Minot Mayor Candidates Questionnaire
Minot Mayor Candidates
Q: What are your budget priorities and what actions do you believe the council needs to consider to hold taxes down? Specifically, could you support shifting more infrastructure costs to special assessments?
Sipma: The budget for 2019 will be an especially difficult once again. Understanding that our city government workforce size is very similar to the size of 2009 (excluding fire and police) except our city size, in terms of square miles, has nearly doubled. That represents a significant challenge trying to maintain quality of services that are expected while trying to maintain lower property taxes. In 2019 we will be focusing not only on the budget for 2019 but also plan for future budgets as long-term planning is critical. The long-term plan has been absent for too long and needs to be part of the ongoing visioning. We do need to focus on our city’s work force stabilization as the direct and indirect cost of turnover is costing more than any savings done through pay increase delays that passed in the 2018 budget. 2019 will also be a year where the Northwest Area Water Supply Project (NAWS) portion (40 percent) of 1 penny of sales takes will be returning which means it will be less money going towards the subsidized buy down of property tax. It will also be the year more funding from sales tax revenues will be allocated towards flood control. I would not be in favor of moving towards special assessments as a primary property tax plan as the substantial cost to a much smaller number of impacted homeowners often is too much burden to bear. Fargo is looking at moving away from the practice for that exact reason.
Mihalick: Maintain position of reflecting no increase in real estate taxes for 2019. Support city by encouraging innovative ideas to address the budget. Focus on increasing revenue by growing the economic tax base. Routine infrastructure maintenance should be included in the city budget and not shifted to special assessments. New developments requiring infrastructure should be paid by the developer.
Bommelman: We need to look at cutting the budget and quit spending money foolishly. Now the city wants to try and build a community center? Another building that we will have to maintain along with that worthless parking ramp. There is no reason to build one. We have places now we don’t use and is taking up space. Part of Brick Studio can be used to congregate. All Seasons Arena in the food court, the parks, the grand stand why are we not utilizing th structure that we have already instead of building and not being able to maintain it. Right now the parking garage is leaking and has some cracks in it. Now we have to maintain that for another 100 years.
Q: Are there areas where you feel the city can create greater efficiencies to improve or maintain service while cutting costs?
Sipma: Looking towards the International Economic Development Council’s report to the City of Minot due in late June, I firmly believe there will be several areas identified in terms of fully utilizing resources to initiate a better outcome. Those areas will include tax-funded economic development, putting the numbers to potentially merge Recreation with Parks, looking into assets that are duplicated between the County and City, such as libraries to name, just a few. The biggest efficiency we can gain as a city will be moving away from the growth model based around urban sprawl and instead focusing on interior development and redevelopment. We have already invested substantial dollars into an infrastructure that is now expanded and in place with thousands of undeveloped lots that are not being fully realized on the property tax roll. Infilling our city with development before further expansion will be the biggest efficiency we can make as a community. The reinvestment into our city will also help keep our service area in check and not further stretch our departments into needing more to service more.
Mihalick: The automated trash collection system is a prime example of using technology to improve services while reducing costs to the city. I know there has to be other departments that can accomplish this same thing. I, as the Mayor, intend to challenge our department heads to find ways to identify savings within their respective departments. I want them to look at their department as a profit center and treat it like a business. Be cognizant of expenses and maximize production.
Bommelman: I’d like to look at all the aspects of the city government. How many people do we need to do a job? I would like to cut costs on foolish spending. Possibly garbage collection are we really being efficient? Let’s say people who are on a fixed income for people in their more advanced years, and they want to put a dresser on the boulevard to get taken away, we are charging people for that service, and hey can’t afford that. Our water and garbage are going up along with our taxes. Everything keeps going up like our taxes. Our houses are depreciating and our taxes are going up. People are tired of it and want a change. I know people who haven’t had a raise in six years and how are they supposed to compensate for the increase in taxes when they aren’t getting any more money on their jobs themselves.
I think we have to look at all aspects of city government, whether it be garbage, street department or whatever, and try and make everything more efficient. It seems like the costs are going up and up and where does it end? I think we need to have a way to save money instead of spending it all the time. We have no progress and no action. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m going to make everybody happy, but I would like to try and solve it and see where we can cut money. I think I can be on the middle ground, where I think I can make a difference. I think I can make a happy medium here for everybody. I know I can make this happen to make a difference. You have to understand I know what it’s like to work for a living and bust my butt. I don’t like spending my money any more than you people do. I want to make sure my being in office WILL make a difference. I don’t want to see taxes increase anymore. We aren’t getting ahead.
When the oil was here, people were spend, spend sped. Now that it went away and may or may not come back, we have to look at what we did eight years ago and figure out what happened. It seems to me in the past the MAGIC Fund and tax break for businesses that want to come into Minot, we give them and give them and we get nothing back. They got their money. they donát care about us. They get up and leave and let us hold the bag.
Q: Would you support an increase in the city sales tax beyond the current 2 percent?
Sipma: I doubt very much the taxpayers in Minot would support an increase in sales tax at this time. The question I would need an answer to is what would the one percent be used for? If it was for property tax subsidy, then no, I would not support it. We have seen what happens when we as a city become dependent on a fluctuating and unreliable revenue stream. I do realize that we will have long-term operation and maintenance costs for NAWS and the Enhanced Flood Protection System but as of right now we don’t know what those continual costs will be. Both of those are considered regional expenses as they do have direct regional impact and should fall under the sales tax revenue streams. There is also a threshold to keep in mind in terms of sales taxes comparative to other regional commercial centers. Although a cap in sales tax on purchases is in place, perception alone can drive shoppers either to another city or deeper online to shop. Online shopping represents a much larger competitor than many people realize, which opens up a whole other conversation about shopping local. If the leadership body did decide to propose an increase, I would propose that it go before the community for a vote.
Mihalick: Simply NO! Now is not the time to attach additional sales tax to the citizens who have just seen a substantial increase in their real estate tax portion from the city.
Bommelman: No. Absolutely NOT.
Q: How do you feel the city should handle tax exemptions, such as through the Renaissance Zone or MAGIC Fund, to encourage development or new businesses?
Sipma: We as community have the tools for encouraging redevelopment and investment in our community. We now need a unified mission/vision with major players working towards that same goal. Some have argued that the MAGIC Fund needs to go and instead be used to subsidize property tax. That idea is wholesale selling ourselves short as a community. When we utilize our tools like the Renaissance Zone, MAGIC Fund the Opportunity Zone that is where investment and reinvestment start to turn the tide on economic development and in the long-term property taxes. Those tools also have to be paired with an updated comprehensive plan that moves the city away from the Urban Sprawl model and towards infill as well as updated and more business friendly zoning ordinances. We will need those tools in the next four years as we must start to plan and strategize for our downtown district for life after Trinity. If we simply wait to see what happens we could very well see more than five downtown blocks resemble that of the status of the Big M building. If by providing tax incentives through the Renaissance Zone we bring back substantial taxable value in the long term the program pays for itself in short order and also revitalizes part of our community.
Mihalick: The city should use tax exemptions as “arrows in their quiver.” Exemptions should be part of a comprehensive package to entice and spur economic growth throughout the city. Education and communication about these incentives needs to be explained to those who would benefit from them. As mayor I would use my business experience to reach out and explain these opportunities to existing businesses as well as those looking to locate in Minot.
Bommelman: The MAGIC Fund is nothing but a slush fund. However, if a business is given a tax exemption they should be required and under contract to remain in business for a period of time. If they don’t meet their contract, they should be required to reimburse the exemption back to the city.
Q: What are your thoughts on breed-specific legislation and vicious dog ordinances?
Sipma: My opinion on breed specific legislation has been well documented with my votes on City Council. I respected the constituency in the overwhelming number of contacts from people in Minot who said they are in favor of keeping a breed specific ban in place versus those who would like to see it removed. I would encourage those that disagree to draft a petition to repeal the ordinance and gather signatures to get it on the ballot in November.
Mihalick: Being a pet owner myself, I respect the rights of those who also have pets. I also believe we should have legislation that protects our citizens against harmful injuries from vicious animals.
Bommelman: I believe this should fall on the owner. I have a lab, and during the day, she is in a kennel. I can’t tell you how many times I have dogs wander into my yard. If a pit bull runs wild, it should be on the owner if something should happen to somebody else. If you want your animal to run around in your yard, I have no problem with that. I have seen pit bulls that are gentle and some that are vicious. If any animal does damage to a resident or business or human, all costs should be on the owner.
Q: Do you have concerns about employee turnover? If so, how do you feel the city should address it?
Sipma: Employee turnover is a big concern not only in terms of the lost experience but in the cost that is direct and indirect in the rehiring and training process. We do need to address the benefit side of the pay plan and that process has already begun by looking into the State of North Dakota Retirement System (NDPERS) as an option for city employees. The healthcare issue is one that is only fixed within the budget process and that will be closely looked at in the coming budget cycle as well. In last year’s budget the pay plan increase was delayed six months as a weighted option to help lessen the property tax increase and in turn the City lost a number of employees which in the end will end up costing more in the rehiring and retaining than what was saved by the delay. Keeping the pay plan on track and providing the NDPERS option is a start. The next step on the financial side is the health insurance and the only way to compete with the State or the County is buy down a bigger portion. That will cost money and it will be up to the governing body to weigh those options. Another big step forward will be greater interaction by the Mayor and the Council with city employees through the year. Job satisfaction is heavily impacted by being appreciated. Improving that will also be a big step forward in lower the city employee turnover rate.
Mihalick: Certainly, I do. In my experience turnover is not simply compensation oriented. Many things come into play, such as benefits, work environment, sick leave, vacation, etc. I need to search out the concerns of our employees and listen. Our HR department would be a great resource in helping identify those concerns. I take to heart that any organization is only as good as its people. If we communicate, understand and respond to our employee’s needs, we can begin to reduce that turnover rate.
Bommelman: During the oil boom, you could drop over on the street and get a job. Now it’s tougher. I work at Menards, and when the oil was here, of course, we were busy. Everybody was busy, and we offered more money. Now the oil is down A LOT, so now we have to make sure our employees stay. If you treat your employees right, they will stay. I know very good employees and they are getting paid well from their employers, but we also have people who go from job to job.
Q: Should the city take into account the past performance of contractors when awarding project bids? If so, what weight should it have in the process?
Sipma: We as a city have had a good run of bad luck with some projects. Clearly the majority of projects are bid and the work is completed and nothing is ever heard from about it. The projects that seem to catch the unwanted limelight are those that cause significant impact because of either poor performance, being incomplete, or time run-overs. We have to learn from mistakes of the past and absolutely weight the decisions of awarding bids based not only on price but on being responsible which does include past performance. We can develop a system in house that tracks the performance and includes a weighted number or impact score that is figured into the final numbers when presented or recommended to city leadership. Any bid to an unfamiliar contractor or outside entity will also undergo even further scrutiny so the errors of the past such as the parking garages never happen again. We can’t change the past but we have to learn from it and be sure to not repeat any mistakes and build a better process moving forward to ensure that the lowest bid is also responsible bid with past performances weighted within the final decision of the award.
Mihalick: Since the city is responsible for being good stewards of the citizens dollars, it is essential that we get the most “bang for our buck.” That being said, we cannot accept habitually poor performance by any contractor. We need to understand that, “you get what you pay for,” is etched into our minds as we go through the bidding process. As for weighting in the bid process, I believe we have to address it on a case by case basis.
Bommelman: Yes, we should take into account past performances of contractors. We had a man take off with $85,000.00 of our money. Did we go after him? NO. Did we try? Did we? When that house was bid on to move 100 feet across the street, there should have been bids throughout the state. I know a man in Grand Forks never heard a thing about it. He told me he could have moved it for a little over $200,000.00. If the bid is too high, we should have held off a little bit and taken better bids. This is absolutely ridiculous that we paid a company that much money to move something across the street. Foolish spending. I understand that was part of the flood money. I get that. What I don’t get is, did we wait for the last minute to get this bid? Did we try to get somebody better? I understand that we had to make sure that the money was spent before a certain time period. I think we failed the city and the citizens on this aspect.
Q: Does the city do a good job of planning for future growth? What room do you see for improvements?
Sipma: The vision of the past for future growth in my opinion has fundamental flaws that need to be corrected. The entire model for growth is based on urban sprawl, which has proved to be a debt-driven model. In the coming months a “Vision” model has to be put together by the elected leadership with the direction of the Mayor which should focus first on In-Fill and Reinvestment into our existing city limits. We as a city have already made major investments in infrastructure and taken debt to do so and much of it has yet to be fully realized. We need to prioritize where our growth model gives our citizens the best return for their tax dollars in terms of incentives including MAGIC Fund and Renaissance Zone that will generate not only jobs but property tax dollars based on infrastructure that is already in place. By utilizing mixed-use redevelopment in the downtown especially planning for the areas that will be vacated by Trinity will bring substantial property tax back onto the tax roll that will be high value and invigorating to the local economy. Once our core which is within city limits is substantially developed and redeveloped then we can look beyond our boundaries and look toward responsible expansion rather than stretching our infrastructure, services and tax dollars beyond the breaking point.
Mihalick: I think the planning commission did what they could in light of a very challenging situation. The flood coupled with the energy impact created a unique circumstance that caused decisions to be made on the fly. The city experienced turnover in this department and has a lot on its plate. I observed that the 2017 Planning Department included 12 objectives for 2017. That seems like a lot to accomplish given the amount of activity in our city. I would be comfortable with half that many, complete those priorities and get it right.
Bommelman: No, they don’t. We need to get a business in here that is going to be productive for our future. Like a manufacturing plant, a COSTCO, would be great. Look how many jobs there could be if a COSTCO came to Minot. Somebody should contact them and talk with them about coming to Minot. Entice them to come here. Look at all the businesses that came during the oil boom and now those businesses took off and we are left with empty buildings AGAIN.
Q: What can the city do to create an environment more welcoming to new businesses?
Sipma: The process of creating a more business friendly environment is already underway. The Zoning Steering committee, which I sit on, has already put forward numerous changes to the current ordinances that were passed in 2012 with more on the way. The 2012 ordinance package that substantially changed our business zoning ordinances was and is overly oppressive and has caused financial damage. The complete package needs to be substantially changed and flipped back to the ideals that makes Minot open for business and welcomes the investment in our community. The Opportunity Zone that was recently accepted that includes Minot’s downtown area will also provide substantial investment in the downtown corridor once the federal tax incentives are outlined by the program. Quality of life also plays a significant role in attracting new business into a region. Companies have to be able to see a positive family environment with four seasons of activities in a northern climate to be able to attract quality employees and keep them here. Quality of life now is a front factor for people looking for employment. Younger generations in the professional workforce are first looking at where they want to live and then looking for a job in that community.
Mihalick: Empower local business owners to become advocates for our city instead of the opposite. I continue to hear stories about the difficulties some of our local businesses have incurred as they have tried to expand or create new projects and the results have not been positive. We, as city representatives, have to have a “can do” attitude instead of stopping a project in its tracks. As Mayor I would focus on helping our existing business grow before we concentrate on bringing in outside business.
Bommelman: (no answer)
Q: With Trinity Hospitalás planned move, what do you envision as best case scenario for potentially empty properties downtown?
Sipma: The future of life after Trinity downtown represents significant opportunity paired with an abundance of challenges. The best case scenario for downtown after Trinity is finding businesses to repurpose the buildings and develop the empty parking lots to add value to those properties. Having those repurposed would also bring the properties onto the property tax roll for the first time ever which would significantly help in the property tax dilemma. Realistically a task will have to be formed to start planning and looking at viable options for those properties. With the parking ramp next to the St. Josephás building it seems the most viable for a major repurpose proposal with great potential for mixed use. The biggest challenge will be the main Trinity Hospital itself. A close review of the cost to raze the structure will have to be looked at to determine cost effectiveness of redevelopment. Current tax incentivized programs will aid in courting potential investors and developers. The downtown association and other entities should play a part in further developing a long term vision for best utilization of those properties. Waiting to see what happens is not an option that will end well for the citizens of Minot. The last thing we need is five blocks that resemble the Big M Building wasting away in vacancy.
Mihalick: I envision a systematic approach to rehabbing these downtown properties. I would work with Trinity as they begin to transition out of downtown. This is not new to me. Throughout my career the city of Minot has experienced this same issue in downtown. I led a company that retrofitted 401 S. Main into apartments, the same with the First Avenue Building, the former Buttrey’s building, now 12 South Main. These properties were added to the tax rolls of the city and continue to drive revenue. This wasn’t done by outside businesses it was done by local business, which spurred continued development. The exciting part this time around is that we have outside funding which will lead to a downtown centerpiece, “The Gathering Space,” to begin this cycle of urban renewal.
Bommelman: I do NOT want to see the city buy the old Trinity Hospital NO way!! To remodel the hospital would cost millions. We should just put it up for bids and let somebody else take care of the headache.
Q: Is expanding the current landfill an option in your mind? What might influence your decision regarding whether the city moves or expands its landfill or finds another waste solution?
Sipma: Expanding the landfill is an option at this point among several options. Currently the City is putting together an analysis of potential sites based on economic, environmental and availability. The discussion surrounding the extreme difficulty in finding land for a new landfill, the very lengthy permitting process and the cost has been ongoing since the early 2000s. I remember several occasions when then Public Works Director Alan Walter spoke to the council about the shortening life span of the landfill and the continued dead-ends in trying to find land to potentially move the facility. The issue is very high emotion for some who live near our existing landfill and for many others it seems only reasonable to utilize the land nearest to our existing facility. If we can find a viable option to move the landfill, of course, I would support it. It does have to make sense not only for those who purchased houses near the landfill but for the entire city. The argument about substantial growth to the southwest being impeded is based again on the urban sprawl growth mentality. As I have stated before Iám not inclined to continue expanding our city in the red as the development that we as a city have been undertaking over the past decade hasnát paid for itself. Simply the property tax gained doesnát offset the expense of that growth. Recycling is another factor that has to be talked about when discussing the landfill as the more we can keep from going to the landfill the longer we can extend its life. I think we should look into whether we can utilize the railroad to collect regional recycling at a transfer facility and load it into containers to be shipped west to Seattle. Distance is what makes shipping by rail affordable rather than the short rail trip to Minneapolis.
Mihalick: From the outside, it appears to me that more study is needed before we make this decision. As I understand it, a consultant has been hired to accomplish this. I am concerned that this was not done prior to buying the land, but if a mistake was made, we need to rectify it and do what is best for that part of the city.
Bommelman: I don’t want to see the landfill expand. It’s being built close to the new hospital. One of the options is having private garbage collection. Let them take care of it. Don’t let them take it to the landfill. In Sioux Fall, South Dakota, all of their garbage is picked up by private companies and it works for them. The city employees can either transfer to a different department or work for the private companies.
Q: Minot’s circumstances have changed since the city submitted its application to the National Disaster Resilience Program. Should the city seek to make changes to its resilience projects or stay the course? If it makes changes, what types of changes do you envision?
Sipma: Certain programs within the NDR program are working well and others do need to change if possible. To build “new” resilient neighborhoods at this point in time would do more harm to our communities housing market than good. The only responsible direction is the rehabilitation housing or apartments that are already within our city use NDR grant dollars or apply for a substantial amendment. If HUD decides the only avenue is to build new then we start having the conversation about turning those NDR program dollars back to the federal government because harm to our housing market and our economy should not come at the hands of resilient program dollars. There programs that are showing great potential yet and one in particular is the downtown gathering space. Being able to tie a public-private partnership into a project that will enable revitalization and encourage further investment in downtown will certainly private a significant boost economically. Another aspect of the NDR program was part of the award also included moving City Hall, which has to be looked into very soon as the economics will greatly impact whether that is possible considering the other financial obstacles we as a city are facing.
Mihalick: Change, although hard, is necessary. I believe that HUD awarded this funding with the intent to help the city of Minot succeed. I strongly favor amending the NDR program as many times as necessary. This town is in the process of changing post some pretty unique circumstances (flood & energy boom). I believe it’s our money, let’s use it where needed!
Bommelman: The city is supposed to buy people out and now we are running out of money. We can’t do anything differently for that. So what are we supposed to do with the people who didn’t get paid off? How do we spend all the money? Whose pockets are we lining here? We have money. It’s just to have somebody go and dig and find it.
Q: What are the priority issues that you would like to see addressed if elected or re-elected? What role can the council play in these issues?
Sipma: One significant issue that the Mayor has to be centered on is our community’s own self image. For too long we (the community) have allowed ourselves as citizens to focus on too much of negatives. We live in a great city and we need to remember why it is we choose to live here and why were are proud to be a Minotian. Turning the self-image tide will require a Mayor with not only charisma but one who has and continues to play a significant role within our community outside of being Mayor. In the next four years we as a city also have to finish the downtown parking ramp issue, the HUD funded 16th Street Crossing Development issue, National Disaster Resilience Program, landfill and recycling, work on getting stage five of the enhanced flood control project designed, a long-term visioning commitment from the full council, organize a task force to identify the downtown initiative as well as unifying current assets to further economic development and diversification. The full City Council will have to play a key role alongside the Mayor as a unified voice and vision coming from City Hall rather than one that is fractured or unorganized. The full leadership must get past the reactive response tactics and move into a platform that is planning for the future while dealing with the issues presently at hand. A component of that will be the communication coming from leadership to the community to help people understand what is going on and why decisions are being made utilizing all mediums of communication. As all of these components come together it will also jointly improve quality of life here in Minot and strengthen our relationship with Minot Air Force Base and the surrounding region.
Mihalick: Priorities to accomplish in no specific order:
#1 Attitude Change!! Letás increase communication and transparency about what the city is up to and #UNITEMINOT!
#2 Operate the city as a business. We have challenges in front of us that are going to require an experienced business leader and I have that experience.
#3 I intend to lead the council to make fiscally and socially sound decisions, which I believe will bring the magic back to Minot.
Bommelman: My priority issues are to take care of the firemen and the policemen, so they will stay here. I called 17 cities in the state of North Dakota and they ALL GET THE INSURANCE PAID FOR their benefit packages. Why are we not taking care of the policemen and firemen? You wouldn’t see me going into a burning building and take a bullet for anybody but my son. These noble people get up every single day and kiss their spouse good bye, not knowing if they are going to be back. These heroes risk their lives for US, and we are not taking care of our own. That’s why people keep leaving. Because we aren’t taking care of them. I say give them what they want. If they need ANYTHING, give it to them. They are taking care of us. Let’s take care of them.