by Joni Astrup
Elk River City Council candidates Barb Burandt and Michael McDonough faced off in a congenial forum Saturday, Sept. 15, in Elk River.
Both are running for an open seat in Ward 3.
McDonough said he’s “just a guy” who works 60 hours a week as an operations manager at a trucking company.
“It gets interesting to have a job and feel like you work so hard and then come home and pay taxes and have fees and see things go up and up and up and your wallet get thinner and thinner and thinner,” he said. “… That’s why I’m running. I’m running because I truly want Elk River to be attractive and affordable.”
Burandt, a nurse and attorney, described herself as a “policy wonk” who will listen.
“I think listening is one of my big strengths,” Burandt said. “I am much more of a listener than a talker.”
She said it’s important to listen to the people council members are elected to serve.
The hour-long forum was sponsored by the Elk River Area Citizens League and held at City Hall. It was moderated by Jerry Hendrickson.
Responding to a question about their biggest concern regarding city government and how would they address it, Burandt said the concern of many cities in Minnesota is their financial future, partly due to the slowdown of the economy and of business growth that affects tax base.
McDonough said the city needs to be fiscally responsible.
“Elk River has an AA+ credit rating,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question of how responsible they are.”
However, he’d like the council to look at ways to possibly decrease the city’s tax burden, noting that the city’s tax rate has gone up.
Asked about the strengths and weaknesses of Elk River’s city government, McDonough said the financial stability of the city is a strong point. He also said the city administration and council members are effective leaders.
He believes communication between the staff and City Council is a strong point as well, noting that there is lots of information provided to council members before meetings.
While not necessarily a weakness, he sees room for improvement in community involvement by citizens and businesses, which is one way to reduce city costs.
Burandt, too, feels the city is in a good financial position and has had good financial leadership. “We do know that because the economy is struggling … we’re not going to raise taxes,” she said. That will create challenges, she added.
Burandt believes the city has excellent police, fire and ambulance services. The fact that the city has 900 acres of parkland is “wonderful,” she said. A challenge is upgrading those parks but not at the cost of things like roads, police and fire.
Asked if cuts are required, what would they be, Burandt said cities have to look at what their core services are and maintain those. She also advocates using more volunteers, such as in parks.
In addition, Burandt would look at how the city can be more efficient.
McDonough said essential services include things like police, fire, streets and sewer services and making sure there is adequate response time in emergencies.
That being said, McDonough noted: “If you’ve got enough money to afford a Pontiac, you shouldn’t be driving a Cadillac.”
He favors community involvement and sponsorships in areas like parks and recreation to help reduce government costs.
Asked if there are too many city commissions, McDonough said he’s a fan of limited government.
“Yes, I believe that there are a lot of commissions. I would say that there are some that are more essential than others,” he said.
He said it would be wise to look at what’s essential and what’s not, and figure out how to get the community more involved.
Burandt said the commissions are the citizens and cover specific topics like housing, economic development and parks and recreation. They offer an opportunity to make sure those topic areas are not lost in the management of the city and bring forward issues so they can be dealt with and not overlooked. “So I think they are important,” she said.
Candidates were also asked why the city wants growth.
McDonough said increasing the city’s tax base allows the tax burden to be spread out more. “That allows you to lower taxes,” he said.
Burandt said growth is the opposite of stagnation.
“If we stagnate, the services that we have available will increase in cost for businesses, citizens and homes,” she said.
Strategic growth, based on plans to grow businesses so there are more jobs, spreads out the cost for services, she said.
In closing remarks, Burandt said Elk River is a very special place where she has lived since she and her husband, Dave, married more than 40 years ago.
She said her background has prepared her for the role of council member and sees it as an opportunity to give back to the community.
McDonough said he loves Elk River and described it as a community founded in faith and one that residents are proud of.
“I would just be so honored if I were elected to be able to represent the community,” 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.