Burnsville city government is striving to balance health and safety with quality of life during the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said during her annual State of the City speech May 15.

“I know that it seems like we are slowly moving towards something that is unknown right now,” Kautz said in the virtual address co-sponsored by the city and the Burnsville Chamber of Commerce. “We will get back to some semblance of a different normal — it will just be in phases and different. We continue to be cautious, but we are optimistic that we can balance safety with quality of life and our livelihoods.”

Kautz and her City Council colleagues agreed on a set of broad principles for pandemic response after clashing in April over whether to reopen playgrounds that city staff had begun to close. A council majority of Cara Schulz, Dan Kealey and Vince Workman prevailed in keeping playgrounds open, with Kautz and Dan Gustafson opposed. The same majority also altered the city’s response to complaints of businesses that opened in violation of Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders. Code enforcement staff, not police, were made the city’s chief enforcement arm.

But in recent weeks a number of cities have reopened playgrounds, and Walz has reopened some shuttered businesses that had been deemed nonessential. Restaurants and bars remain closed for now.

“As we navigate the challenges and uncertainty in the coming year, we may find that we have differences in our approach,” Kautz said in an address originally scheduled for February at the city’s Ames Center, which remains closed. “But, in the end, we truly have a shared vision and values that not only guide us in the next phase of response and recovery but will set the stage for future successes.”

Council priorities for the crisis and recovery are safety and health, quality of life and balance, Kautz said.

Parks are important to quality of life, and the community’s health and business needs must be harmonized, she said.

“Balance is critical. It is a line we continue to walk through all of this,” said the mayor, who was first elected in 1994 and is seeking another four-year term in November.

Essential city services have continued, including police, fire and emergency medical services, which take a combined 55,000 calls a year, Kautz said.

“This year, they have been challenged even further with the precautions and demands of COVID-19,” she said.

Police officers have helped School District 191 deliver food packages to medically fragile, food-insecure or isolated seniors, she said.

“One of our community members, a 9-year-old girl, was delighted as the Burnsville police and Fire Department participated in a birthday parade that her family had arranged to creatively celebrate her birthday during this time,” Kautz said. “She was going to celebrate her birthday at Disneyworld, but she received a parade from our police and firefighter-paramedics.”

The council and city staff updated Burnsville’s vision statement at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, Kautz said:

“Burnsville is a vibrant city, boldly leading, welcoming to all.”

“I’m happy to say our vision helped guide us as we solidified our team, our priorities, and approach moving forward,” Kautz said.

The mayor also urged residents to complete their 2020 Census forms. She co-chairs a local committee seeking a full count in Burnsville.

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