Ward 6 challenger: Health care is No. 1 issue

Published 10:20 pm Thursday, October 11, 2018

Health care is the No.1 local issue, according to the candidate vying to be Ward 6 councilor.

Nick Ronnenberg

Nick Ronnenberg, 46, is challenging five-term incumbent Al “Minnow” Brooks for the seat.

Ronnenberg, a detention center deputy at Freeborn County jail, noted the rest of the changes Mayo Clinic Health System plans to make as part of its transition of most inpatient services from Albert Lea to Austin will be complete in 1 1/2 years.

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“Time is short on what we can do to find alternative solutions for what we stand to lose,” he said. “Probably the best thing we can do is support the Save Our (Healthcare) movement. Those folks have put in a lot of time and energy and done a tremendous amount of work to navigate through this crisis.”

Ronnenberg pledged that as councilor he would continue supporting the organization’s effort.

“As I am aware of any new ideas, of course I will bring those forward,” he said. “In the meantime, they have my full support.” 

Ronnenberg said the city is meeting its obligation to provide health care to citizens by its continuing efforts to provide health care options as the transition unfolds.

“Going forward, the city needs to continue to ensure that it is willing to accept any and all forms of additional health care for its citizens, such as the new urology clinic, and also to continue to support the Save Our Healthcare movement as they work towards finding a broad, permanent solution (to) our health care crisis,” he said.


Transportation funding shortage

Ronnenberg said addressing the transportation funding shortage “is a major question with no easy answer.”

“We already have an additional wheelage tax,” he said. “What more do they want? So if the state will not give us any more money, and we have no more money to raise for roads, then where are we going to get money for road repairs?” he asked.

Ronnenberg suggested allocating more resources toward road repairs when budgeting allows.

“To some extent we already do that, which is why in some years we see bigger road projects being completed than in other years,” he said.

Ronnenberg questioned whether a separate tax would be appropriate because of the amount of taxes taxpayers already pay.

“However, as the city continues to drive revenue, and more money comes in, the opportunity for a reallocation towards future road repairs — beyond what we are already doing — will be possible,” he said.


Attracting and retaining employees

Ronnenberg said wages and benefits are the best way city government can attract employees.

“City employees usually have competitive wages, so the challenge then is the benefit package,” he said. “Right now the best thing the city can do is to make sure it is doing everything it can to protect Public Employees Retirement Association and continue to search for and work for reasonable, affordable health care.”

To Ronnenberg, the major role health insurance premiums play on worker budgets means city officials need to continue keeping that in mind when evaluating annual budgets and costs.

“Naturally, the more money the city makes — primarily through taxes — then the better benefits it can offer its workers,” he said. “That will happen through growth of business and jobs in our community.”


City strengths

Ronnenberg said the city successfully organizes local community events “to bring people out and bring people together,” and succeeds at “doing what it can with what it has to work with.”

Ronnenberg noted grants the city has used to improve its downtown district and airport facility.

“The city is also great at listening to new ideas from its citizens,” he said. “Any single individual can bring forth an idea or put together an action committee to come to the mayor or the council with what it wants to do to affect positive change. And the city will listen to any and all comers and take suggestions and provide feedback and support.”

Ronnenberg spoke highly of the city’s transformation into a Blue Zones community, stating the city continues to place a heavy emphasis on the program. 

“I met with Ellen Kehr once and was fascinated by everything she had to share with what Blue Zones was doing in our community,” he said.


City weaknesses

“It is no secret that we are labeled as a retirement community,” Ronnenberg said. “Currently our citizens are in (a) moment of shock as we have seen businesses close and with what is happening with our health care crisis.”

Ronnenberg said city government needs to let the country know “Albert Lea is open for business,” adding he wants to ensure the work councilors do with economic partners drives growth in the city.

“We have a workforce in Albert Lea and our surrounding areas,” he said. “With business comes jobs, and people to work, and also new people moving to our community to work and raise their families.”


Greatest asset to City Council

Ronnenberg said his greatest asset to the council would be his ability to work with organizations “with a proactive approach.”

“I am someone that likes to be ahead of the curve and not only make sure that we are prepared for when a crisis hits us, but that we also follow through on our past promises,” he said.

Ronnenberg said though the city does not always act quickly, it can ensure it works proactively together for people and to keep promises “as efficiently as possible.”

“The city cannot control everything in our community, as we have other entities to work with, such as the county, the economic development center, the watershed and more,” he said. “But projects and issues that are the sole responsibility of the city can be met with an approach that timely and drives results.”


Encouraging business and entrepreneurship

Ronnenberg said the city “is great at bringing in and providing opportunities for small businesses to start up and grow.”

“Small business is the heartbeat of America,” he said. “However, we need to find ways to also allow larger employers to enter into our market.”

Ronnenberg said after living and paying taxes in Rochester, Fridley and St. Cloud, he understands that bringing in businesses usually involves economic incentives that properly match individual businesses, which could include tax, building or land incentives.

“I don’t claim to be an expert, which is why I am glad I do not have (to) figure it out by myself,” he said. “But what I can do is bring an open mind and a proactive approach to allowing and approving the necessary steps to bringing in new business.”


Communication between city, county

To continue improving communication between the two boards, Ronnenberg said communication lines need to remain open.

“That sounds simple, but coordinating more joint meetings, (being) willing to communicate necessary issues good or bad as they arise, and keeping an open mind to ideas from the other side is a great way to start and continue that process,” he said.

Ronnenberg noted he has attended joint meetings with the city and county as a citizen and understands personal dynamics in the relationship.

“No, it is not all on the city, but the only thing we can control is what we are doing together as a council,” he said. “As long as together we show a willingness to communicate and keep our commitments as we set forth, I think cohesion between the city and the county will continue to grow.” 


City philosophy in not raising operating levy but increasing debt levy for road repairs

Ronnenberg said though the city not increasing the operating levy in more than five years sounds good, “what happens is the year you do need to increase it, it becomes a drastic increase and puts pressure on the whole community because budgeted funds will get re-directed just to cover the increase.”

Ronnenberg said the operating budget should increase based on the state of economy, which he said would result in a more evenly based budget.

“Costs go up,” he said. “Inflation happens. While we, under our current monetary system using the dollar, would be better to simply account for that on an annual basis.”


Ronnenberg’s philosophy

Ronnenberg said he stands for growth and has noticed since he moved to Albert Lea in 2002 that homeowners are pressured.

“With growth, businesses, jobs, growing community, we have an opportunity (to) capture more sales tax revenue, especially from our transient population, thereby taking pressure off of homeowners,” he said.

Ronnenberg said he stands “for a reduction in drugs and petty crime.”

“By encouraging neighborhoods in our community to take a proactive approach to their own issues concerning safety and awareness, we can collectively and drastically reduce theft and petty crime in our community,” he said.

Ronnenberg said his ideas come from Albert Lea residents.

“The people that I have worked with, volunteered with, socialized with, my neighbors I live with — this is what people have told me they want,” he said. “This is what the people have told me they need. I am committed to doing everything I can for the people to bring them what they deserve: a growing, thriving, safe community in which to live and raise a family.”



Nick Ronnenberg is facing incumbent Al Brooks for the Ward 6 seat. See Brooks’ Tribune election profile here.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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