Staples city candidates discuss council’s role
What role can the city council play in helping to fill the housing, business and entertainment needs of the city of Staples?
A number of ideas regarding that question came up at the Staples City Council candidate forum held Oct. 24. Five candidates running for city council, Mary Theurer, Charles Tester, Rachel Johnson, Doug Case and Brian Fisher, along with mayoral candidate Chris Etzler discussed these issues.
After introductions, the first question asked of Theurer; about the domain of city government. She cited the role of city police, fire and city employees and how civic organizations are valuable as they work cooperatively with the city.
Other candidates talked about how the city may not be able to control some of the needs of the city, but the council can be an advocate for the changes that they feel are needed.
With several empty buildings in the downtown area, candidates were asked what the council can do to help.
Case said Staples retailers need to “stop the migration to Brainerd or St. Cloud” for local shopping. He said people go out of town for the simplest things, such as basic clothing and while there they buy other items. He said action on the Batcher building is needed immediately if the community is going to save the opera hall on the second floor of the building.
Johnson said the downtown should develop a niche so that the community is known as a draw for at least one thing. She gave an example of how Staples-Motley schools and community are known for arts and sports and the downtown community needs to figure out what they want to be known for.
Fisher said the shop local movement can be used to push business owners to be “as good as they can be.” He suggested that business owners can work together to help each other out. He also said the city should help develop entrepreneurs.
Tester said the downtown needs more food and entertainment options; there are a number of buildings where “it shouldn’t be too hard to get someone in there.”
Etzler pointed out that the empty downtown buildings are privately owned, so the city council and Economic Development Authority have limited ability to help fill them. He said the EDA is working on empty bulding projects and the city council needs to keep supporting those efforts.
The Staples Community Center is in need of improvements, several candidates spoke on how to work on it.
Case suggested expanding the tax base to more than just the city, since it’s a regional facility. He said it should be owned or co-owned by the school district.
Fisher said the community center should be more of a focus for the council. “I would love to see more family-oriented programs there,” he said. He also touted summer rec as a great program that could continue to grow.
Theurer said partnerships are important in getting improvements at the community center. She suggested increases in school, college and youth programming.
Candidates talked about what the council should do with the the city-owned Dower Lake Recreation Area.
Fisher and Johnson both advocated increasing access to Dower Lake through a bike trail.
Theurer said the council needs to work harder on seasonal camping and other improvements. She said they could seek additional funding for improvements promote the assets such as the pier.
Case advocated for the seasonal camping sites and said that the Crow Wing River should also be marketed as a local asset.
Tester and Case both said they would like to help more industry come to Staples.
Tester said he would like to see people with disabilities get back into the workforce since workers are needed in local industries.
Tester also said he would like to see the growth shared with everyone in the community. He gave an example, saying “it seems like a lot of funds get directed towards the hospital, that may not be the best use for the town ... we have to make sure we’re not burying citizens in easements.” He said higher wages are needed in the community.
Fisher said housing is the community’s biggest priority and suggested marketing the current opportunities in Staples.
Tester said that as the community grows, it’s likely Staples will need new neighborhoods for housing needs. He suggested “we need a proper structure so we don’t have such a mess as the town is structured now.”
Johnson and Fisher pointed to the Paint the Town project as a good way of helping people with upkeep of their homes and have the city promote these partnerships. Tester said that repairs are also needed on many homes, so carpenters are also needed.
Case addressed low property values. One reason new homes are not being built is that once they’re built, they’re not valued for the amount it took to build it. The city needs to raise income levels and property values.
Etzler said the city has hired a nuisance inspector, but the city wasn’t prepared for the people who didn’t have the money or ability to fix the problems. He suggested a combination of enforcement and community
Tester agreed with Etzler that enforcement of downtown parking regulations should be relaxed on weekends to prevent people from driving their cars away after they’ve consumed alcohol. Tester felt the city should allow overnight parking on 2nd Ave, not because he lives on the street, but it’s no longer a main road.
All of the candidates had positive things to say about the community.
Theurer said “I’m proud of the way our community looks and the accomplishments we have made the last five years.”
Tester spoke about the need for stewardship, saying “we need to make sure when we build something new we don’t destroy something beautiful.”
Johnson talked about the engaged citizens and organizations in Staples and said “We’re going to see growing pains, the only way to do that is to do it together.”
Case said “This is everybody’s community, you need to take part in it. You can’t just say what’s wrong, you have to take an active role.”
Fisher suggested Staples look at more events than just Railroad Days. He said there’re great ideas out in the community and the council needs to encourage that.
Etzler said “We’re really a community, we don’t have the one big employer, it’s the churches, service clubs and organizations that are not a role of the council, but we can create the policies to allow those things to happen.”