If elected, what is your top priority for the term? Why are you running for office?
Matt Durand: Community Engagement – as our society continues to grow and embrace technology; how we connect to each other is changing. A city is nothing without its citizens and it’s critical that we engage them to ensure that we have trust, understanding and collaboration. We need to be proactive and initiate communication and dialogue with the community to maximize resident engagement. This will ensure institutional and organizational leaders have a clear understanding of and a commitment to engaging with the community in a meaningful and effective way. We need to explore frequent and diverse opportunities for public education and engagement. Provide a variety of creative, convenient and cost-effective ways for the public to access educational information, become involved, and have real opportunities to engage and provide feedback. Provide a consistent and coordinated approach to community engagement for participating entities to guide the selection of the most appropriate method and level of engagement.
Doug Voss: Continuing to effectively help manage the budget. This helps to accomplish our goal of Efficient, Effective and Economical government. By accomplishing these goals we keep local government in a position to help ALL the citizens build a quality life in Owatonna. I am running for re-election because I have the experience and vision to help keep Owatonna moving forward. We have many accomplishments over the last 4 years in the area of Economic Development: expanding or new businesses include Costco, Rise Modular, Minimizer, Daikin Applied, James Brothers, Bosch and Cemstone just to name a few. And we have made amazing progress in the area of housing with the addition of over 200 apartments and 25 homes just this year. Projects completed in just the last 3 years include Eastgate, Southpoint 1 and 2, East Vine, The Point and 660 Mound. These projects don’t happen without the involvement of City Government.
What will be your approach to balancing the budget in terms of reducing spending and/or raising taxes and fees?
MD: Living within our means is extremely important as citizens and should be equally important to the city. City staff works hard to develop budgets to cover the anticipated costs of running the city. Currently, the city is partaking in an overall process study with the MN GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) to investigate how things are done within city operations. It is my hope that this evaluation will identify and provide opportunities for efficiency and effectiveness in an effort to improve spending. My approach will be to work with city staff to find creative solutions to help keep the city within budget. That means meeting with staff in the summer and fall to review budgets, discuss actuals, and understand anticipated expenses. Open dialogue with staff will allow for clear communication with community members about how the city is being good stewards of their tax dollars.
DV: With my help we will continue to keep local government efficient and affordable. Levy increases have been below the growth rate for the last three years in a row resulting in a lower a property tax rate. This takes a huge amount of time and effort to accomplish. Priorities have to be established and the vision of where we are going as a city has to always be in the forefront. There are times when the answer is NO to additional spending and there are times when re-evaluation is needed. The year of COVID has really been a challenge and tough decisions were made in regards to layoffs and furloughs. It is never easy to do that with employees. My experience as a small business owner really helps me to understand these difficulties.
What are priorities you would like to see for the city’s roads and bridges?
MD: I’d like to see the city complete the road evaluation process that the Engineering department is working on. This is a great undertaking and an important step to understand where the priorities are for our community. The “roads report card” will then be used to establish the greatest need for repairs. Once the priorities are established by staff, it’s key that we start to discuss these with our citizens. As council members, it will be our responsibility to discuss these with our homeowner so that they can understand and anticipate these future assessments. Knowledge is power and communication about the upcoming projects will allow homeowner to plan for the future.
DV: We will have some challenges over the next few years but due to our great relationship with Steele County that has been developed over the last four years I have no doubt that we will handle them well. The east side of Owatonna will need a plan for North to South transportation and that is already in discussion. I have been very proactive in this area having met with our city engineer numerous times to get the wheels moving. General upkeep of our current system is a challenge every year and our Street Department and Engineering Department have done a great job keeping up with these challenges. They have been very responsive to citizen requests for repairs and have responded to me personally many times in the last three years.
How do you plan to continue to prioritize the growth of business in Owatonna, both downtown and in the industrial park?
MD: Planning is so key to strong downtowns. GIS city mapping is a planning tool that could be used to better understand the business types, vacancies, hours of operation and needs for our community. This tool can help us to better understand how to make positive impacts. We need to provide proactive collaborations with our downtown businesses, more now than ever during the pandemic and engage our community members to help guide this work. Neighboring communities have established downtown stakeholder groups to review vacant buildings, establish priorities for types of businesses desired to fill the vacancies, and to recruit new business to help shape the streetscape. In order to grow our downtown, it’s important to understand where we are, where we want to be, and the steps we will take to get there. Plan the work and work the plan!
DV: I have spent over 30 years in the Owatonna business community. Running a business for over requires the perseverance and diligence to see the big picture and move ahead. 2020 has been especially challenging in business. These lessons definitely carry over to my role on the EDA, Business Development Center Board and the City Council as a whole. The increase in large businesses is not a coincidence: It takes a major investment of time and effort from both the City Council and City staff. Having a great vision for the future has put us in the position of being a VERY attractive location for business. Small business people have been very pleased by the efforts of our EDA over the last 2 years. We established a forgivable loan program that leverages dollars for infrastructure. Our CARES Act Small Business grant program will likely help many businesses survive 2020.
What role do you see the city taking in increasing the availability of affordable housing as the city continues to grow?
MD: The general rule of thumb is 30% of gross monthly income on housing. For many workers who make $15-$20 per hour there housing equates to $700 to $1,000 per month. Based on the current market rate apartments that have been constructed, this is very challenging for many workers in Owatonna. Many of our families are struggling to find acceptable housing to meet their needs. I feel that the city should lead the effort to find creative solutions to assist the creation of workforce housing. In the past two years, I’ve led a small group of concerned citizens who are passionate about making a difference. We have partnered with the Minnesota Housing Partnership to ensure that our community is enrolled in the Housing Institute. For the next 18 months, stakeholders will discuss and better understand the barriers and obstacles experienced and how to help create paths to home ownership and affordable housing.
DV: Housing is a huge subject and one that I have thrown much of my efforts into — it can be very complicated and has many parts. We need more housing: ALL KINDS of housing. From workforce housing to single family housing to senior housing to high end housing. It all adds up to create the picture of a healthy city. I am very proud of the workforce housing project, Eastgate, which is going up near Dartts Park. It will not only help many of our hard working citizens to have a safe and quality place to live – it also will have four units to house the homeless and the support needed to help those people to improve their lives. There are a number of housing projects that have been approved and will be moving forward soon. We will need more than 1,600 new housing units in the next 10 years.