale by the railroad and what might happen with state and federal funds. “Let’s continue to explore what options we have because these next couple of years there’s going to be a lot of moving parts.”
Completion of the flood control project also came out on top of a lot of wish lists for Minot.
“Minot has made amazing progress in the last decade since the flood,”Jantzer said “We have a wonderful community and Minot’s on a good path. If you look around, you can see a lot of positive business and quality-of-life growth. I think that what I want to do is work to keep our progress on track.”