If elected, what is your top priority for the term? Why are you running for office?
Ethan Cords: I am running for office because I love our community, but see opportunities for improvement. I want to make sure Owatonna is well set for the future and remains a place where both businesses and families can thrive.
Tom Kuntz: The number one issue facing Owatonna is the COVID epidemic and how it affects the community. How do we aid our small business along with our factories to ensure they all survive during these difficult times? The city of Owatonna’s Economic Development Committee has put in place applications for grants, the Chamber has issued dollars collected to aid business and our factories have stepped up to provide equipment and material to put safe guards in place to protect the workers and customers. I believe we need to continue to grow our great city with housing, commercial, and industry which have been my priorities for the past sixteen years and will continue over the next four years. I am running for office because I love representing our city and look forward to completing projects like the new high school, downtown redevelopment, and bring new workers to our community.
What will be your approach to balancing the budget in terms of reducing spending and/or raising taxes and fees?
EC: Between the city, county and school district, local government spending has been increasing rapidly over the last few years. In addition, the pandemic has caused financial hardship for many. We need to do everything we can to reduce taxes and reduce cost of government. One way we can do that is by replacing the city’s vehicle fleet with electric vehicles, this will reduce fuel costs substantially and drastically reduce spending for vehicle maintenance. I have great experience with financial markets and can always find room for budgetary improvements.
TK: The staff starts working on the budget in June and July and the council starts its review in August. The staff and council recommended a 3% levy increase for 2021. With 70 plus percent of our budget being personnel it only leaves 25% for other items. Staff has done a great job on making any cuts possible to keep it at a 3% levy increase.
What priorities you would like to see for the city’s roads and bridges?
EC: Improving traffic flow in and around downtown is very important. We must also improve travel between the northeast and southeast corners of the city, this will be crucial with the location of the new high school. We should also work with the private sector to improve transportation options in our city.
TK: The City has over 180 miles of roads within city limits and maintaining them becomes a huge expense. Keeping our roads in great shape is the number one priority over the next 20 years. As we continue to grow, the north and east beltline becomes more of a priority. With the new high school on the south side, how will that impact traffic into the future? When we talk infrastructure, we need to expand our wastewater treatment plant which will occur in the next couple of years. These are all big ticket items which means we need to take a hard look at bonding due to the low interest rates.
How do you plan to continue to prioritize the growth of business in Owatonna, both downtown and in the industrial park?
EC: Earlier this year I began a corporation, so I know some of the struggles of running a business. I will work to improve incentive programs to attract new and innovative business to our city. With the pandemic, we must work extra hard to ensure the survival of our small businesses. I will work with state and federal representatives to ensure our stimulus and emergency loan money is available in case another lock down is necessary.
TK: Owatonna has been very blessed over the last 10 years with our industrial growth. Highway 14 and the new high school have played a role in that growth, but growth does not happen without a great team which the city of Owatonna has. What community has a local business (Federated Insurance) take over a closing mall and turn it into a great office complex, and also being a major supporter of our new high school? Many of our existing industries continue to expand creating additional jobs. Companies like Costco, Rise Modular, Minimizer and others find Owatonna to be a great location. Our location of Hwy. 14 and I-35 brings great benefits to our community.
What role do you see the city taking in increasing the availability of affordable housing as the city continues to grow?
EC: With rapid growth in the industrial park, the completion of Hwy. 14 and the construction of a new high school, we are going to see an increased demand for labor. The city needs to work with developers to expand access to affordable housing. Many struggle to find affordable apartments and even more struggle to purchase a home. We need housing that is built for both individuals and families. Creating new incentive programs for building homes and apartments could help provide new affordable options for our city.
TK: The hard part is defining what is affordable housing. The current housing market is continually active today with affordable houses moving at a very rapid pace. Apartment complexes are becoming more of the norm and we are blessed to see several apartment complexes being built. Through September we have seen 25 new homes started and we will continue to see that number grow.