Kuester, Hankins tied votes in 2014
By Bert Lehman
Two years after unseating Mike Hankins in District 4, incumbent Mary-Beth Kuester is being challenged by Hankins in the election on Tuesday, April 5.
To help inform voters where the candidates stand on the issues concerning Clintonville, the Tribune-Gazette asked the candidates several questions. The questions and their responses are listed below.
What are the two most important issues facing the city of Clintonville?
Hankins: A) The need for positive cooperative and experienced leadership. B) The need for good long range planning.
Kuester: A) Our aging population and our stagnant population growth. B) Our aging infrastructure.
If elected, what would you do to find solutions to those issues?
Hankins: A) Successful communities grow when guided by forward looking leaders that effectively represent the citizens, the small business, and the industrial base of the community. During my 10 years on the Council we continued to develop new and expanded businesses, like Walgreens, Kwik Trip, Klein Auto, Creative Converting and many others. These types of development mean jobs, re-investment in our community and a growing tax base, which helps keep taxes lower.
These things don’t just happen; they are the result of long term planning and coordination between these valued businesses, city staff and positive council leadership. They also happen because local citizens and businesses feel confident in the long range plans and leadership at city hall. I think we need to return to that kind of leadership.
We have important decisions to make, including the selection of our next fulltime city administrator/economic development coordinator. We also need to develop solutions to support our small businesses, encourage the continued growth of our industrial park. We also need to work to develop more residential options to help encourage new residents to choose to live in Clintonville. It is vital that we make good decisions.
B) Communities with good long range planning grow and thrive. As part of 30 years of community development work in Clintonville, I have focused on long term planning to achieve industrial, business and residential growth, now and for the next 30 years. We need to take advantage of resources at UW Extension, East Central Planning, and Waupaca County, to help continue this long range planning. We also need to keep our process open to our citizens, listening to them and informing them. All of the successful projects I have been involved in have built on working cooperatively with other leaders through an open process to find the best ideas and solutions. I think I have demonstrated the patience and judgement to do this well.
Kuester: Services for senior citizens need to be increased. As chair of the Transit Commission I have urged a trial of expanded weekend taxi service. I recently met with the County Transportation Committee to discuss the cutback to one way service for the senior meal at noon. The senior center is a beautiful handicapped accessible facility which stands empty most of the time. Programming is needed to attract seniors to use this asset. Seniors need socialization for good health. A short visit with a meals on wheels deliverer is not enough.
We expand businesses but do not do enough to encourage employees and even management to live in the city. Incentives for living in the city have been offered by some school districts. I, the city and the school district share a common interest: schools are an important factor in a family’s choice of residence. Employees of businesses could be offered housing incentives and encouraged to live in the city. The special Housing Committee I formed in response to retirees moving out of the city because they wanted to move to condominium living.
A condominium development is underway; realtor members of this committee say city housing stock needs upgrading. I have been working with Habitat for Humanity and they are willing to work with us on a project. Grants need to be applied for to rehab substandard housing. This housing committee is planning a scientific survey to determine what it is people want from a city like Clintonville. We need to know what it is that attracts and keeps people in a community.
Progress is being made with the planned upgrade of our sewer facilities. During the Main Street construction project, a grant of over $2 million was secured to pay for the water and sewer work. City wells are now under a planned inspection program, which has increased water production dramatically.
Road repairs are being planned for and budgeted for rather than waiting for a crisis situation. We are addressing the Hemlock Street Bridge repairs next year and have taken action on the repairs ordered by the DNR in 2012. By planning we will avoid losing valuable grant assistance such as was the case with the dam. The city is applying for a grant for downtown revitalization. The buildings on 11th Street will be razed, the Merc situation addressed and even the possibility of funding to restore the Old Armory are possible.
The city of Clintonville has used undesignated fund balance funds to balance the last two budgets, what does the city have to do in order to stop tapping into this fund?
Hankins: During my 10 years on the city council, including five years on the Finance Committee, two years of which I served as chairperson, I worked on 10 annual city budgets. As finance chairperson, I led a two to three month process each year during which we reviewed every line in the budget, with each department head, looking for ways to save. If I have the opportunity to return to the Council, I am committed to continuing this process.
I have helped make hard decisions on spending, for example in 2012 we cut our city budget spending a quarter of a million dollars less than in the previous year. The spending of undesignated funds to balance the budget is like a person spending emergency savings for regular living expenses. It should be kept to a minimum. It is important to protect the city’s long term financial security and reputation for sound management.
Kuester: Good news. Although the 2015 Budget included use of $176,102 from the fund balance, based on the City Council’s directives to save budgeted expenditures to reduce this use of the fund balance and all the city departments efforts to save additional funds based on a request by the city administrator, preliminary review of the 2015 revenues and expenses for the city indicate that there was no use of the $176,102 of undesignated fund balance to balance the 2015 city budget. The city’s adopted 2016 budget included the use of $55,051 of the undesignated fund balance. So far this year two city departments have saved $13,118 of this amount by holding open two city staff positions before filling these vacancies. The city administrator will be working with city department heads in the hope of eliminating the need for use of undesignated fund balance by the end of 2016.
The previous budget passed by the Council the year before did not qualify for the state expenditure limitation refund. So our Finance Committee had to make up for the loss of approximately $90,000. Whereas both budgets passed during my term qualified for $91,982 additional state revenue to help offset the costs of the 2016 budget. This adopted budget will also qualify the City for the Expenditure Restraint revenue for the 2017 budget.
The City’s undesignated fund balance as of Dec. 31, 2015 was $1,165,639 or 31 percent of the City’s 2016 expenditure budget. The recommended level of fund balance to have on hand is 25 percent of the City’s expenditure budget.
So you can see we have not in fact relied on the fund balance but have avoided tapping into it through careful management of funds by city department heads, at the direction of our city administrator. The alternative would have been to increase taxes, a measure that was proposed by the Finance Committee chair when developing the 2015 budget. His suggestion was defeated by council vote.
Another money saving measure taken in the 2016 budget was the Common Council’s new policy for 2016 requiring city employees to contribute toward the cost of their HRA/HSA health insurance deductibles. A conservative estimate of savings is $24,750 as a result of this policy. Also the new three year bargaining agreement approved for city police union requires unionized city police employees to increase their contributions to health insurance premiums by .5 percent in 2016; .5 percent in 2017 and .5 percent in 2018, to 13.5 percent. All other city employees are contributing 15.5 percent toward premium cost of health insurance.
The city of Clintonville spent more than $100,000 on the investigation of and settlement with former city administrator Lisa Kotter, but no official report was released to the public. In an effort to promote open government, should a report of the findings of the investigation be released to the public? If yes, why should it be released? If no, why should it not be released?
Hankins: The city spent a lot of tax money on this process. I believe in open government, and I believe that the taxpayers should know how their hard-earned money is being spent by their elected officials. However, I understand that the terms of the settlement between the city and its former administrator contained confidentiality clauses which would preclude release of the details of the settlement. I believe the city is bound by its agreement. If elected, I will examine whether there may exist details of billing from outside counsel hired by the city which may be released. I will further commit to keep the citizens informed of city operations.
I tried to be a positive leader during my 10 years on the City council, and I would work hard to continue that kind of leadership if the voters decide to return me to the council.
Kuester: No written report of the investigation was issued to the Council. All discussions as is usual for personnel issues were done in closed session. Before the investigation was completed the city administrator resigned and negotiations turned to reaching a settlement agreement. The agreement agreed to by Kotter and the City prohibits any discussion of any details of the investigation.
The city’s outdoor swimming pool has been an item of discussion for more than a year, but no solutions have been presented. What process does the city need to follow in order to make a decision about what to do with the outdoor swimming pool?
Hankins: I served on the city’s park and recreation committee for 13 years as a citizen volunteer, and one additional year as chairman after I joined the city council. I believe good recreation facilities make a difference in the quality of life for our citizens and in attracting potential residents to move here. That is why I also worked so hard as one of the leaders in developing the School Recreation Center, with its indoor pool, fitness center, and community gym. The outdoor pool has been a great resource for young and old for a long time. We need to continue to study the condition of the city’s outdoor pool, and the costs associated with continuing its operation, and also what costs would be involved if we didn’t continue to operate it. We need to examine available private, public, and insurance funds as part of that process.
We also need to remember how important positive supervised activities are for our young people. I loved growing up in Clintonville, and I appreciated everything the previous generation did to make it a great community. We have a unique history, home of FWD trucks, and North Central Airlines. I think more greatness is in our future. I believe in taking my turn to help keep this a great community.
Kuester: When I joined the council two years ago City Park and Recreation Director Justin McAuly informed the council that that summer would be the last year the pool would be usable. It was opened but sizable unexpected expenses had to be paid.
Since that time, for some reason McAuly has continued to propose opening the pool. After the fire at the pool building earlier this year, the council voted to go ahead with repairs. I voted against this, asking how much the insurance company would give us as a settlement instead.
Now we are faced with the possibility of a restored pool building but a pool that is so in need of repairs we no longer have funds for it. Last year the Park and Rec Committee suggested a referendum on the pool but had no idea how much a new pool would cost. The council voted not to have a referendum without costs attached.
Then an Ad Hoc Pool Committee was appointed to explore costs of a new pool. They reported that $10,000 was needed to pay a design firm to give us a cost. Recent discussions have included looking into the cost of repairing and upgrading the old pool rather than totally replacing it.
In my view, we need to find out concrete numbers as to the cost of a new pool or a restored pool. Then put the question to the citizens. What is their choice and are they willing to pay the per homeowner cost associated with the construction? This is the procedure the school district will be using regarding a decision on a new elementary school. In any case to get accurate numbers to inform the citizens the funds for the plan and cost estimate need to be allocated or donated. The number I am hearing is $4.5 million for a new pool. I have heard no estimates on restoration.