When the city’s voters go to the polls on Tuesday, April 3, they will see two names on the ballot in the race for mayor.
One will be incumbent Brian Smith, and the other will be alderperson Deb Fenske.
“I’m motivated to be the mayor. I have the expertise to be the mayor. I have the respect of the employees of the city. I have the respect of the majority of the city council. I enjoy being the mayor. I enjoy working with the employees. I enjoy working with the citizens and the businesses,” said Smith, who is seeking his sixth two-year term as mayor.
Smith served on the Common Council from December 1996 until being elected mayor in April 2002.
A native of Waupaca, Smith received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business education from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and taught in Racine from 1979 until 1983, when he moved back to Waupaca with his wife, Terri.
Smith taught at Waupaca High School from 1983 through 1989 and coached various sports in both of the school districts where he taught.
He started his accounting business as a part-time venture in 1985, eventually deciding to go into it full time and moving to his present location in June 1989. He presently has more than 2,800 clients.
Smith also officiates football games and is part owner of Paca Pub with his brothers. He and Terri have three children and five grandchildren.
Waupaca’s mayor and Common Council will face a tough budget year in 2013, with the city seeing a reduction in debt payments after that year.
When asked how he would approach the 2013 budget, Smith said, “We actually already started the approach.”
The 2013 budget was taken into consideration during the planning of the 2012 budget, he said.
“2013 will be very similar to 2012. We have some one-time monies we’re using in 2012. I think we will have about the same one-time monies in 2013,” Smith said. “We will be negotiating with our employees. We will have to stay at a minimal increase in pay, if any. I don’t think we’ll do a lot of capital improvements in 2013.”
He proposes keeping property taxes level in 2013.
“The 2013 budget is a big reason why I should still be the mayor,” Smith said. “We’ve done a lot of things the past five years, knowing that once we get past 2013, we’re looking at a reduction in debt payments.”
Once that debt decreases, he wants the residents to keep in mind that capital items that have been put off will need to be considered.
“The city needs somebody who knows how to financially prepare a budget,” Smith said. “Not only do I have that expertise, but I also have been mayor for 10 years.”
The city’s 2012 budget includes hiring an economic development director by the fourth quarter.
He said if the city does not find someone for the position, there are current employees who are capable of handling those duties, with assistance from the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
However, Smith said city employees need to be able to focus on their own jobs. “I think it is important to have somebody in place for economic development,” he said. “We need to have someone who is an expert in that area.”
When asked what is the most important thing the city can do now to encourage economic development, Smith said, “A lot of groundwork is already done. We’ve got plenty of land in our industrial parks and our technology park. All the infrastructure is in place. There is plenty of housing.”
He said there needs to be enough of a workforce here to take on a new business.
“First, we have to take care of the businesses we have in town,” Smith said. “We have done this. We have to convince people that Waupaca is the best community to be in. We just have to continue on our path.”
This year, senior citizens had to begin paying an annual membership to use the senior center.
When the mayor was asked if this is a permanent budget solution or a temporary one, he said. “I think the senior issue is that it should be fair across the board. Is it a budget solution? No. Is it a fairness issue? Yes.”
Smith would like to see more programming at the senior center, saying that at some point, the center’s budget needs to increase.
When asked if changes in the pension and health-care plans for city employees have affected morale, he said, “Probably more of the morale issue was that it was not across the board, that it wasn’t equitable.”
The governor’s budget did not require law enforcement officers to pay 5.9 percent toward their pensions as other municipal workers are now required to do.
In Waupaca, there are two different health-care plans for city employees, with law enforcement having higher deductibles.
“We tried the last couple of negotiations – we had asked our employees to start participating in their pensions. With the unions, it was one of the first things thrown out,” Smith said.
For the employees now required to do so, it means less income for them, he said.
“It is a pay cut. People were used to having this income, and now, it’s gone,” Smith said.
While employees received a wage increase, having to pay in 5.9 percent for their pension, means they have lost money, he said.
“Over the last five years, we have asked them to work for no pay increase,” he said.
Smith sees the ability to change the city’s health plan as a good thing. The city will save money, and the employees’ participation in wellness activities means they will look at living healthier lives.
The two mayoral candidates were also asked if they think the city could have handled the case against former Parks and Recreation Director Jim Ash differently.
“The most important thing,” Smith said, “was to find out the truth, and the best way to find out the truth was to no longer have Mr. Ash working for us.”
A number of options were considered, and the city administrator, city attorney and labor attorney offered their opinions, he said.
“”We were able to get him to not be a city employee and to immediately begin the investigation,” Smith said.
He said all who were involved wish it could have been completed more quickly.
“With Jim no longer being an employee of the city, we were able to use local investigators to do the investigation. We were able to get this man to admit that he did something wrong. We didn’t have to go through a jury trial, which would have cost thousands of dollars. Our investigator did a good job. The result is he’s in prison,,” Smith said.
He said the city is getting reimbursed from its insurance carrier for as much as it can.
When asked what image he believes residents have of City Hall, he said, “The only thing you can do is be open. My door is always open.”
Smith has office hours twice a week and said, “. If people take the time to read and watch WIN TV and call their council members and call the mayor, they will know what’s going on in the city.”
Smith said people are fed up with government in general.
“We need to have the trust back in everybody. People forget I am a taxpayer. I have business clients. I live here. I own property. My family lives here,” he said.
Some have asked him if he continues to have the drive to be mayor.
“I’m proud to be the mayor of the city of Waupaca,” Smith said. “I want to make sure the city is on the right track when I leave here. We’re so close – a year and a half. Who better to talk about the city of Waupaca than someone who has been mayor 10 years.”