To provide our readers with information to help them in their decision-making at the polls, the Record sent out a questionnaire to each of the candidates for the Little Falls City Council. Only candidates in races where the candidates outnumbered the seats available were sent questionnaires. In Little Falls, three candidates filed to fill the Ward 1 seat; three filed for the Ward 2 seat and four filed in Ward 3.
The candidates were asked to introduce themselves and to respond to the following questions. Each of the responses was limited to 100 words. For the Little Falls City Council candidates, the Record initially sent four questions, adding an extra question about the city’s sign ordinance. However, because the incumbents were unable to address that issue due to the pending lawsuit, we did not include the answers to that question from any of the candidates.
1) If local government aid (LGA) is reduced even further, or cut altogether, what will you do to balance the city budget?
2) What will you do to bring more business and residents to your city?
3) What do you believe is the biggest issue facing the city now and in the future?
Loren Boyum, Incumbent, Ward 1
Introduction: I have served on the Council since March of 2010, and am a 40-year resident of Little Falls, a retired school teacher and administrator, an Army vet and currently employed part-time at Coborn’s Ace Hardware. Marilyn, my wife of 46 years, and I have four children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. I have worked with area schools, the Minnesota and the U.S. Department of Education and developed the Job Shadowing Program at Camp Ripley. I have held many state leadership positions and am an active member of Grace Covenant Church and the Little Falls Gideons.
Question 1: LGA is a very small portion of the city budget, but still an important component. Our current budget has to make provision for previous improvement projects that must be paid for, so it will be difficult to casually make adjustments without causing harm to other areas of the budget. Serious scrutiny of every item will be necessary, but care must be demonstrated to cause the least harm possible. It may require a combination of reductions and possible levy increases until previous projects are paid off.
Question 2: The city and county must work together, along with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, to provide and publicize a more attractive environment. It is possible to seek grants for start-up businesses, incorporate greater use of governmental programs and actively pursue other businesses or industries to locate here. Our schools, together with Central Lakes College, must provide wider opportunities in skill building application programs to enhance the quality of our workforce. We must also better promote the natural and historical aspects of our area that provide for an enhanced quality of life.
Question 3: Employment opportunities that provide adequate salaries and benefits are the foundational issues for any community. In order for Little Falls to continue and thrive, there must be work available for those who need it that pays more than unemployment compensation does now. Therefore, the saving of the jobs we now have, and the development of additional opportunities are truly critical issues. Our efforts with AirBorn and Larson Boats have been beneficial, but we must expand these activities to better position our community for success in the future.
Robin Hensel, Candidate, Ward 1
Introduction: A balanced community is an effective, whole community. I will strive for no less. I will demand inclusive, tolerant, honest government. I believe in properly funding infrastructure and essential services. I will promote creative ideas and programs for the “common good.” Since 1988, I have been a Soldier in the Salvation Army; one year juvenile probation respite provider for Lutheran Social Service; four-year foster/respite care provider for dozens of Morrison County children; lifelong advocate for human rights; social justice; peace; “forever homes for all children;” environmental stewardship; humane treatment of animals; and former Little Falls Chamber member.
Question 1: Discovering why Little Falls has debt, is critical to correcting similar future financial mistakes. If employees have caused lawsuits, they should be terminated. I would cut some or all of the “corporate welfare.” I would not cut human services or other essential services. We need a massive increase in volunteerism, with rewards, for the betterment of “community.” We need a “save our homes from foreclosure” panel, homeowners are taxpayers. As an incentive to stay in the community, we should award small entrepreneur grants with repayment in the form of community service. If unsure, I would seek “expert” advice.
Question 2: Build a “community owned” greenhouse, and grocery store funded by shareholders, rewarded accordingly. Begin “community run” camping at Le Bourget park and at the proposed recreation area complex north of town, so bicyclists and tourists would stay. Less vandalism would occur if campers were allowed. GRAA or community services could begin an all day “mentor program,” for a nominal fee, that encouraged tourists to tap our “collective experience, talent and wisdom.” Paid host homes for bicyclists would encourage tourism and reward home-owners. Little Falls needs a “rent to own community funded” program as a draw to encourage new residents.
Question 3: Little Falls lacks inclusive, tolerant and honest government and staff. We must elect and hire forthright individuals. As a tourist draw, we need ideas like “Christmas Every Day” where merchants and citizens wear costumes, and implement fun activities at their business. GRAA or community services could begin an all day “mentor program” for a nominal fee, that encourages tourists to tap our “collective experience, talent and wisdom.” Seniors especially, would be uniquely suited for this, and could make needed cash. Listening to young people, and allowing them to help, is critical for their future and ours.
Brent Wittwer, Candidate, Ward 1
No response was received from this candidate.
Urban Otremba, Incumbent, Ward 2
Introduction: I’m Urban Otremba and have served my city, including this year, for 30 years. I love a challenge. I’m proud to say I helped hire almost one-half of the current employees. I was instrumental in reducing the Council to eight members in 1982. If re-elected, I will push to reduce it to six. I was deeply involved in getting the Senior Center established and initiated the process of the demolition of Hennepin Paper. I helped get $500,000 in funding for our library when I testified impromptu in front of the State Finance Committee at the State Capitol.
Question 1: If local government aid (LGA) were cut again, there may be layoffs. Parks would not be kept up; a need for more volunteers would have to be used and roads would not be maintained as we now know. Streets would be plowed even less than they are now. We would have to keep up with maintenance of the water and sewers creating more of a financial burden in our water and sewer to keep up with need.
Question 2: Create a better atmosphere in the city. Our community developer, Carol Anderson, does a very good job of seeking new industries and trying to keep what we have done. Almost all the problems lie with the federal government with too many jobs sent overseas for cheap labor and cheap quality. Take a look at the merchandise that is manufactured overseas and south of our border. Example: Buy a refrigerator made in Mexico, it costs about $500 and has a one-year guarantee.
Question 3: Hard question. But our crime is still not in remission like it should be. Drug abuse is more rampant than people realize. Vandalism is out of control. Our police force is overworked. The courts do not punish the perpetrators enough. We need to continue seeking good-paying jobs.
Theresa Skorseth, Candidate, Ward 2
Introduction: When I moved to Little Falls from Minneapolis in 2002, I was a single mother to two teen daughters. My own mother and two of my sisters lived here and I wanted to be close to them. Since then, I’ve worked at Meyer Teleservices, Walmart and the Rural AIDS Action Network. I also served as a Vista volunteer with the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and my volunteer history also includes Minnesota Youth Symphonies, Morrison County Boys and Girls Club and Morrison County Habitat for Humanity. I’m an active member of First United Church.
Question 1: I would consider any and all ways to balance the budget. Many small economies are often as effective as a few large ones. Having been my family’s sole breadwinner for many years, I know how to spot and eliminate unnecessary spending, and I’m used to hard choices and creative solutions. My concern is to make sure citizens understand the stakes and that their needs and worries are heard and factored in. I believe in the “wisdom of crowds” and maintain that the more voices are welcomed into the discussion, the better solutions will be found.
Question 2: I want Little Falls to become more welcoming in general. I enjoy diversity in people, places and enterprises. We’re a fine, handsome town with a great deal to offer and lots of room to expand. I want more concessions and opportunities for young families, affordable housing, better education and a lot more family entertainment. I want those same advantages for new businesses, particularly in factory and production plants. I’d like to see new industry tied to the rich resources of Morrison County, of the kind that inspires local pride and soul-level ownership.
Question 3: I believe the biggest problem in Little Falls is the disenfranchisement of the citizens. I think we’ve been sent the message by the current City Council that our feelings, ideas, opinions and complaints don’t matter. We haven’t been invited to the party. Trying to be a more involved, better-informed citizen, I started attending City Council meetings several months ago, only to face a disrespectful Council which huffed impatience when I tried to contribute and stopped me mid-sentence when my time was up. Is this what we want from City Hall?
Greg Zylka, Candidate, Ward 2
Introduction: My name is Greg Zylka. I am a lifetime resident of Little Falls. I have been married to Wendy for 20 years. I have five brothers and two sisters that live in the surrounding area. I have been employed with Coborn’s for 35 years, the last 15 as store manager of 250 employees.
I am very active throughout our community. I have extensive experience balancing large budgets and negotiating contracts, I believe that the ability to collaborate and agree to disagree respectfully are two of my strong points. I would appreciate the opportunity to serve you on the City Council.
Question 1: First of all, we need to work with area legislators and ask them to stop the devastating cuts to LGA. From my nine years on the School Board, I have extensive experience making cuts to balance budgets. Since personnel and services are the largest part of the budget, that would be the first place to look. If LGA was cut altogether, balancing the budget would be difficult for all of greater Minnesota and we would have to consider other options including increasing the levy.
Question 2: As chair of the Economic Development Authority, I have worked with Carol Anderson, Executive Director of Community Development of Morrison County, on numerous projects that are very important to our community. Included in these projects were Larson Boats and AirBorn. By working with these businesses, hundreds of jobs were created and saved in Little Falls. Also, we need to work to assist existing businesses, to keep them operative and profitable. If our businesses continue to thrive, it will create new jobs and attract families to our community, which would increase our tax base.
Question 3: Employment. As manager of Coborn’s, I have seen the effect of job loss in our community. Shopping habits have changed, buying habits have changed and people are trying to do more with less. We must all come together, city, county, schools, Camp Ripley, to share ideas and promote our great community.
Richard Berg, Candidate, Ward 3
Question 1. I would take a hard look at the subsidized programs and services the residents of our city now enjoy. The Zoo, the fishing museum,the parks, airport, golf course and the list goes on. Like a household budget, there are only two ways to deal with shortfalls. Increase revenue or decrease spending. My approach would be a combination of the two.
Question 2. Continue with the historical theme. The street-lamps, the cobblestone at Maple Island, the facade renovation grant(s) for local businesses and an active community development initiative have been effective. We have relied on Lindbergh and Larson Boats for so long eventually taking them for granted. We need to stand out. Build an identity. We have the resources. The train, the river, the dam and the history. The City Council typically relies on members of the community for input regarding matters of public interest. Planning for the future is in all of our interest.
Question 3. The biggest issue facing the city is the retention and attraction of young talent that will inherit the city in years to come. This town has and continues to house legends. Movie stars, aviators, artists and entrepreneurs have graced our doorstep. We need to nurture the new talent on the horizon. To do this requires a forward looking council and planning commission. People willing to take a chance on innovation and open to new ideas.
Frank Gosiak, Incumbent, Ward 3
Introduction: My name is Frank Gosiak, your current 3rd ward councilman. I am married to Christine and we have three children. I have lived on the West Side for thirty years and I work as a teacher and a mural artist. I want to be re-elected because I am very experienced and know the running of the city. I also have a few incomplete goals I would want to finish like: seeing more for the youth, helping establish the Camp Ripley Veterans Trail and improving the West Side. I am always willing to listen to everyone’s concerns and act upon them.
Question 1: The bills have to be paid. I would cut as far as it takes and if necessary, look at a levy increase. This is not all in my hands and I would talk to the public for their input. I would ask: Can we do with less police protection, firemen, park maintenance, city employees or street repairs and services? If you are unwilling to sacrifice any of these then I must pursue a levy. The people from Little Falls have the power to tell me what they want. I am only a representative. Please voice your opinion concerning your desire.
Question 2: First and foremost I would try to save what we have. I would work with Carol Anderson and other groups who provide incentives that keep businesses. Recently, Carol has helped fill two buildings in the West Side Industrial Park with businesses and she’s helped to fill the Crestliner complex and in keeping Airborne in our community This saved jobs and provides for the potential for more. The more people working, the better chance for businesses to flourish, thus attracting more people. I am also helping to get the Camp Ripley Veterans Multipurpose Trail which would attract more businesses and residents.
Question 3: We need more jobs to create a stronger economy so the city can function properly. Loss of jobs cause people to lose their homes, live at lower standards, let property deteriorate and go into debt. Thus, city revenue lowers due to delinquent taxes and utility payments. Also, less people buy causing business closures which loses more revenue. Between losing Local Government Aid, having pressure from the state mandates concerning waste treatment guidelines and less revenue, we are feeling pressure from all sides. More and better jobs is the only way to get us out of the dilemma facing us.
Kathy Woitalla, Candidate, Ward 3
Introduction: My name is Kathleena (Kathy) Marie Woitalla. My husband, Roger, and I have been married for 13 years and have one daughter, five boys and one angel. I am a member of Our Lady Of Lourdes Catholic Church and am on the church council. I love volunteering for church events and at Lincoln Elementary School. I’m a very strong person. I stand up for what I believe in. I don’t have all the answers, if elected, I will do my best to research and come up with the best possible solution.
Question 1: I would look at everything as a whole and make cuts where possible.
Question 2: We need to encourage our residents to shop locally. We need to promote places such as the old Crestliner building as a place for new businesses to get their start.
Question 3: Jobs, jobs and more jobs. We need to figure out how to get more employers in town. We need to fill the empty businesses downtown, which would create jobs and local spending.
Audreen ‘Ozzie’ Wilczek Schwegman, Candidate, Ward 3
No response was received from this candidate.