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Big Lake mayor, city council

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Mayor and three city council positions are on the ballot this year in Big Lake.

It is a three-way race for two openings for regular seats on the Big Lake City Council. In addition to Heidemann, Sam Hanson and Paul Seefeld filed for the regular seats on the city council. Voters will elect two councilors from the three candidates. Paul Knier and Mike Wallen are running for mayor.

Ketti Green and Ken Halvorson filed for the council seat open in a special election.

Responses from the candidates to the Times’ questionnaire are published here.

Paul Knier

111 Oak Circle Big Lake, MN 55309

Financial Advisor. President of my own financial advisory firm “Paul A Knier, Inc.” for 28 years.

Member of Big Lake City Council, Big Lake Chamber of Commerce, Big Lake Lions, coach of various Big Lake youth sports teams over the years (basketball and baseball,) member and leader at Riverside church, Big Lake, for seven years.

Big Lake City councilmember, Current chair of the Big Lake Chamber of Commerce, Current President of the Big Lake Lions, Member of the 2018 Big Lake Comprehensive Plan Task Force. Volunteer reader at Liberty Elementary. Regular member/attender of “Prayer at the Pole.”

1. How will city government improve or be strengthened as a result of the leadership, drive, energy, and vision that you would bring to the mayoral office? I love Big Lake! I’ll bring an energy and a passion to fulfilling my duty to serve the community. I have a clear vision of paying down debt, protecting individual liberty, and advocating for the interests of the people. Most importantly, I am a positive person with an innate desire to encourage others to find their giftings and excel at the tasks before them. I rarely see problems as insurmountable but rather as opportunities to grow. Especially as we all try to weave our way through the current circumstances facing this city and even this country, I believe we can not only overcome them but actually be better on the other side of it. “I love Big Lake” is not just a slogan to me. I mean it and I see a bright future ahead.

2. What do you consider Big Lake’s most critical issue? Why? Public safety is Priority One, and our police force and fire fighters are doing a fantastic job. Although our city’s police have made Big Lake one of the safest communities in the state, the trend in this nation to defund police must never reach our force. In our community we DEFEND the police…not DEFUND. Beyond that, one of the biggest issues facing our city is the heavy debt-load. Currently, Big Lake is in debt over $33 million (principal and interest.) That number has come down, which is good, but it’s still high. I recognize the debt wasn’t accrued overnight and it won’t be eliminated overnight, either. As a financial advisor managing over $170 million dollars, I know about responsible spending and paying down debt. Not only does minimizing debt save taxpayers money, it also brings flexibility because projects (and the accompanying payment) can be postponed during hard times. Conversely, once money is borrowed, it HAS to be paid back irrespective of the economic climate.

3. What three specific goals do you hope to accomplish if you are elected? Continuing our emphasis on public safety, paying down debt, and protecting the rights and liberty of Big Lake citizens from government overreach.

4. What is your vision for Big Lake’s future regarding issues of growth and development? What changes to codes and plans would you like to see, if any, to enact your vision? By paying down debt, we’ll eventually be able to lower taxes which is attractive to both current and prospective businesses. I have supported the city’s latest marketing initiative; an effort by the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to make us more competitive with other communities. I have also supported the establishment of a task force which is charged with reviewing the current city codes. This task force has an eye toward eliminating bad regulations and simplifying the code overall.

5. What should city government do, if anything, to attract new businesses to Big Lake and strengthen existing businesses? As stated previously, I supported the marketing initiative enacted by the Economic Development Authority (EDA), which is designed to make Big Lake known and attractive to prospective businesses. Having said that, I believe economic prosperity is driven by individuals, not government. It isn’t government’s job to pick winners and losers. Therefore, I support smaller government and maximum freedom for the people. Whenever possible, “let the market decide.”

6. What is your view of the city’s use of tax increment financing, planned unit developments and other incentives to assist developers? PUDs are fine but I’m not generally a fan of TIFs and tax abatements. It’s not the city’s job to pick winners and losers. How should a business owner feel about the city using THEIR tax dollars to benefit their competition?

The city of Big Lake’s debt has decreased from $76 million in 2010 to $33 million in 2020. Do you support paying down the city debt? Why? Of course. We have come a long way (largely by forgoing street projects) but the debt level is still high. I’ve heard continually from Big Lakers that they’re concerned about our debt. When we pay for a project with debt (bonding), we see $2 go to the actual project and $1 go to the bank. I’d like to save that interest so Big Lakers can spend that money on themselves and their families.

7. Is there something that the city of Big lake is not presently doing that you believe would significantly improve the quality of life of Big Lake residents and/or strengthen the local economy? Big Lake residents want to live their lives with as little government interference as possible. They want government to perform the duties it is called to do: Public safety, water and sewer service, roads, bridges and parks. I intend to keep local government off the backs of the people while at the same time, ensuring that every tax dollar works hard to benefit the taxpayers.

8. Wild card: Write anything you’d like to say to voters on topics we haven’t already asked about.

Transparency is essential. The right to choose who represents us is a ROCK-SOLID core principle of our republic. Should there be an opening that arises on the city council, I support having a special election at the earliest possible opportunity. I oppose the idea of the mayor and council members appointing other council members. The citizens of Big Lake have the right to choose who will represent their interests!

Mike Wallen

828 Powell St N, Big Lake

Licensed Building Official

Legacy Foundation of Big Lake Board Member

10 years on the City Council, last two years as Mayor

1. How will city government improve or be strengthened as a result of the leadership, drive, energy, and vision that you would bring to the mayoral office? I will provide the consistent voice to continue the programs, direction and accomplishments that the city has made since coming out of the recession of 2008.

2. What do you consider Big Lake’s most critical issue? Why? I consider our biggest challenge will be navigating what the post-COVID world will be.

3. What three specific goals do you hope to accomplish if you are elected? Supporting public safety, continue to improve quality of life, and find new methods of communication.

4. What is your vision for Big Lake’s future regarding issues of growth and development? What changes to codes and plans would you like to see, if any, to enact your vision? Streamline our processes and procedures to make building and expanding in Big Lake even easier.

5. What should city government do, if anything, to attract new businesses to Big Lake and strengthen existing businesses? We are already working on a branding and marketing program that will be our first step.

6. What is your view of the city’s use of tax increment financing, planned unit developments and other incentives to assist developers? We are and will be prudent in our use of all the tools we possess.

7. Is there something that the city of Big lake is not presently doing that you believe would significantly improve the quality of life of Big Lake residents and/or strengthen the local economy? We will contionue on our preset course of debt payments along with making good decisions for future bonding.

8. Wild Card? At this point it’s very difficult to made predictions about even the near future. Flexibility will be key. I am a firm believer in identifying what your greatest qualities and attributes are and concentrate on doing them even better, everything else will work out. Our greatest attributes as a city are: public safety and quality of life.

Alan Heidemann

736 Harrison Drive Big Lake, MN 55309

Community Service groups/ organizations: Current Chair of the Big Lake Planning Commission, Current President of the BLEDA.

I would be a good representative for the City of Big Lake because I would listen to the citizens and be their voice in local government. I would use that public input along with my experience in local government to make the best decisions possible for the city.

Big Lake’s most critical issue is lack of growth in key areas to increase the tax base. We have an unbalanced amount of vacant commercial and industrial land vs. residential land. We have a very low inventory of available residential land and a large swath of industrial/ commercial land available for development. I have been working with the rest of the BLEDA to market this land and bring development in. The Planning commission has also found creative ways with zoning to encourage new development using the I-4 zone.

My Specific goals are as follows: Maintain the current rate at which we pay down debt. The city has done an outstanding job in paying down this old debt and I would like to see this continue. Monitoring how we spend our money and ensuring we are getting the most out of every dollar that comes in will help achieve this.

Maintaining our current status as one of the safest Cities in MN will be another goal of mine. I want to ensure our Police and Fire Departments have what they need to get their job done effectively.

Improving Quality of Life. To me this means smart investments in parks and recreation within the city. This will increase all of our property values and make Big Lake a more attractive place to live and work.

City government can attract new businesses to the area by getting out of the way. This means simplifying the city code making it easy to understand and removing some of the burdensome requirements that would deter a new business in coming to Big Lake or an existing business from expanding. We are currently working on this with our Code Revision Task force. I will keep this as a strong focus if elected to Council.

My vision for Big Lake in 10 years would be smart growth of business and residential. We are lacking in housing diversity within the city. This being Move Up housing and Sunset housing. I would like to see more of this being built in the next 10 years. As mentioned above I would like to see growth in the vacant industrial park. We made large investments in infrastructure there and I would like to see that investment finally see some returns.

My stand on affordable housing, similar to my stance on any development in the city, and is market based. The market demand for this type of housing is strong and that’s why we are seeing developers coming to the city and proposing these types of projects. We currently have affordable housing projects in the city limits and are not seeing issues with this type of development. We also have a vacancy rate at almost 0% for multifamily housing which is driving these types of developments. As far as the specific Common Bond project this is still in the concept phase of their application which we have reviewed twice at the Planning Commission. Until this project is submitted with a formal application and site plan detailing the project specifics I would not have a comment on it as we don’t have all of the details.

Something the City is not currently doing that I think would improve the quality of life and the economy within the city is building on the marketing of the city. We currently are doing a good job at this but I believe we could allocate more resources to this cause to make it even more effective. If effective this would lead to growth within the city and take some of the tax burden off of the current residents.

Wild Card Question: I would like the voters to know I will come into this office with no hidden agenda. I am not tied to political interests and will bring an unbiased voice of the people to the Council. Passion not Politics is not only my campaign motto but what I have brought to the Planning Commission and BLEDA. These commissions have given me the foundational knowledge to make informed decisions on the City Council.

Paul Seefeld

3090 Lake Ridge Drive Big Lake

What is your occupation: Cargill Stakeholder

Community service groups/organizations:

Commander Big Lake American Legion Post 147, Big Lake Lions Club, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon

Prior city, county, or school civic service: (Boards/commissions, etc):

Big Lake Comprehensive Plan Task Force

Why would you be a good representative on the Big Lake City Council:

I believe in serving my nation, state, and community. I have served in the Army for 8 years. I understand that a big part of being a representative is being available to listen to residents. It’s something I enjoy. I will be available by Facebook, email, and phone for constituent concerns. I want residents to feel like they are included throughout the planning and implementation process.

What do you consider Big Lake’s most critical issue? Why?

The debt load we carry is one of our biggest issues. A city without debt is financially stronger in both good and bad times. The city currently pays $1.5 million in debt service per year to principal and interest. Imagine if we didn’t have to pay this hidden tax every year (bond interest). The city would not have to pay taxpayer money to the bank over and above the actual cost.

What specific goals do you hope to accomplish if you are elected? Please list at least three.

Long term planning on managing a budget and running the city without debt.

Increasing transparency by communicating with the residents about what the city is doing on a weekly basis through my council page and city social media.

I want to see all city council vacancies handled by special election and not appointment. The people deserve a voice in who represents them over the council selecting like-minded individuals.

Energizing community involvement. Citizens should be invited to give feedback on city plans from the very beginning.

To determine what the city government can and should do, if anything, to attract new businesses to Big Lake and strengthen existing businesses, without playing favorites.

Pay off debt without taking on new debt, so as not to have to continue raising taxes.

Review and remove burdensome ordinances and other taxes.

What is your vision for Big Lake in the next 10 years and how do we get there?

I see growth through an influx of people from other parts of the state, such as those that are permanently telecommuting to work. They are people that want what we have...namely, one of the safest cities in Minnesota. When I’m on the council, I will help promote Big Lake and all of its assets; especially a safe place to raise a family and operate a business.

What is your stand on the need for affordable housing in Big Lake, and do you support projects such as the two building, 120-unit apartment complexes called Marketplace I and II proposed by CommonBond?

Housing has become unaffordable because the government has gotten in the way with restrictive mandates. We need to revisit our regulations and consider getting rid of ordinances that are not necessary because they are outdated or punitive. As far as the projects go, I am a free market proponent, but I believe the city zoning already has high density zoned areas.

Is there something that the City of Big Lake is not presently doing that you believe would significantly improve the quality of life of Big Lake residents and/or strengthen the local economy?

I want to give the people of Big Lake the ability to visualize the kind of city they want to live in. I know that there is a strong feeling from our residents to keep the character of Big Lake intact. We also want new businesses to come to provide jobs for our residents and improve our quality of life. Careful consideration needs to be given as to how we reinvigorate our downtown and areas like the intersection of highways 10 and 25. By not handing out special favors to some businesses (at the expense of others), we can create an attractive housing and business climate that will keep our current residents happy and attract people to our community for years to come. I believe that a planning partnership between the City and the community will give us something that we all are proud of.

Wild card: Write anything you’d like to say to voters on topics we haven’t already asked about.

I will always stand for your right to choose your own representation on the council. I believe it is the bedrock of our country to have a say in our representation. I would like to have the city move to have it’s own charter (city constitution) and have language in it to solidify that citizens get a vote on who’s on the council in the case of a vacancy.

Ken Halverson

710 Katrina Lane, Big Lake, MN

Truck driver

Big Lake Baseball Board, Big Lake Wrestling Board, 25 years as a youth baseball coach, four years as a youth football coach, one year as a youth basketball coach, Big Lake High School all night grad party volunteer, Big Lake Lions and Spud Fest

While I was on the Big Lake Fire Department for 30 years, I was a firefighter, captain, assistant chief, and chief.

1. Why would you be a good representative on the Big Lake City Council? I’m willing to ask questions and change potential areas of need. The world is continually evolving, and we, too, should be adapting and adjusting. Furthermore, through my time in the fire department, I have worked directly to handle our budget and ensure that we were being fiscally responsible and not spending unnecessary money.

2. What do you consider Big Lake’s most critical issue? Why? I feel Big Lake struggles to attract new businesses. By bringing in more businesses, we could generate a more extensive tax base, which directly alleviates taxes on each resident.

3. What specific goals do you hope to accomplish if you are elected? Please list at least three.

1.We need to be fiscally responsible with our spending. I plan to look at each department’s budget to ensure that our tax dollars are appropriately used.

2.We need to bring businesses into Big Lake. I believe we should be talking to neighboring towns to compare our codes, ordinances, etc. From talking to members who deal directly with these codes, ours are stringent enough to push many potential businesses away.

3.I have seen a need for “move-up” housing. I believe many families want to be here, but there is a lack of housing after starter homes, which pushes families towards leaving our town.

4.To support the BLFD and BLPD to ensure they have everything they need to keep them safe while they do their job.

4. What should city government do, if anything, to attract new businesses to Big Lake and strengthen existing businesses? We need to be talking to neighboring towns to see how we compare with our codes, ordinances, etc. I have spoken to Big Lake city business owners who deal directly with these codes. These owners state that our regulations are too stringent that they can push many potential businesses away. We should gather information from our neighbors to evaluate how our processes to ensure we are in-line with others’ expectations. I believe we will draw businesses in while also maintaining our small-town feel that we all appreciate.

5. What is your vision for Big Lake in the next 10 years and how do we get there? We need to reduce the debt load that the city has, create a community where families can stay, and increase job opportunities. First, we must be fiscally responsible with taxpayer money. We need to look at every department’s budget to ensure the city’s finances are handled with fidelity. Next, to keep families here, we need to provide an opportunity for move-up housing. Lastly, we need to provide job opportunities through new businesses and evaluate our current codes and ordinances.

6. What is your stand on the need for affordable housing in Big Lake, and do you support projects such as the two building, 120-unit apartment complexes called Marketplace I and II proposed by CommonBond. I believe, at the moment, we currently don’t need this project. I want to have people in our community; however, this puts increased pressure on our current model’s tax base. Through talking with city officials, I have been informed that a house between $225,000-250,000 generates enough tax dollars to cover city services. For reference, a home with a $226,000 taxable value will pay approximately $1,120 in city taxes. Northern Star apartments currently pay roughly $500 a year per unit in city taxes while using the same city services. Based on that information, if the city uses this same formula with Marketplace, it would lead to a difference of $620 per unit x 120 units, which leads to approximately a $74,000 deficit that other taxpayers in our community would need to cover.

Furthermore, there is a noticeable tax difference in the amount of funds that go towards our schools. The same $226,000 house, between their school taxes and school levy, pays approximately $1,400 a year. Currently, Town Square Apartments pay roughly $825 per unit to the school. Based on that information, if the city uses this same formula, it would lead to a difference of $575 per unit x 120 units, which leads to a $69,000 difference taxpayers would need to cover.

With this information, I do not support the Marketplace building because taxpayers would have to cover the $74,000 property tax difference and the amount paid to the schools of $69,000, totaling $143,000.

7. Is there something that the City of Big Lake is not presently doing that you believe would significantly improve the quality of life of Big Lake residents and/or strengthen the local economy? I feel the City of Big Lake would benefit if they had city-owned ball fields. Ball fields can draw in revenue through organizations leasing out these facilities. On top of this, having people come to athletic tournaments positively helps our community with the funds it will generate for our local businesses and our city. Lastly, I believe in investing in our children and getting them involved in various positive activities, which I believe this project will promote.

8. Wild card: Write anything you’d like to say to voters on topics we haven’t already asked about.

Lastly, through working with city officials, I have been informed that another proposed apartment complex is attempting to be brought to town. I believe this will put our city and schools at a significant financial disadvantage. I want to help our town through being fiscally responsible, which I feel these complexes would do the opposite.

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