5th Ward council candidates tackle attracting businesses, taxes and the pandemic in forum
Fifth Ward Albert Lea City Council candidates faced off Wednesday night at City Hall about attracting businesses to the city, taxes and other ways to improve the city during the second round of candidate forums hosted by the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.
Incumbent 5th Ward Councilor Robert Rasmussen and former 5th Ward Councilor John Severtson answered questions from moderator Mike Woitas.
Incumbent councilors Rich Murray and Jason Howland are unopposed in the race.
Improvements, attracting businesses
Severtson said he thinks the city has to be more aggressive in promoting itself and letting people outside of the community know what is going on and the opportunities available here.
“We do good things, but I don’t think it’s advertised enough outside the community. …” he said. “If we don’t get people to come into town, Albert Lea won’t grow.”
He said he supported an RV park that was brought up in the past and on using the lakes to attract people here. He acknowledged it is difficult to bring in large businesses to the community, and said the key will be tourism to generate a positive outlook for the community.
Rasmussen said he was happy there are a couple new housing developments the city is currently working on and also referenced a company that is considering a cold storage warehouse facility in Albert Lea and multi-million improvements being made at Cargill. A couple smaller stores have also moved in downtown and in the outlets next to Walmart.
“Even though we’ve lost some businesses, we’re actually getting some movement on the business front,” he said.
He said he was pleased the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau were under the same roof and able to bounce ideas off of each other. In addition, there’s the Main Street program, which is focused on a certain part of the city and maintaining and growing business there.
Assistant city manager
When asked whether they would support filling the assistant city manager position recently vacated by Jerry Gabrielatos, Severtson said he thought the city had too much staff at the top and not enough people doing “the workers’ job.”
Rasmussen said the assistant city manager position was created before he was elected and said that after the new city manager starts Nov. 9, he would like to hear his input about the pluses and minuses of the position to see if it is warranted. He said he takes the budget seriously and would be willing to look at it with the council, the city manager and citizen input.
Since starting in 2017 on the council, Rasmussen said the council has done a better job than other communities in southern Minnesota of keeping budgets in line and taxes low.
He said the council goes over the budget every year with city finance staff throughout the year and talks about whether there is anything that can be pared down without taking away the needs of citizens. He said one of his top priorities is keeping taxes as low as possible.
Severtson said he is against raising taxes right now and his taxes increased significantly last year already.
Rasmussen said the need for child care has always been one of the city’s biggest issues and said the city is looking at the issue from all angles to figure out how to increase child care in the community for this year and beyond.
Severtson said while he agreed child care is important — noting that grandparents often end up helping out with their grandchildren to help with the expense of child care — he wasn’t sure how high of a priority it was for the city.
Both men said they thought the city was doing everything it could to keep public buildings open to the public in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rasmussen said he would like to see the library reopen but is glad people can currently call and order books.
Severtson said the city is in a tough situation.
Forums continue tonight with the Albert Lea Area Schools board candidates. The forum starts at 6 p.m.