A July 22 New Hope City Council candidate forum was attended by five of the seven candidates. Present was Michael Isenberg, incumbent Andy Hoffe, Jim Miller, Zachary Snabes, and Ron Stoffel. Austin Berger and Reid Johnson were not in attendance.
Two seats on the city council are up for election. The other incumbent, Cedrick Frazier, is seeking election in House District 45A. Primary election voters will be asked to choose two of the candidates and the four candidates with the most votes will go on to the November general election.
The forum was presented by the League of Women Voters of Crystal, New Hope, Eastern Plymouth and Robbinsdale, and moderated by league president Kathleen Pederson. Candidates were given four minutes to introduce themselves. There was no question-and-answer portion due to the difficulty of hosting a live audience amid the pandemic. Below are some common topics discussed.
The state of housing needs in the city was addressed. Miller said the city was burdened with too much affordable housing compared to its neighbors. His goal was to instead improve the existing housing stock. He proposed introducing a small, interest-free loan program like Crystal offered for minor home repairs and improvements.
Isenberg shared his personal difficulties finding a single-family home in New Hope: it took him and his wife three years to find a home in the city.
Hoffe said he would like to see more work be done through the city’s scattered-site housing program, in which the city purchases and restores blighted homes. He also advocated for citizen input in the development process.
The state of policing was briefly discussed. Snabes said he would like to explore the New Hope police system and look for signs of systemic racism. Isenberg shared his background on a local neighborhood watch and his efforts with the annual holiday toy drive, which is organized with local public safety officials. Stoffel also shared experience as a member of the West Metro Fire-Rescue Board.
Budget, commerce, taxation
Miller said he believed a smaller tax burden began with new business development. He said the city currently has a number of businesses, but “perhaps not enough” to encourage people to buy or shop in the city. To attract more business, he proposed a “greater, targeted tax break” for developers. He said the breaks could be made at the expense of incentives for apartment and condo developers.
“Greater business development keeps the bottom line of the city healthy, and perhaps would allow for more stable property taxes in the future,” Miller said.
Hoffe reviewed recent development in the city, like the addition of Hy-Vee and the North Memorial clinic. In terms of budget, he commended the city for keeping levy increases as low as possible while beginning to pay off a series of large infrastructure projects.
Stoffel agreed that in order for the city to thrive it needed to strike a balance between business and community. He also warned of the forecast of tax increases coming to residents in the next few years.
For Hoffe, the pandemic is a time when budgeting decisions are more important. He said the greatest challenge is providing core city services in programs “in an efficient manner,” while honoring the “plea from our citizens to keep taxes low.” Isenberg said the pandemic presents issues on how the city and its citizens could safely interact with each other, and whatever solution was forged, it would have to be done so with “logic, common sense, and empathy.”
Citizen input and transparency
Stoffel said he believed the city could be more transparent in its dealings. For example, his agenda included the availability of city council work sessions, either via livestream or available online for replay. Stoffel said much of city council deliberation was done at these sessions and sometimes decisions were reached. He also wished to gather greater input from citizens to City Hall.
Miller agreed that citizen input was the city’s greatest asset.
“City government should put the greatest effort possible to encourage public involvement,” he said, adding that a new slate of employees and officials could generate more efforts to include residents.
Snabes also agreed: “I want to bring people together to make a difference.”
Hoffe said the city is most constructive when residents come forward to help inform decisions. He said input was always welcome “from all groups in our city,” and it would be key to uncovering any “elements of racism.”
Hoffe extended the input to creating ideas. He said the New Hope Farmers Market began with a citizen approaching the city council.
Snabes mentioned maintaining a healthy environment as a primary campaign issue. He began his service to the city on a local watershed commission and so has a particular interest in preserving water quality.