What is the most pressing issue in Northfield and why? What would you do to address that?
David DeLong: For me the most pressing issue facing Northfield are the financial implications of COVID-19. Families, businesses, renters, landlords and taxpayers all have been impacted. Some greatly, some slightly. Most people I know have taken a long hard look at the present and future state of their incomes and have adjusted budgets, cut back spending. and put off discretionary spending. The city has not. To address this, I will continue to speak up for the overtaxed citizens who are struggling right now.
Brad Ness: I think the most pressing issue for Northfield is the uncertainty of one of our main sources of income, Local Government Aid. The state of Minnesota has not commented on this for the near future, but I think we cannot rely on 100% of the amount we have received in the past. The city needs to look at all expenses and first take a look at them to see if they are wants or needs.
Jami Reister: The most pressing issues facing Northfield are affordable housing and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to think creatively and broadly, incorporating the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to address the housing shortage. The pandemic can only be managed through an intentional, fact-based approach in order to keep our community safe and healthy, and our local businesses thriving. As a physician, I bring a scientific and medical perspective currently absent in the council.
We are aware of the pressing need for affordable housing locally. What steps can the council take to ensure there is a sufficient stock?
JR: Affordable housing remains key to strong communities, thriving families, and healthy seniors, but it is a complicated and expensive challenge to tackle; Northfield is not alone in this dilemma. The council needs to explore all public, private, and nonprofit options available to provide additional housing. This is a complicated issue that will require comprehensive and creative solutions, but I'm confident Northfielders can address it.
BN: I believe that affordable housing is always on the council radar. Every housing project that receives city assistance must include a percentage of affordable units. One of the biggest hurdles for builders and developers is how to cut the cost of construction and still build within the building codes. The council is working closely with the HRA to help them approve worthy projects.
DD: The council can work to keep property taxes down. More affordable property taxes means less costs for landlords to pass through to renters, and also helps current and prospective homeowners reduce payments. The city has a Housing and Redevelopment Authority and a dedicated housing coordinator. If what the city is doing or has done, has produced inadequate results, maybe we should reevaluate.
What approach do you suggest the city should take in remaining financially solvent through COVID-19? Combating any corresponding decrease in LGA funding?
DD: The City can be proactive now instead of being reactive later. Maybe cut back on the added features that have resulted in a $4 million Division Street project or a $4 million dollar roundabout. Maybe we put a temporary moratorium on public arts funding and bumpouts and concentrate on fixing the streets not decorating the streetscape. Maybe cut back on consultants and out of state travel. Maybe this isn’t the right time for a multi-million dollar Riverfront enhancement project that disrupts Babcock Park, gets rid of the rodeo site, and moves the dog park next to the Veterans Memorial, makes changes to Sechler and paves over some of the Ames Park green space.
JR: In order to remain financially solvent during COVID-19, the city needs to manage its resources responsibly, anticipate a likely decrease in future LGA funding, and stay aware of the pandemic-induced financial stressors facing taxpayers. The council and city administrators have already expressed this awareness and are acting accordingly in its planning. While we cannot realistically stop funding projects and city needs, we can responsibly address these expenses.
BN: As I mentioned in question No. 1, the City needs to consider wants and needs now more than ever. I can’t predict the future of the LGA from the state of Minnesota, but I think we should assume that there will be a decrease in this assistance. If it turns out that there is no cut, we can then look at funding some of the projects that have been put on hold.
Where would you like to see Northfield be in five to 10 years? How do you plan to achieve that vision?
BN: I don’t think anyone knows what will change after the COVID-19 situation is under control. I think Northfield has been pretty good about controlling most spending and usually ends the year with a surplus. These may be especially needed in the next one to three years.
DD: I would like to see a city that hasn’t been stripped of it’s history. I would like to see a city where the haves and have-nots are treated equally and have an equal voice. I would like to see a city where people can afford to move to and current residents can afford to stay in their houses as long as they would like. I would like to see a city where there are not only youth initiatives but older adult initiatives. I will keep being that voice of realism, and see that changes are substantive and needed. No superficial and desired spending projects to show how progressive we can be.
JR: In 5 to 10 years, I would like to see Northfield as a thriving, inclusive, and safe community focused on providing an excellent quality of life for its residents in a financially stable and sustainable manner. It would be a community that is environmentally conscientious and socially responsible. Achieving that vision occurs by working as a team, following our values, and listening to residents' needs and concerns.
What do you believe is the role of city government?
JR: The city government's role is to provide public services and quality infrastructure while meeting its citizens' needs transparently and responsibly. City government must function in an organized fashion to encourage economic development and city growth while caring for its residents and maximizing their health, safety, and quality of life.
DD: Promote and protect the health, safety, morals, comfort, convenience and welfare of the inhabitants of the city and fulfill its responsibility to treat all of its citizens equally and with good order without regard to age, race, color, creed, sex, religion, national origin, marital status or status with regard to public assistance or disability.
BN: I realize that there is a theme to my answers to your questions. I think the City Council needs to be especially good stewards of the tax money the city collects. There are certain city projects that must continue. There will always be citizens that believe that the city does not need a certain project or spending, but most of this spending has been vetted and discussed for at least 6 months before getting authorization. We need to continue this process.