Candidate pleased with direction of city, hopes to continue efforts
Published 3:23 pm Sunday, October 16, 2022
Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker said he is proud to be a part of the recent successes in the community and hopes to continue another term on the Albert Lea City Council to bring about more positive change.
Baker, 65, is seeking his fifth term on the council against opponent Brian Beasley.
“I love the community, and I really try to work hard in my position to make the city a much better place for us now and for future generations,” Baker said. “That’s ultimately the goal for me.”
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Baker grew up in Albert Lea, the son of the late Lowell and Adeline Baker, and has lived and worked in the city almost his entire life. He lives in the city with his partner, Susan Roskens, of 11 years, who moved to town from Mankato. His sister, Pam Quinlivan, and her husband also live in the community.
A licensed contractor/carpenter for more than 20 years, Baker now works for Arrow Building Center. He said this experience has helped him be familiar with the building industry.
Baker said he loves the community for many reasons, two of which are he loves the lakes here, and he loves the people, who he said are welcoming and want to progress.
He said he loves that he can be at the grocery store or getting gas and people with questions come up to him and talk. He noted a lot of times people share their concerns and they want to know that they are being heard. He said he takes the time to listen and find them answers to questions.
He said with every decision he makes, he thinks of the people in his ward but also on how the decision affects the whole community. He tries to look at the issue from all angles.
“I truly believe when I make my decision it’s the fairest decision I could make,” he said.
Baker said he is proud of the vision that is in the community now between organizations including the city, Freeborn County, the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau and Albert Lea Chamber of Commerce. He said 10 years ago, while everyone may have had similar goals, they went about achieving them in their own way.
“That’s all changed in the last five years — everybody is working together for the same goal, and it’s starting to show fruit.”
He referenced businesses moving to the community that are interested in investing in the city, including Infinite Recycled Technologies, Vortex and, most recently, Design Ready Controls, which combined are expected to create at least 100 new jobs in the near future.
“Things are happening,” he said. “I think we’re on the right track.”
Baker said he is also proud to see progress made on addressing the housing shortage, though he recognized more work needs to be done.
He referenced new housing options off of the Blazing Star Landing and the old Ramsey School that has been converted to apartments. He also spoke about the city’s pilot program in which the city has taken a few dilapidated structures and taken the money it would have spent to demolish those properties and instead stabilize the properties and then return them to the private market where they are back on the tax rolls. The city has seen success in two of those properties so far.
“The pilot program is starting to show that possibly can work, trying to save some of your older housing stock, which is going to help close the gap on housing needs,” he said.
He talked about the need for communities to invest in themselves and gave an example of when the city renovated the downtown. Though he and others on the council took a lot of heat on that issue early on, it has caught on and now people want to be there.
“You have to invest as a community in yourself so others will want to invest,” he said.
He said some of the developers who have come to town over the years have talked to him about how that is one thing they look for when considering where to take their business — that a community is willing to invest in itself.
Baker said he is also proud of the work done on the budget and said for several years the council approved a zero percent increase in the operating levy. The debt levy has had increases to cover infrastructure projects.
Baker said looking ahead, one of the most important issues facing the community is meeting the standards of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency regarding phosphorus levels at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. He said the city is looking at more than $40 million in investments to the plant to meet the state mandate.
“We were mandated to do this, but there was no money to help finance this,” he said. “If the city has to go alone on this, this is going to be catastrophic. We’d have to raise property taxes and raise water and sewer rates to a level where it’s almost impossible to live here.”
The entities that would be hit the worst would be businesses, especially the large water users in the community.
He encouraged people to contact their legislators and encourage them to help the city.
“The state needs to help the communities faced with this,” he said.
He has lobbied at the state Capitol for help for the project and said he traveled to St. Paul once or twice a year since being in office to lobby for the city’s needs.
“I believe that you need to have people from Greater Minnesota to show a force because otherwise you’re going to get eaten up by the metropolitan areas,” he said.
He also looks forward to the development of the abandoned Union Pacific Railroad line into a shared user trail. The land goes from Albert Lea to Hartland, and the city is in a joint powers agreement with the county and the railroad for the property within the city limits.
The connection of the Blazing Star Trail over Albert Lea Lake is also supposed to be completed next year, connecting Albert Lea to Hayward.
These trails, along with the bike lanes implemented in the city, are working to connect residents and visitors to different parts of the community and to do so in a healthy way.
Baker thanked everyone who has supported him over the years and said he hoped they would support him for another term.