More than 30 people turned out to hear Baxter City Council candidates speak out to the public during a candidate forum Thursday night in the music room at Central Lakes College.
Four candidates — Mark Cross, Tom Hice, Mari Holderness and Todd Holman — vying for two open seats with the council shared many of the same views, especially how great the community is and how much it has grown.
“This is home,” said Holderness, 63, who is running for a seat with the council for the first time. “And I want to see our home continue to grow and prosper and I think I can help do that, so that’s where I am coming from.”
Hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Brainerd Lakes Area and moderated by Wayne Holtmeier, each section of the forum began with a 1 1/2 minute opening statement stating the candidates’ qualifications for the office and why they are motivated to run. After the opening remarks, questions were taken from the audience.
The topic of keeping a long range planning commission, or task force as referred to by Cross, instead of handing the decisions over to planning and zoning committee again found many of the candidates sharing similar views.
“Long range planning is definitely a tool we use at the city,” said Cross, an incumbent who has been with the council from July 1998 and served through 2004 and came back in 2009. “I think to have people involved in helping guide those (planning) decisions is equally as important and a task force would be the way to do it.”
Hice echoed Cross’s statements, saying he thinks it would be a mistake to put long range planning into just the hands of planning and zoning.
“Like Mark (Cross) said I think it’s crucial to keep a committee of people involved in our long term future,” said Hice, 40, who originally ran for Baxter council 10 years ago. “We (Baxter) have been a little slow in growth the last few years, I think everyone can agree to that, but we can’t forget about the future and we need to continue to plan for the events that will happen as the city continues to grow and I think it’s important to have a long range task force for those functions.”
Holman, currently the liaison between council and the long range planning committee, said he wants to see that committee continue do the job it has.
“That (long range planning committee) has been vital to plan for the city as we continue to grow,” said Holman, 51, an incumbent who was appointed to the council in July of 2007 and elected to a four-year term in 2008. Holman previously served as Baxter’s community director from 1999-2004. “And I don’t think we want to see that go away.”
A topic in a recent budget workshop revolving around city water and sewer connections also garnered discussion among the panel.
“Unfortunately I am one of those people who don’t have city water and sewer,” said Hice. “I would be a proponent to find a solution and find a way to get the city done over the next few years.”
Holderness agreed with Hice, recalling when she first got city water and sewer a number of years ago.
“Now that we have it, I really like having the city water and sewer,” said Holderness, “The people not hooked up and who haven’t made the investment would understand the benefit of being able to flush your toilet and not have to think about a septic and not have to think about hiring somebody to come in and dump it.
“Some education might be useful on the costs up front and work something out to get it done.”
During the Wednesday budget workshop, Cross had offered the idea of reducing water and sewer fees as an incentive to home building. During Thursday’s forum, he continued to support that theory.
“I think if we can reduce and start working toward getting this fixed for our city, we will all benefit greatly,” said Cross.
Holman said from a clarification standpoint, the discussion of lowering fees for water and sewer as an incentive is a good one. He said it was so much about lowering one group but more of a deferral of payment up front and added that council is continuing to look at some options.
Candidates concluded by thanking the League of Women Voters and the public for coming out.
Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson is running for re-election in an uncontested race. Olson, 62, served one four-year term in the council and two four-year terms as mayor.