Candidates forum: Westgaard pledges to be advocate for citizen priorities
by Joni Astrup
Matt Westgaard is a four-year veteran of the Elk River City Council and running unopposed in Ward 2.
“I have a passion for being involved in the community and I think each individual has a responsibility to give back,” he told the audience at a candidates forum Saturday, Sept. 15.
He also made a pledge.
“I will be your advocate,” he said, adding that he will advocate for citizens’ priorities, not his own.
Westgaard, who served on the Elk River Planning Commission before being elected to the City Council in 2008, is the chief operations officer of Molin Concrete Products in Lino Lakes.
The candidates forum, held at City Hall, was sponsored by the Elk River Area Citizens League and moderated by Jerry Hendrickson.
Asked what his biggest concern is regarding the city and how would he address it, Westgaard cited remaining fiscally responsible.
The city has faced a lot of economic challenges, he said, adding: “We still have a city to manage, to operate, to maintain.”
The city gets much of its operating income from property taxes, and when home and business values continue to shrink it’s a challenge to determine what are the essential things that need to be provided to residents, he said.
“It’s not always an easy decision,” Westgaard said.
Residents want to maintain a quality of life, but most households are also dealing with tough financial times themselves and don’t need an additional tax burden, he said.
Despite the challenges, he sees the city’s financial stability as one of its strengths. The city has been very disciplined in its spending habits and has a strong financial and accounting staff, as well as a good bond and credit rating, he said.
Asked if cuts are required what would they be, Westgaard said the city needs to continue to function and it boils down to essential services like police, fire and streets.
Those three entities make up about three-fourths of the city’s $12 million budget, he said.
“You need to listen to the people that elected you and what is their tolerance for paying taxes? It’s been very little,” he said.
He said he will continue to look for partnerships and ways to be creative.
Asked if the city has too many commissions, Westgaard said the vast majority of the city’s commissions are comprised of volunteers at no cost to the city or its taxpayers.
Commissions offer an opportunity for people to get involved and be part of a specific topic area, he said.
In response to a question about why does the city want growth, Westgaard said businesses provide employment as well as services, goods or entertainment opportunities. As for residential growth, “I don’t know that necessarily the city says, ‘We want growth.’ It happens. People have a desire to move here so it’s the city’s responsibility to make sure that we have a plan for how to deal with it,” he said.
Where to watch the candidates forum
To see the Elk River City Council candidates forum:
•Watch it on ERtV Channel 12 on Wednesdays at noon and Saturdays at 9 a.m.