The St. Peter City Council has four open seats (not counting the mayoral race) to be filled this election, with eight total candidates running — none are incumbents. Two are running for a Ward I seat in a special election to finish a departing councilor's term. Two more are running in a separate Ward I election for a full term. And four are running for two seats open in Ward II.

The following are questions from the St. Peter Herald answered by the School Board candidates. Each candidate was asked to answer the questions in 150 words or less.

Shanon Nowell (Ward I special election)

BACKGROUND: 43 years old. Executive Assistant to the Provost at Gustavus Adolphus College. I have been an active member of the St. Peter community since moving here with my family in 2005. I have had the privilege to volunteer with many organizations, including the Creative Play Place, the ECFE advisory board, the St. Peter Library Board, and First Lutheran Church.

What do you consider to be the biggest issue facing the city of Saint Peter right now and how would you work to solve it?

Currently, many people are struggling to find housing in our community. My work brings me into close contact with many who take jobs in Saint Peter, but are forced to live elsewhere. I believe it is important that the wages we pay in town stay here to support our local economy; this cannot happen if families must reside in other communities. I will advocate for policies that support sustainable growth and provide affordable housing for home buyers. I will seek to learn and develop innovative strategies that increase access to housing options that meet a variety of needs, including affordable options for both seniors and families.

In recent years, citywide property taxes have risen for most residents and businesses. Are you concerned about this? What do you believe should be the attitude of the council regarding tax impact in coming years?

Property taxes continue to be the top thing I hear about from constituents in Ward I. The city has placed a few necessary burdens on its citizens, and a few more, like the new fire hall, are on the horizon. I’m glad that I live in a community that places a priority on education and safety, but we must balance these priorities with the reality that they place financial strain on taxpayers, and make it difficult for new families to choose Saint Peter as their home. I’ve heard some sensible solutions, such as adding a sales tax to share the cost with visitors and our seasonal college population, and in some cases this makes sense. In the long term, the council will need to prioritize projects that will help us to expand our tax base by ensuring Saint Peter remains an attractive option for families and businesses.

What does the city need to do better to set itself up for future sustainability and/or growth?

The city needs to completely buy in to the idea of a sustainable future. This necessary mindset would afford more educational opportunities for citizens, a more aggressive approach to promoting available green technologies, and a more proactive collaboration with area organizations and neighboring communities. Ideally, specific approaches to encourage environmental, economic, and social progress would be incorporated into a sustainability master plan. I believe a lot of this work is happening, and I commend those that have contributed to this progress, but a more cohesive strategy would afford more opportunity for public engagement, and allow us to promote Saint Peter as a regional leader.

Why should constituents vote for you?

I have always worked hard, especially for the things I believe in, and I believe in this community. I believe it deserves to grow and prosper. I believe its citizens deserve a healthy and sustainable future. I believe our growing diversity will only make us stronger. And I believe my professional and volunteer experiences have prepared me for this challenging role. All I can ask is that the members of this community believe in me and believe that I will work hard with them, and for them. We’re all neighbors, friends, and family, bound together by this place we call home, and I would be honored to receive their vote and trust on Nov. 5.

Dustin Sharstrom (Ward I special election)

BACKGROUND: I am a Social Studies teacher in the St. Peter School District. My wife, Brooke, is a registered nurse with the Mayo system. Six years ago, we decided to raise our family in St. Peter. We have two children (8-year-old Iris and 5-year-old Bryson) and three dogs (Waffle, Pancake, and Sam).

What do you consider to be the biggest issue facing the city of St. Peter right now and how would you work to solve it?

St. Peter is a wonderful community that is experiencing amazing growth, in both numbers and diversity. This surge of growth includes young families seeking out a great community in which to raise their children. Some of the challenges with this growth are the limitations of housing and the cultivation of an inclusive community that welcomes all people. All the people that choose to live in St. Peter must feel welcome and safe in our community. The City Council is well positioned to meet these challenges head-on by spearheading and promoting projects that will support our growing population as well as diversity in our community. We need to foster housing projects that will create more affordable living opportunities for people of all incomes. We also need to work with all stakeholders in St. Peter to welcome people by embracing and supporting their cultural contributions and also by addressing their unique needs.

In recent years, citywide property taxes have risen for most residents and businesses. Are you concerned about this? What do you believe should be the attitude of the council regarding tax impact in coming years?

Nearly everyone I’ve spoken with while campaigning has expressed concerns about the property taxes in St. Peter. Unfortunately, taxes have been trending up in much of outstate Minnesota, and St. Peter is no exception. I am extremely concerned about citywide property taxes and the financial strain it places on the members of our community. It is the City Council’s utmost duty to be fiscally responsible. Our choices directly impact the people of St. Peter in terms of local tax burden; as such, the council must give serious consideration to the consequences of those choices. Throughout my teaching career, I’ve taught economics at the high school/college level and firmly believe cities need to use a cost/benefit analysis when making decisions about future projects. As a council, we need to analyze the cost of every decision, as well as the benefit to our community, and then be transparent about those decisions.

What does the city need to do better to set itself up for future sustainability and/or growth?

In order for St. Peter to grow sustainably, we need to have a clear strategic plan that is conscious of the environmental and economic impacts of our decisions. Simply put, if we don’t have a strategic plan for financial solvency and environmental initiatives, St. Peter will not continue to sustainably grow. Currently, a large percent of our energy comes from coal plants and we need to make a commitment to utilizing renewable energy. Fortunately, the city has several options for implementing this shift, including working with the energy co-op to increase our amount of renewable energy and incentivizing the use of solar and wind power in St. Peter. As a city, we also need to look closely at the impact water run-off is having on our local waterways. The city can work with all stakeholders to decrease the negative impact water run-off is having on the environment.

Why should constituents vote for you?

I want to be a voice for all people in St. Peter. I’ve taught Social Studies for 13 years, teaching Economics, Geography, and Government at the middle school, high school, and college levels. I will use my professional and academic background in economic reasoning, civic involvement, and accountable governance to continue building a vibrant St. Peter while ensuring sustainability and fiscal responsibility. I’ve spent most of my adult life, and my whole educational career, working with communities to be welcoming and inclusive. Whether that community is within a school, neighborhood, or city, I feel passionately that communities are most resilient when they use logic and science-based research to drive decision-making, and compassion and understanding to embrace changes, growth, and diversity. Because of my background in education and economics, as well as my dedication to equity for all, I feel that I can fairly and competently represent the people of St. Peter.

Keri Johnson (Ward 1 regular election)

BACKGROUND: 33 years old. Personnel Administrator at the St. Peter Food Co-op. I currently serve on the St. Peter Economic Development Authority (EDA), the St. Peter Community Childcare Center (SP3C) Board of Directors, and the #OurStPeter group. I also helped apply to bring the Blandin Foundation’s Leadership in Ethnically Diverse Communities Program to St. Peter and served on the recruitment committee.

What do you consider to be the biggest issue facing the city of St. Peter right now and how would you work to solve it?

Businesses are already feeling the stress of the workforce shortage and this will only become increasingly difficult as demographics change and more “boomers” leave the workforce for retirement. There will continue to be more job vacancies than there are eligible workers to fill those vacancies and this impacts our city’s ability to grow. It’s vital that the city continues to look for proactive solutions for developing an infrastructure that attracts workers to the area, but also encourages current residents to stay in our community. This involves ensuring we have affordable housing options, availability of quality childcare, and that we are a community that is welcoming and inclusive to all. In order to move toward solving these issues, I am interested in continuing our inclusion work, along with looking to our established regional and state partnerships for strategies and resources to address challenges in transportation, housing, and childcare.

In recent years, citywide property taxes have risen for most residents and businesses. Are you concerned about this? What do you believe should be the attitude of the council regarding tax impact in coming years?

This is a primary concern that residents have shared with me throughout my campaign. Contributing to this issue, is the fact that while costs increase each year, employee wages are not keeping up with inflation and those on a fixed income also receive minimal cost of living increases each year. With these factors, I am concerned about the difficulty for individuals and families to budget for the rising cost of property taxes. The council must find a balance to ensure we make the necessary investments to maintain and improve the quality of life in St. Peter and to ensure future sustainability and growth, but not raise taxes to the extent that it impedes the ability to live or do business in our city. Budgeting for our city’s needs with the public’s dollars comes with tremendous responsibility. The council must understand the impact on constituents and ensure their voices are heard.

What does the city need to do better to set itself up for future sustainability and/or growth?

Having been engaged in the work of the city and the council for the past year, I appreciate what the city has done to be proactive in this regard. Yet, we should always strive for continuous improvement. St. Peter isn’t alone in facing sustainability and growth challenges, as numerous other cities struggle with similar issues. Yet, there are many public entities, foundations, and community organizations across Minnesota thinking outside the box and coming up with creative solutions. We should keep an open mind, dive into the research, and explore these ideas to determine if it’s a good fit for implementation in our city. The council will have several new voices making decisions for you next year. I look forward to the opportunity to bring new energy and a fresh perspective to the table as we face challenges together and explore proactive opportunities and solutions that assures St. Peter’s future vitality.

Why should constituents vote for you?

I am running for city council because I am experienced, service-oriented, and I work to build relationships and partnerships in our community. I’ve valued the opportunity to meet hundreds of residents throughout my campaign who’ve shared their hopes, concerns, and ideas with me for what will make our city better. If I am elected, I will keep up this level of engagement in order to effectively represent constituents and to make better decisions, beyond my own values and experiences. My family and I are rooted in St. Peter and we have our own hopes and dreams of living here for many years to come. I feel so fortunate to live in this thriving community and I’m committed and invested in the success of St. Peter. I will work just as hard on the city council as I’ve worked to earn your vote.

Harry Youngvorst (Ward I regular election)

BACKGROUND: 31 years old. Registered Nurse. I’ve lived in St. Peter for 31 years. I grew up and went to school here, I went to college here, and now I live and work here. Every day I serve its residents in my capacity as a registered nurse.

What do you consider to be the biggest issue facing the city of St. Peter right now and how would you work to solve it?

The taxes are too high. Property taxes have risen alarmingly in recent years, along with our utility bills. People are hurting. As your councilman I will do everything in my power to lower taxes. I plan to do this by limiting new expenditures and big-ticket projects, and by trimming waste from the city’s budget.

In recent years, citywide property taxes have risen for most residents and businesses. Are you concerned about this? What do you believe should be the attitude of the council regarding tax impact in coming years?

I am very concerned about property taxes. The attitude of the council towards raising taxes in the coming years should be one of skepticism and reluctance. Big ticket projects should be put on hold and, wherever possible, alternate funding sound be sought for projects that are essential. Unfortunately, the realities of running a city are that some projects cannot be put on hold, and that the cost for the same services rises each year due to inflation. Wherever possible I hope to offset new spending with budget cuts.

What does the city need to do better to set itself up for future sustainability and/or growth?

Our exceptional schools and parks are huge drivers of growth for St. Peter. I served on the Park and Recreation Advisory Board for the city, and I cannot emphasize how much these two things attract people to come here and build a life. Maintaining their excellence is essential to our continued growth. Additionally, addressing the topic of sustainability, the time is now for the city to invest in renewable energy. Not only is this good for the environment, but it’s good for our pocketbook. The cost of renewable energy has fallen dramatically in recent years and will only continue to fall. Investing now will pay dividends in the years and decades to come.

Why should constituents vote for you?

Having lived in this town for my entire life, I feel a sense of debt to the place that has given me so much. I hope that as a city councilman I can give back, through service, at least a small measure of what I have received. By striving together, we can keep St. Peter a beacon for the generations to come.

Terry Bergemann (Ward II regular election)

BACKGROUND: 66 years old. Large frame generator assembler at Kato Engineering. Heritage Preservation Commission, and family live in St. Peter.

What do you consider to be the biggest issue facing the city of St. Peter right now and how would you work to solve it?

Fire needs a new building to meet state and federal codes. Help pay for we need a city sales tax,and a bond. Old part of St. Peter sewer lines have started to deteriorate. Need to work with the city administrator on the best way to finance this. Taxes. Yes, just a little. You have to understand the school district gets some, the county get some

In recent years, citywide property taxes have risen for most residents and businesses. Are you concerned about this? What do you believe should be the attitude of the council regarding tax impact in coming years?

The city of Saint Peter has done a fine job at keeping their share reasonable. A 0.5% sales tax with have to be voted in, along with bonds. Growth, work at bring more jobs to town.

What does the city need to do better to set itself up for future sustainability and/or growth?

Set up an incubator to help a startup businesses to grow.

Why should constituents vote for you?

Vote for me. I would bring enthusiasm, tenacity, respect. 

Brad Devos (Ward II regular election)

BACKGROUND: 48 years old. Consultant. Member of the St. Peter Economic Development Authority (EDA). Member of Living Truth Fellowship (LTF) church. Volunteer at LTF Wednesday night youth program (AWANA). Small business consultant with clients in St Peter and the surrounding area. Former Treasurer of St. Peter Community Childcare Center (SP3C).

What do you consider to be the biggest issue facing the city of St. Peter right now and how would you work to solve it?

One of the biggest issues facing St. Peter at this time is paying for the new fire station, which is definitely needed. To alleviate the burden on property taxpayers, implementing a half-cent sales tax could cover a majority of the cost.

The sales tax would bring in money from those who don’t live or own a business in St. Peter, sharing the cost with those who come to work, school, dine or shop in our community but don’t typically pay property taxes.

In recent years, citywide property taxes have risen for most residents and businesses. Are you concerned about this? What do you believe should be the attitude of the council regarding tax impact in coming years?

While we don’t always agree on every project the city undertakes, I believe the city staff overall does their best to run an efficient organization. Unfortunately, due to the everyday inflation the city faces in employee retention, cost of equipment and other purchases, taxes will consistently go up. The question is how much and how do we reduce that impact? The best way to approach that is to work diligently to increase the property tax base. The city should look at ways that encourage new housing developments, both single and multi-family, while also aggressively recruiting new and expanding businesses. This will spread the cost out and reduce the long-term burden on current St. Peter residents and business owners.

What does the city need to do better to set itself up for future sustainability and/or growth?

The city needs to identify a new formula in how to encourage more entry level housing development. Despite success in past developments, the same formula has not worked in Traverse Green, at least not with the city-built homes. Honestly, I don’t have an easy answer for this problem, but finding solutions to this issue should continue to be a high priority for the new city council. 

Why should constituents vote for you?

Experience. Through the grace of God, I’ve been given opportunities for growth that have provided experiences that will benefit the city. I don’t come from a privileged background. Dad was a truck driver and Mom worked in a food packaging plant. They helped where they could, but college was mostly paid for through multiple jobs and student loans. That led to a career with over 20 years of private sector experience in financial, data and workflow analysis spread across financial services, retail and agriculture. The perspective gained from working with organizations of diverse sizes, cultures and industries will be beneficial in understanding the diverse business coming before the council. Finally, I have a track record of success working with boards and city government. One example is my time serving as treasurer of St. Peter Community Childcare Center during their turnaround.

That life and professional experience will serve St. Peter well.

Emily Bruflat (Ward II regular election)

BACKGROUND: 32 years old. Cantor (Director of Music) at First Lutheran Church. In addition to serving at First Lutheran, I have co-led interdenominational services and presented recitals and music festivals. Also, I have been on the Heritage Preservation Commission since January and recently completed training to become a K-12 "Promoting Respect Workshop" facilitator in area schools through the Greater Mankato Diversity Council.

What do you consider to be the biggest issue facing the city of St. Peter right now and how would you work to solve it?

I believe that cities all over the country, Saint Peter included, are facing a reality where an abundance of information is available, and some citizens struggle to distinguish fact from fiction. While Saint Peter trends toward being well-educated (quality schools, college, etc.), I do not believe that any community is immune to the excess of misinformation and the decline in critical analysis. The first step to fixing this is to acknowledge that it is a problem and then work to address it. For my part, I pledge to be a transparent and direct liaison to the community when it comes to anything our city faces and to monitor how and where I receive information. I work hard to form my beliefs from facts and not opinions and hold myself to a high standard, and I would expect my elected officials and colleagues on the council to do the same.

In recent years, citywide property taxes have risen for most residents and businesses. Are you concerned about this? What do you believe should be the attitude of the council regarding tax impact in coming years?

Any increase in taxes should be monitored with a healthy level of skepticism. I believe that we should prioritize necessities, such as the Fire Hall and renewable energy, and make sure that there is verifiable benefit to our spending. In general, I think that we as a community have been getting quality services for what we pay, but it goes both directions. If citizens believe their taxes are too high, I would ask them to define what they would cut from the many benefits this community offers. Well-maintained roads and sidewalks, good schools and parks, clean water, a fantastic community center and library, competent city staff, and other public services cost money. In my opinion, our tax to benefit ratio is still within a place of balance.

What does the city need to do better to set itself up for future sustainability and/or growth?

As someone who is not on the current council, I do not have first-hand knowledge of what is being presented and discussed on these topics. That said, I think we need to take climate change into consideration for every infrastructure and major construction project we tackle. Frequent rains, flooding, and more extreme weather in general are going to impact our community, and I think we need to be proactive and preventive in dealing with this. St. Peter could also consider Internet as a utility and make Internet cost much less and available to more citizens. Further, since Saint Peter is growing, any new developments should take lower-income citizens and renters into account; I have heard and experienced the difficulty of finding affordable housing in the area. Saint Peter is in a good position, but we should always work to do better and ensure that everyone is benefiting from living here.

Why should constituents vote for you?

Citizens in Ward 2 should vote for me because I am invested in the success and well-being of our community. I care about nurturing and defending our environment, investing in education, and promoting a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds. As a young woman living and working in St. Peter, I believe I would bring diversity and an alternative perspective to the council. I have served this community for the past four years as the music director at First Lutheran Church, working with people of all ages and fostering relationships both inside and outside of the church community. I have a passion for service and learning that I will bring to the City Council. I would be honored to have your vote.

David McGuire (Ward II regular election)

BACKGROUND: 49 years old. Writer and Historian. Lifelong resident of St. Peter, Attended South Elementary School and John Ireland Catholic School, Graduated from St. Peter High School in 1990. Member of the Calvary Cemetery Board at the Church of St. Peter since 2000, Member of Mankato Toastmasters Club #175 for 10 years, former club President, current Sergent-at-Arms. Two terms on the Heritage Preservation Commission.

What do you consider to be the biggest issue facing the city of St. Peter right now and how would you work to solve it?

One of the most important issues currently being discussed is replacing the existing fire station with a new state-of-the-art one with more usable space than is in the current one. We should make the site where it will be built safer due to it’s location near the Middle School, looking at all safety options that would work other than a roundabout. I would not be in favor putting a roundabout there or anywhere else in the city. And looking at other cities in the area that have built new fire stations, like Le Sueur, which would be similar to what the St. Peter Station should be. We should research the cost and try as much as possible to use local contractors for the project. As for the existing fire station, instead of tearing it down I think the city could remodel and use it for other purposes. St. Peter used to be known as the place where History and Progress meet, the old fire station is part of our history. The city could have done better in the past when in came to historic preservation. We can do better now.

In recent years, citywide property taxes have risen for most residents and businesses. Are you concerned about this? What do you believe should be the attitude of the council regarding tax impact in coming years?

I am very concerned about this. The city wants to attract new citizens, businesses, and industries. If something is not done, we wont be able to do that. People will try to find a more affordable place to live or start a business. A city sales tax has been mentioned as a solution. Out-of-town visitors, college students as well as local residents would pay the sales tax. If a city sales tax would help lower property taxes, it should be considered. It would help attract new restaurants, hotels, etc. that would accommodate visitors to our town, making it more convenient for those attending events in town, at the College, the High School, etc., thereby providing an in-town convenience for visitors.

What does the city need to do better to set itself up for future sustainability and/or growth?

One of the issues was mentioned in the last question. I would not be against a sales tax if it works to help lower property taxes in the city. We can take care of the more important items that need to be addressed. I am not against taxes per-se, I am against raising property taxes that are already way too high now. We need to attract, not scare away, potential residents and business owners. We should also support those already here. There are several spaces downtown of valuable real estate that could be used for more commercial-residential use, are being used as parking space. Structures could be built that would accommodate those needs and also provide parking space that could be designed to fit in with the existing historic buildings.

Why should constituents vote for you?

I will study each issue carefully before making a final decision on the issue to make sure there is a feasible cost-effective way to solve any problem that may arise, including an energy program that is environmentally friendly and cost effective and doesn’t sacrifice valuable farm land that can be used for growing food.

Reach Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-931-8567 or follow him on Twitter @EditorPhilipWeyhe. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

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