Q&A with the West Fargo mayoral candidates
Question: What prompted you to seek election/re-election to the office of Mayor, and what qualities do you possess that make you the best person for the position?
Peter Karl: I am running for mayor because the present mayor and city council have openly expressed their pernicious aptitude on public record as they have all clearly pronounced how none of them want a solid commerce for West Fargo. So rather than continuing to complain, I am running for office in so that I may have the chance to fix the obvious opprobrium they have and still are giving to this great city. My qualities in circumspect are a collection of my job experiences, my education and my philanthropy.
Rich Mattern: The city of West Fargo has grown and changed a great deal during the past few years. With that growth came many challenges. I viewed them as opportunities to make West Fargo a better place to live. As mayor, I will continue working to keep West Fargo a "city on the grow." I believe I have the leadership capabilities, as shown in the past, to keep West Fargo moving forward. I am an experienced communicator with strong relationships among the area news gatherers, which helps to increase the visibility of West Fargo. I also have developed trusting relationships with city staff, the West Fargo business community, other West Fargo elected officials, such as school and park district, county commissioners, state legislators, North Dakota members of congress and the mayors of Fargo and Moorhead.
Mike Thorstad: Serving as a City Commissioner the past couple of years, I have been actively involved in governing the community and have learned a great deal about city government. As a partner in several local businesses, I have held management positions for many years and I believe my extensive business background will be very beneficial in guiding the operations of the city.
Q: What do you think will be the most pressing issue for West Fargo's mayor immediately following elections?
Karl: Immediately following election day, I am getting a twenty percent cut in my paycheck; I will be getting the funding for our water treatment facility; and I will see about expanding our present schools and not building a new one.
Mattern: If the Red River Diversion is built on the North Dakota side, we need to continuously work to move it west of the city. This will give us land that can be developed flood-free for future generations. We also have tremendous opportunities to develop a retail corridor along the new 9th St. Interchange and Veterans Boulevard. Looking at ways to revitalize the core area of the city also is a priority.
Thorstad: The first task would be to learn more about how the city operates on a daily basis. A top priority will be to improve the communication and cooperation within city government, with other governing entities, and especially with the citizens of West Fargo.
Q: There has been much talk about a new water treatment plant for our city. Should our residents be concerned about the city's water supply?
Karl: According to reliable state and federal sources, the city of West Fargo has been offered funding for a water treatment facility for the past eight years. And, on public record, the presiding mayor and our city council members have said, "West Fargo does not really need one." I do not share their draconian point of view.
Mattern: There is some good news that came out of the recent water treatment plant study. According to the study, the West Fargo aquifer has some 400 billion gallons of water that is available for use. Currently, the city uses approximately 700 million gallons a year. If the study is correct, this means we have available water for many years. However, given the growth of the metropolitan region, including Horace and Harwood, we should explore a regional treatment plant. Fargo has indicated an interest in joining with us for a plant along the Sheyenne. However, the urgency of doing this has now been minimized a great deal.
Thorstad: Our residents do not need to be concerned about our water supply, as we have an adequate supply to last us for several years. To meet the needs of our growing city in the future, however, we need to look at longterm solutions. All options need to be considered, including partnering with neighboring municipalities on a regional solution.
Q: Though still very preliminary, a proposed Minnesota or North Dakota diversion is a hot-button topic on many levels. How do you intend to keep West Fargo's best interests in mind as plans move forward toward a final cooperative package?
Karl: This issue has dragon's teeth, as all sides will be arguing for who is responsible. West Fargo already has its own problems with its own flood control as quite a bit of our run-off actually overflows into Casselton and parts of Harwood. Fargo and Moorhead need to pay us if they are going to be any part of what we already have.
Mattern: There are many details that will have to be worked out before any construction begins on a Red River Diversion. First and foremost, it needs to be west of the city if built on the North Dakota side. As mentioned above, this will give future generations land to develop for growth, but not have to worry about flooding, just as those within the diversion are protected. It appears that a sales tax in Fargo or the county would pay for the costs of the diversion. Any special assessments, such as maintenance costs in the future, need to be collected on a tiered basis. Those living along the Red River need to pay much higher assessment fees than any West Fargo resident. As the metro area grows, those fees would be reduced because of increased housing and retail, much the same as what happened with the diversion in West Fargo. It took 20 years for the Sheyenne Diversion to be built; I'm predicting it will take that long for a Red River Diversion.
Thorstad: I have attended all of the Metro Flood Group's meetings, and have had discussions with board members regarding West Fargo's interests. It is important that we stay engaged and participate in the process. The placement of the diversion certainly could affect West Fargo's ability to grow in the future. Local funding solutions will also have an impact on the residents.
Q: The economic state of the city appears sound, and the past several years attempts have been made to keep the mill levy increases at a minimum. This has been accomplished without cuts in staff or services. With 2011 budget talks getting underway shortly, and given the tougher economic times, will it be able to maintain status quo, or will tougher decision making be required? If so, what specific suggestions are you going to bring to the table that will help keep West Fargo government fiscally responsible?
Karl: After reviewing the budget, I am looking at how we can have an immediate 10 percent cut on property tax and still have a paragon of performance for the city. Although our mayor and city council members contravene such a reality, it is a predominant fact.
Mattern: Meeting the needs of the residents for high-quality services, while keeping taxes low, is a fine-line balancing act. During past budget requests from department heads, many cuts were made to meet that balancing act. Nobody wants to see their taxes increased, including me as a resident. During the last five years, the average property tax went up 2.9 percent compared with 3.5 percent for North Dakota's 15 largest cities. Also, of the largest cities in North Dakota, West Fargo has the lowest utility rates. For a long time, West Fargo considered itself a bedroom community and did not seek a great deal of retail. That attitude has changed a great deal in city hall and a business development director was hired. I will continue to work to improve retail development to ease the burden on the individual property owner.
Thorstad: The commission needs to continue to scrutinize the budget and keep mill levy increases to a minimum. West Fargo enjoyed considerable growth the past decade and we were able to fund city services plus build reserves without having to adjust the mill levy significantly. Reserve funds have helped keep mill increases small the past few years. City staff has done a good job of providing the commission with detailed information on their budget requests. The board needs to carefully review each department's funding requests to determine which items are essential and which are not.
Q: West Fargo continues to be a city on the grow. What areas do you feel will play key roles during the next four years in that growth?
Karl: West Fargo continues to grow? According to state statistics, over one/third of all people who move into our city will move out within the first five years of their residence. They are leaving because we have no business anchors, no clean water and at least one tax increase every two years. I will change those faults and fix those obvious oversights.
Mattern: We need to continue to promote the fact that West Fargo is out of the flood plain, has high-quality city services, low utility rates compared with the rest of the metro area (and the entire region), great parks and schools, and other amenities second to none, such as great police and fire protection. We need to continue to offer housing that meets the needs of the potential high-end buyer and those seeking affordable housing. Through the years we also have greatly increased the amount of housing available to senior citizens. This needs to continue, given the fact that many "baby boomers" are reaching retirement age. Increasing our retail base also needs to continue to be a high priority.
Thorstad: I feel we are well-positioned for continued growth in the city. It will probably take a decade (or more) for the F-M Diversion to get built, whereas West Fargo already has flood protection in place. The 9th Street/Veterans Boulevard Interchange opens the door to development south of I-94. We have excellent schools and parks, plus I believe the employees of the city do a great job providing the essential services the citizens need and expect.
Q: The city adopted a new Web program last year that better connects city staff and officials to citizens of the community. Does the city continue to have "communication" issues, and if so, how as a group can you further improve them?
Karl: The communication issue is not a problem. If we are going to improve it, though, I believe the best road would be for the mayor and the city officials to listen to the people and stop ignoring them.
Mattern: There is no doubt that technology has changed the way we communicate. As with other local, county, state and federal governments, plus businesses, we must keep up with the new ways of communicating through the new forms of social media. Facebook, Twitter, iPods, texting, have made communicating with each other so much quicker and allows for instantaneous feedback. Our city staff has done a great job of working to make connections with city residents and will continue to look at new ways to connect. However, I will not lose sight of the fact that I can pick up the phone and connect with the school district or park district if we have issues that we need to face together. Also, calls I get often are sent to my cell phone so I can answer questions residents may have.
Thorstad: The connect system was a good first step forward in improving communication with the citizens. We need to do a better job of communicating internally, with the residents, and with other government bodies as well. Communication only is effective if it goes both ways, so we need to dedicate ourselves to following up on inquiries from the citizens and be responsive to their needs.
Q: As a longtime citizen of West Fargo, how have you personally helped make the community "a better place to live?"
Karl: I have been trying to better this community for the past eight years, but the mayor, city council members and city officials refuse to allow me to obtain any federal and/or state grants for improving this community with business anchors, mass transit and community improvements. As they have told me, "We can't get any grant money..." when the fact is, they do not want any.
Mattern: I, along with many others across the state and country, feel a good way to give back to a community is through public service, such as serving on park, school or city commissions. There are no fulltime mayors, commissioners or state legislators. Obviously, we all do this to give back to our communities to help us all grow. It is this dedication by not just me, but others that serve on boards and commissions across our city, that will keep West Fargo a city "on the grow" and moving forward. Through the years, I also have been a member of civic organizations, such as the exchange club, to help improve lives.
Thorstad: As a partner in local businesses, my companies' provide jobs for the citizens. As a city commissioner, I have tried to make decisions that positively affect West Fargoans. I have been active in my church for many years and hopefully that has had a positive effect on my fellow parishioners.
Q: Are there any other issues not covered in this questionnaire that you would like to address?
Karl: The issues which are most important cover a vast assortment of periodicals. As a result, an actual prioritizing can not be set but, the issues of concern that are most prevalent will be taken care of accordingly.
Mattern: The city of West Fargo faces challenges that I consider "positive" challenges. Many cities across the region face decreasing populations and would love to have our growth of the past few years. We have many opportunities to continue our good growth. I encourage residents to compare me to my competition. I believe my experience and record of putting West Fargo first during my years as mayor will favorably compare to my competition's unproven record.
Thorstad: I don't believe there are any other pressing "City" issues at this time that have not been covered here.