Mayoral race: Higher quality of life or lower taxes

Published 2:28 pm Saturday, October 25, 2008

In defining progress for Albert Lea, mayoral candidates differ on whether that means pursuing a higher quality of life or lower taxes.

“We had lower taxes for 30 years and no one came,” said incumbent Mayor Randy Erdman at the League of Women Voters forum Friday night at Riverland Community College.

Achieving progress for the community means improving the downtown, expanding trails and enhancing other amenities, Erdman said. He noted that two new businesses to town — ITC Midwest and Rainbow Play Systems — received no subsidies as incentives. They chose Albert Lea because they wanted to locate here.

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“We are starting to be the place to be,” said Erdman, a self-employed salesperson who served four years as a city councilor before being elected mayor two years ago.

His opponent, Mike Murtaugh, disagreed on the role of taxes in attracting newcomers.

“We need to pay attention to property taxes so they don’t get out of line compared to our neighbors,” said Murtaugh, a computer specialist who is running for public office for the first time.

Audience members at Friday’s forum, attended by about 35 people, submitted questions for the candidates.

The mayoral candidates also differed on the city’s role in assisting housing developments.

Erdman said the city’s role has been to help developers bond for infrastructure.

In the case of the Tiger Hills development off Hammer Road near the high school, Erdman said the city spent more on turn lanes and a sewer lift station in order to provide for future growth.

In the case of Wedgewood Cove, a new golf course and housing development under construction on the southwest side of Albert Lea, he said the city assisted with road funding because the community was gaining a golf course and growing its tax base.

Murtaugh said he spoke against the funding for Tiger Hills as a citizen and said it’s not up to the city to take risks with taxpayer money.

One question asked about promoting grants or programs for existing businesses to expand or remain in the city.

Murtaugh said that would be more the role of the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency. The city’s role would be providing the lowest cost possible for municipal services.

Erdman said the city already has a revolving-loan fund that provides gap financing for existing businesses. While state grants are drying up, he said the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation provides assistance to local businesses.

Ward 3

In the race for Ward 3 City Councilor, voters will choose a new representative, as incumbent Councilor George Marin has opted not to run. Candidates Ellen Kehr, a local businesswoman, and Ryan Sabinish, an Iraq War veteran who lost his job when SoyMor closed, differed on the question of whether quality of life or lower taxes should be a priority in attracting new residents.

Kehr said quality of life is more important, though taxes play an important role.

Sabinish said lower taxes are more important, but added that the city needs both lower taxes and amenities to attract people.

On the issue of making city government more transparent, Kehr and Sabinish agreed that the city needs to change its preagenda meeting, a council workshop held the Thursday before each council meeting. These meetings are held in council chambers and, under state law, are open to the public. However, in contrast to the council’s regular meetings, no minutes are taken and the meetings are not broadcast on the city’s cable channel.

Kehr recommended the council either eliminate the preagenda meeting or expand public forums at meetings along with broadcasting the preagenda meetings.

Sabinish said the city needs to either broadcast the meetings or eliminate them.

Voters head to the polls on Nov. 4. Go to for a list of city candidates, polling places, and link to ward maps.

On election night, will provide readers with up-to-the-minute results of local races.