Mayor: Top issue facing Albert Lea is city growth
Published 9:09 pm Friday, October 26, 2018
Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said the top issue facing Albert Lea is growth.
“The challenges to maintain our quality of life has to be met with growth of our tax base,” Rasmussen said, who is being challenged by George Marin for his fourth term as mayor. “First, we must maintain and improve our infrastructure to make Albert Lea safe and easy to use. This will be accomplished by a committed capital improvement plan that deals with needs and financing of those needs.”
To Rasmussen, the city needs to evaluate how it can create chances for industries and families to build in Albert Lea.
“We will utilize existing programs but also evaluate the needs of each opportunity and react to special situations,” he said. “Thirdly, we have to support and be proactive with existing business and entrepreneurs. Improving our outreach to help make it easy for business and entrepreneurs to grow in Albert Lea.”
He said the city needs to have a “team approach to growth.”
“We have to continue reaching out to the community to find ideas for future growth,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen, 54, said the city has “made a conscious effort to balance the tax impact on our citizens.”
“Building a system that understands how to move forward without burdening the citizens is a point of emphasis,” he said.
Rasmussen noted 10-year financial management and five-year capital improvement city plans have allowed Albert Lea to balance tax impacts on citizens.
“These plans will be important to our progression but also have to be constantly monitored and adjusted as situations dictate,” he said. “I feel that we have to continue investing in our infrastructure needs so we are allowing growth to happen.”
To Rasmussen, the only way the city can maintain services responsibly is by community growth.
“We have to continue finding tools that allow for the private sector to build tax base,” he said. “The increase in tax base will offset the natural increases caused by inflation.”
Rasmussen called flooding “one of the major concerns for our community.”
Flooding in 2016 temporarily closed East Main Street, and sections of the community are sometimes not passable due to heavy rain.
“Our greatest asset — lakes — is also one of our greatest challenges,” he said. “We will have to be dedicated to looking at every chance to decrease the problem of water.” He added that could include partnering with the Shell Rock River Watershed District, improving the city’s waste treatment system and slowing water runoff.
“We have to be committed to the goal of reducing flooding in our community, because it affects all of us,” he said.
Attracting business and encouraging entrepreneurship
To Rasmussen, though programs sponsored by local groups “are a great start,” the city needs to continue to have a positive business climate to encourage business growth and entrepreneurship.
“From permitting, to signage, to zoning, we have to show Albert Lea is open to new business, we are willing to work with entrepreneurs,” he said.
Rasmussen, who has recused himself from conversations regarding Mayo Clinic Health System’s in-progress transition of most inpatient services from Albert Lea to Austin due to his employment as a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic Health System at Health Reach, said “rural health care is changing across the United States.”
“Save Our Healthcare has been instrumental in raising awareness of the challenge we face,” he said. “Freeborn County and the city of Albert Lea all have a role in solving it. The solution must be what is right for the citizens of Albert Lea in both the short term and the long term.”
Rasmussen called funding road concerns “a monumental challenge because it’s constantly in need.”
“We can never completely deal with the challenges, but we have made a significant investment over the past several years,” he said. “Having a well-planned program to deal with both the infrastructure needs and financing is of the utmost importance.”
To Rasmussen, the city needs to always prioritize transportation projects to maximize the impact.
“Finding all the resources that are available to fund projects through the state and federal government will enhance our local buying power,” he said. “The only way to deal with road concerns is to be consistent with our commitment to a plan that extends the life of existing roads and uses new technologies to build roads in the future.”
Rasmussen mentioned the city’s 10-year financial management plan.
“This has allowed us to see problems coming, address those with the state Legislature, the community impacted, or prepare city and county leaders for those problems,” he said. “The plan changes and evolves but provides long-term direction.”
“There are parts of the community that aren’t as involved as we all want,” Rasmussen said. “Our surveys show citizens don’t feel they are listened to or their feedback is appreciated. We have implemented different forms of communication to reach those pockets, but we have much more work to do.”
Rasmussen’s greatest strength
To Rasmussen, his greatest asset is bringing groups together to solve “tough issues facing a small, rural community.”
“Bringing groups together to fight those challenges is essential,” he said. “A mayor acts to find partnerships between different groups of citizens to find win-wins for all citizens.”
City attracting employees
For the city as an employer to attract employees, Rasmussen said it has to “provide competitive wages, meaningful work, work that contributes to a larger goal and the ability to grow as an employee.”
“If our children want to work for the city, that’s what we would want for them,” he said.
Rasmussen noted the city recently being named a Best Place to Work by Southeast Minnesota Workforce Development Inc.
“It validates the steps the city has been achieving,” he said.
Continuing improved communication between city, county
To Rasmussen, “communication is the single biggest challenge of all organizations.”
“Building a strong relationship with Freeborn County and all surrounding communities will only make us all stronger,” he said. “We must continue to be open to the concerns and questions of each board without judgement.”
Rasmussen noted routine joint meetings between the two boards exist, adding they should be continued, as open dialogue improves their understanding of each other.
“We could do a better job of setting joint goals,” he said. “This would allow each board to understand where we are able and willing to work together before issues arise.”
Relationships with state officials
Rasmussen said the community needs to focus on relationships with state officials.
“There are many financial demands that the state of Minnesota places on municipalities,” he said. “Building relationships with our state representatives helps to make sure our concerns are heard.”
Rasmussen said his “biggest concern” is Minnesota Pollution Control Agency guidelines on wastewater treatment plants.
“These changes will place unrealistic costs on our treatment plant that will cost all of us millions of dollars,” he said. “Working with our state representatives will help to answer some of these questions.”
Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. is facing challenger George Marin in the mayor’s race. See Marin’s Tribune election profile here.