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City candidates debate ahead of election

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI – Candidates for three city positions discussed a wide range of issues in a forum Wednesday night at city hall.

The forum was hosted by Citizens for an Informed Electorate.

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Mayor

Incumbent Mayor Dave Larson will face current Ward 4 Councilor Rita Albrecht in November’s election.

On the issue of long-range development in the city, Albrecht said the opportunities are “limitless” and that she would like to see the south shore area developed in the next seven to 10 years.

Larson said any future development in the city will depend on economics.

“Developers develop property to make money,” Larson said.

The candidates were asked why there’s so much emphasis on revitalizing downtown when other areas have shown promise as well. Both agreed that downtown is the city’s historic and cultural center.

“We cannot let downtown die, nor can the city alone save it,” Larson said.

Both agreed that maintaining Local Government Aid payments from the state is a major priority, especially as the state looks at reforming the LGA program.

When asked what they disagree on, Larson pointed to two votes on using city funds to save the Carnegie Library, to which he was opposed. Currently, a committee is raising funds from foundations and individual donors to rehab the aging building.

“I felt as though I was the lone voice in saving that building,” Albrecht said.

City council

The council debate featured Ward 5 candidate Nancy Erickson, who served on the council from 2001 to 2008, and current councilor Greg Negard. Derrick Houle and Michael Meehlhause will face off for the Ward 1 council seat currently held by Kevin Waldhausen.

Many of the questions focused on Bemidji’s finances and the Sanford Center. Negard, the only incumbent featured in the council debate, said the city is currently in good financial condition, but said multiple times that the city-owned south shore area needs to be developed in the future.

“When that was purchased, we spent way too much money,” Negard said. “And now bonds are coming due … so we need to sell the land.”

The candidates seemed to agree that the Sanford Center will not make money itself, but advocated for some unity to support the facility throughout the city now that it’s built. Houle said that it should help bring economic activity to the area nearby.

Negard agreed, adding that he’s a strong advocate for a 1 percent hospitality tax to help for maintenance and capital projects in the Sanford Center.

Houle said one of the biggest issues facing the city is revitalizing downtown. He said that could come about through some simple fixes like beautifying downtown, but also through encouraging housing development for all income levels in the area.

“When you have people living downtown, there’s life downtown,” Houle said. “People end up walking to pay their bills, people end up walking to do things. And whenever that kind of activity is there, it brings life and makes it vital.”

Meehlhause said downtown revitalization can be helped through beautifying the area and thinking of “the city as a park.”

Erickson suggested that the city should help in any way with the recent proposal for a housing revitalization project in the Nymore area. That project is being administered through the Headwaters Regional Development Commission using state funds.

When asked what distinguishes them from their opponent, Houle and Meehlhause cited the obvious difference: their ages. Meehlhause was born in 1989, the same year Houle first came to Bemidji.

“I bring a younger voice to the council that I think would be a good reflection of this community,” Meehlhause said.

Houle said that being a homeowner and living in Bemidji longer “would be strengths.”

Negard said Erickson did a “very nice job” serving the ward for two terms and that either way, the ward would have good representation, but, he said, “it comes down to leadership and listening.”

“I’m a listener,” he said.

Erickson said she “spoke to the public with candor and transparency” and “demonstrated the courage to carry through on some issues that perhaps were not popular but I believed were in the best interest of the whole.”

By JOHN HAGEMAN

jhageman@bemidjipioneer.com

BEMIDJI – Candidates for three city positions discussed a wide range of issues in a forum Wednesday night at city hall.

The forum was hosted by Citizens for an Informed Electorate.

Mayor

Incumbent Mayor Dave Larson will face current Ward 4 Councilor Rita Albrecht in November’s election.

On the issue of long-range development in the city, Albrecht said the opportunities are “limitless” and that she would like to see the south shore area developed in the next seven to 10 years.

Larson said any future development in the city will depend on economics.

“Developers develop property to make money,” Larson said.

The candidates were asked why there’s so much emphasis on revitalizing downtown when other areas have shown promise as well. Both agreed that downtown is the city’s historic and cultural center.

“We cannot let downtown die, nor can the city alone save it,” Larson said.

Both agreed that maintaining Local Government Aid payments from the state is a major priority, especially as the state looks at reforming the LGA program.

When asked what they disagree on, Larson pointed to two votes on using city funds to save the Carnegie Library, to which he was opposed. Currently, a committee is raising funds from foundations and individual donors to rehab the aging building.

“I felt as though I was the lone voice in saving that building,” Albrecht said.

City council

The council debate featured Ward 5 candidate Nancy Erickson, who served on the council from 2001 to 2008, and current councilor Greg Negard. Derrick Houle and Michael Meehlhause will face off for the Ward 1 council seat currently held by Kevin Waldhausen.

Many of the questions focused on Bemidji’s finances and the Sanford Center. Negard, the only incumbent featured in the council debate, said the city is currently in good financial condition, but said multiple times that the city-owned south shore area needs to be developed in the future.

“When that was purchased, we spent way too much money,” Negard said. “And now bonds are coming due … so we need to sell the land.”

The candidates seemed to agree that the Sanford Center will not make money itself, but advocated for some unity to support the facility throughout the city now that it’s built. Houle said that it should help bring economic activity to the area nearby.

Negard agreed, adding that he’s a strong advocate for a 1 percent hospitality tax to help for maintenance and capital projects in the Sanford Center.

Houle said one of the biggest issues facing the city is revitalizing downtown. He said that could come about through some simple fixes like beautifying downtown, but also through encouraging housing development for all income levels in the area.

“When you have people living downtown, there’s life downtown,” Houle said. “People end up walking to pay their bills, people end up walking to do things. And whenever that kind of activity is there, it brings life and makes it vital.”

Meehlhause said downtown revitalization can be helped through beautifying the area and thinking of “the city as a park.”

Erickson suggested that the city should help in any way with the recent proposal for a housing revitalization project in the Nymore area. That project is being administered through the Headwaters Regional Development Commission using state funds.

When asked what distinguishes them from their opponent, Houle and Meehlhause cited the obvious difference: their ages. Meehlhause was born in 1989, the same year Houle first came to Bemidji.

“I bring a younger voice to the council that I think would be a good reflection of this community,” Meehlhause said.

Houle said that being a homeowner and living in Bemidji longer “would be strengths.”

Negard said Erickson did a “very nice job” serving the ward for two terms and that either way, the ward would have good representation, but, he said, “it comes down to leadership and listening.”

“I’m a listener,” he said.

Erickson said she “spoke to the public with candor and transparency” and “demonstrated the courage to carry through on some issues that perhaps were not popular but I believed were in the best interest of the whole.”

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