If elected, what is your top priority for the term? Why are you running for office?
Lois Nelson: As we will have at least one new councilperson at the table, the dynamics of the council as a respectful, effective group is critical to our working together in addressing current tasks and the future. I would encourage the council to participate in the League of MN Cities training sessions for both new and seasoned members this next year, probably all in a virtual environment. Then, I would schedule a work session with council and key staff members and an outside facilitator on team dynamics and review the capital and finance plans as we work together in the years to come. I am running for a third term as mayor because I have the passion, energy, history and connections to address today’s issues while mentoring our future leaders.
Danny Thomas: Medford has three major projects scheduled in the near future; Main Street reconstruction, building a new City Hall and fire hall and remodel existing water plant or regionalize with nearby communities. I believe I can lead the community with the community’s help into the future while controlling cost and still make our town affordable to live in. Residents have approached me to run for mayor after our concerns about the Main St. projects seemed not to be heard. I was previously mayor when 9/11 happened , I led us through those tough times as a community and we can get through these current hard times together as a community.
What will be your approach to balancing the budget in terms of reducing spending and/or raising taxes and fees?
LN: Thankfully, we do have long-term capital and finance plans in place to reference as we work on the budget. These are reviewed annually by council and updated/changed according to current priorities and needs. This exercise has improved our entire budgeting process. We have an administrator who is numbers conscious and a staff who give input to the budget prioritizing their specific department needs as well. We have consistently tried to stay with the inflation rate or less each of these past years. Council concentrates from July – December on what the next year’s budget will look like and certify to the county at year-end. Our auditor confirmed again this year that Medford’s tax rates are right in the middle of the state’s cities with our population. This is also true of our utility rates. A good place to be!
DT: The balancing of the budget for the coming year will be difficult after everyone is dealing with COVID-19. When I was mayor after 9/11, the City Council and I worked with auditors to develop a plan which is still followed by the city today. All areas of the city from the pool, Muni, Wastewater Plant, and city staffing will need to be reviewed to reduce spending and balance the budget.
What are priorities you would like to see for the city’s roads and bridges?
LN: Council and community have discussed Main Street/County Road 45 since 2015! The street needs to be rebuilt to handle todays and at least the next 25 years of traffic. We have an aged water main tied to this project that has exceeded its normal lifetime. This street is a traffic artery for Medford and surrounding communities. With the county partnering on the street cost, it is time to accept the latest proposal so in 2022 we can all enjoy the finished project. Legislative dedication with transportation funds to small cities is critical in assisting our future street maintenance. We do have a maintenance program in place dedicating capital dollars each year. No bridge replacement necessary. Additionally, our aging public works buildings lack space and energy efficiency and we need to upgrade our wastewater operation. Exploring regional options for greater efficiency is a critical step now underway.
DT: The Main St. Project needs to be reviewed to control cost for the city in 2021. Our biggest asset, the Wastewater Plant, needs to be affordable as well as the City Hall and Fire Hall needs to be what the community wants. I will work with the community residents that have knowledge about these issues to discuss as a team with input that is best for the City of Medford.
How do you plan to promote bringing new businesses into the city and help support current businesses as they try to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic?
LN: The CARES funds designated toward small businesses is in process. A number of our businesses also took advantage of other state and federal programs during this pandemic. Our Economic Development Authority Board (EDA) with the assistance of our business consultant from Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA) over the past couple years has initiated supportive programs in addition to our loan programs. The goal is to assist in growth and keeping them viable. The re-purposing of the UltraOutlets from a total retail entity to a destination site or multi-purpose facility requires working with their owners and consultants with the goal of keeping this a viable operation and an asset to our tax base. Our administrator and CEDA consultant handles inquiries as often; they are highly exploratory and confidential. Medford has a reputation of leadership willing to listen and explore possibilities. We will keep at it.
DT: We need to listen to our current business members and ask them how we can help to make them successful. We need to find out what the community would like to see for the business in town as well as the business space on the west side of the freeway.
What role do you see the city taking in increasing the availability of affordable housing as the city continues to grow?
LN: Housing expansion in Medford has to coincide with expansion of our wastewater operations. Presently, we are limited on the number of properties that can be built until this is updated. Affordable housing is not just a Medford issue. The definition also has to be clarified. Here, too, this is a regional issue. I’m hopeful that the recently initiated MN Housing Institute that is a program of study and data over the next eighteen months involving around fifty individuals from public, private and non-profit entities from all of Steele County will give us all some direction on housing opportunities and solutions. Right now the 5th Ave Development-a major project for people 50-years and older in either the market-rate apartments or town homes has a goal to free up existing housing stock in the area that is more ‘affordable’ than new stick-built homes.
DT: The City needs to continue looking at affordable housing while controlling cost to help Medford to continue to be a great little town to live in.