Baxter mayoral candidates Darrel Olson and Jim Roelofs both said at Monday's candidate's forum that they support a local option sales tax in the city.
They also both pointed out Baxter's positive amenities, such as the city's forested areas, lakes, trails and beaches.
But the two mayoral candidates differed slightly in their views on how Baxter can manage and plan for its rapid commercial and residential growth.
In his opening statements, Olson said, as a current Baxter City Council member, he does not take his responsibilities lightly, returning residents' phone calls and listening to his constituents.
"Are we perfect? No," said Olson. "Do we have challenges? You bet we do. But many cities would wish to have our challenges."
Roelofs said one of the biggest challenges the city is facing is the sale of Pine Meadows Golf Course, adding that the people he has spoken to while campaigning believe the land should be preserved as a golf course or protected as green space. He said the undeveloped land between the Highway 210/371 intersection and the Mississippi River along the Highway 371 bypass should be maintained as a northwoods environment, adding that the city is fortunate to have growth but needs to protect its sensitive wetlands.
Olson said some of Baxter's greatest challenges are the health and safety issues, which include coming up with ways to make sure the city's future water treatment, wastewater and fire protection needs are met.
When asked about the controversy over the construction of a Wal-Mart Super Center in the city, Roelofs said it appeared that city staff were on Wal-Mart's payroll to some people who were not in favor of the project. He added that it wasn't a belief he necessarily shared but that the city needs to bring citizen input into a situation like this earlier in the process.
Olson said the Wal-Mart meetings continued on for one year and three months and the people who have been critical that the city stifled their opinions must not have attended all of those meetings as he did. One public hearing, he noted, lasted five hours.
"The vote was not about Wal-Mart, it was about zoning," said Olson. "And we were correct."
When asked whether they would support a smoking ban in Baxter restaurants, Roelofs, a physician, said he would support a regional ban or ban in both Brainerd and Baxter, but not solely in the city. Olson, adding that he was a non-smoker who wished everyone else was one, too, said he wasn't sure how the city should approach it.
Both candidates said they supported a local option sales tax in Baxter. Olson said the tax is not a luxury but a necessity to help fund a water treatment plant and other city needs due to growth.
"It seems like a pretty good deal to me for the citizens of Baxter," said Roelofs, on a local option sales tax.
Both candidates agreed that methamphetamine is a growing problem in the city, one that needs to be addressed.
"The community needs to work together to attack the meth problem," said Roelofs.
"I think it actually snuck up on us," said Olson, of the illegal drug. "When we found out they're making this in Baxter hotel rooms, it's frightening."
Roloefs said he is not in favor of rezoning the land at Pine Meadows Golf Course, but would rather like to see it kept as a golf course. Olson said any land zoning changes that any potential owners of the golf course would seek would have to be obtained through public hearings before the city council.
In his closing statements, Roloefs said he could bring fresh ideas to city government and the city needs long-range plans to preserve its forested areas and yet build the community for future generations.
Olson said that while Baxter is known for its businesses and stores, the city offers more than that, including forests, beaches and trails.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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