Candidates for Hopkins City Council were invited to share their views at an Oct. 2 community forum hosted and moderated by the League of Women Voters-Hopkins, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie.
Among the topics discussed were affordable housing, environment and the city budget.
Candidates in attendance were Jason Gadd for the uncontested mayoral seat, Alan Beck, Brian Hunke (incumbent) and Aaron Kuznia (incumbent) for the two four-year council seats; and Rick Brausen (incumbent) and Gregg Corwin for the two-year council seat.
Below are responses to a selection of topics. Click here to view the forum online.
What are some items the city can accomplish to increase our focus on the environment?
Corwin was the first to answer and noted that, as an attorney, he has learned more about the environment by his representation of employees at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
“And one thing that concerns me about Hopkins is that we have some main thoroughfares like Excelsior Boulevard ... and a lot of commercial development ... all of which can contribute to making the air quality less safe, and also polluting the atmosphere with all sorts of pollutants,” Corwin said, adding all city’s need be cognizant of these things.
Gadd said this has been a focus of the city for years, including the city’s participation in the Green Steps program through the League of Minnesota Cities and adopting ordinances and policies that have a positive impact on the environment.
“The other aspect is really continuing to focus on being a walkable, bikeable city,” he said, noting the Artery is an example of those efforts.
Hunke agreed with making Hopkins a walkable/bikeable city and suggested creating an environmental committee.
“I think that there are a lot of residents that we have here that have great ideas that we need to take advantage of, and even maybe ... a high school student as well,” Hunke said.
Kuznia suggested adding more stormwater treatment structures throughout the city to protect the watersheds like Minnehaha Creek.
He would also like to see a bike committee formed to create solutions to assist those riding the light rail get to their next destination. He also suggested seeking a designation for a bike-friendly community, which would also assist with those connections.
Beck suggested more education surrounding the recycling program and what can and can’t be recycled. He also suggested alternative modes of transportation to improve the environment, such as electric scooters, which are currently authorized for public use in communities like St. Louis Park.
Brausen agreed with the educational aspect allowing citizens to make better choices.
“I also am a big promoter of a livable, walkable community, which is something that we’ve promoted in Hopkins,” Brausen said.
What efforts should the city make to preserve and develop affordable housing?
“We need to take advantage of the naturally occurring affordable housing that we already have here,” Hunke said, noting that as the Southwest Light Rail comes in, the city needs to keep a balance between redevelopment and what’s already affordable.
Hunke also noted the other ways the city is currently looking at providing affordable housing to families, including the proposed Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative development, a 50-unit affordable housing building along First Street between 12th and 13th avenues; as well as an art space that would provide affordable housing to artists.
Kuznia agreed with the importance of preserving naturally occurring affordable housing in both single-family homes and apartment buildings throughout the city.
Potential increase in land prices along the Southwest Light Rail, “can make it very challenging for a developer to develop property along the corridor,” Kuznia said, regarding the development of affordable housing.
Beck suggested looking at “unique ways to create affordable housing.”
One of those ways is through accessory dwelling units by “getting the correct permits and renovating unused spaces such as basements, garages and turning them into living facilities,” Beck said.
Brausen suggested working affordable housing into some of the larger spaces coming into development around the city, such as the 17-acre cold storage site on Blake Road.
Corwin explained that Hopkins has a high percentage of rental housing and commercial property, and a low percentage of “owner-owned housing,” Corwin said. “So when you have to address issues about availability and affordability of housing, you’re going to be dealing with landlords, not owners” making the topic of affordable housing more difficult in Hopkins.
Gadd said affordable housing needs to be a regional effort to finding available funding sources, which is something the city is currently working on with such organizations like Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative. “We’re looking at those options on how we can do that, at the same time implementing renter protections, since we are majority renters here at Hopkins,” Gadd added.
Please describe your priorities for the city’s 2020 budget.
Kuznia acknowledged that the budget and preliminary levy, currently set to be a 12.86% increase over last year, is “extremely high.”
“We need to work hard, and staff is currently working hard to sharpen the pencil to bring that number down,” he said, noting the challenges is finding the things the city can cut.
“We can’t cut some of the increases for staffing, the wages, the projects that we bonded for in the past,” Kuznia said. “I think the investment in infrastructure that we’ve done is something that really goes unseen.”
Beck said fixing budget deficits and shortfalls is a very difficult thing and can’t be fixed in one year.
“My approach would be to try to limit future debt use so we don’t have to pay back as much debt in the future,” he said.
Agreeing to look at ways to cut the current budget, Brausen said he also wants to look at opportunities to grow the city’s tax base.
“I want us to focus on completing the conversation on Blake Road, about maximizing the development along the Southwest Light Rail, and several other smaller opportunities that we have back in the Mainstreet area,” Brausen said.
Corwin responded that the city won’t be able to increase tax capacity “by raising taxes by double digits every year,” referring to the 12.86% levy increase and 18% debt levy. “I don’t see how you build tax base with that,” he said.
Gadd stated that the budget discussion is one of the hardest for the council since they are also taxpayers.
In addition to maintaining the quality of life residents expect, Gadd said it is also important to look at the long-term financial health of the city.
He gave the example of using bonding as a way of securing a property at a lower cost now that could increase the city’s tax base in the future.
“To me it’s a win-win for the city,” Gadd said.
Hunke also noted that the council is working with staff members to determine what can be cut to bring the levy down before final approval in December.
“There’s a lot that goes into this budget” that needs to be considered such as the quality of life and the city’s long-term future growth, Hunke said, adding there’s a lot of growth expected on Blake Road “that is going to strengthen our city ... and lower taxes.”
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