The Lino Lakes City Council’s controversial move to exit the three-city Centennial Fire District and start their own has fueled challengers in this year’s city elections.
Three candidates critical of that decision, including two Centennial firefighters, have joined forces under the banner “Leadership for Lino Lakes” to challenge the mayor and two City Council members.
But three-term Mayor Jeff Reinert said he’s stayed true to his vision of a low-tax, “family-based community with lower density housing and moderate growth.”
Mike Mooney, a paid on-call battalion fire chief, is seeking to oust Reinert.
Mooney said he disagreed with the decision to leave the Centennial Fire District, which served Lino Lakes, Centerville and Circle Pines for nearly 30 years. Mooney said the split, which becomes official in 2016, is costly and disruptive.
He said he won’t promise to unravel ongoing plans to establish a separate department if elected, but he did say the decision should be reexamined.
Mooney, a mechanical engineer, said he also questions the mayor’s style in dealing with residents, city staff, neighboring cities, businesses and developers.
“I just believe in a different, more professional style. You can’t be arrogant. You have to listen. You don’t have to side with everyone, but you have to be respectful,” he said.
Mooney said his style would better foster growth within the city.
Reinert, mayor for the past six years, said that his approach is honest and straightforward and that residents can see the results.
“Careful planning continues to keep us on the right path. Taxes are lower than when I took office as mayor six years ago. Fund reserves have increased every year,” said Reinert, co-founder of a biotech company called MNPHARM. “Roads are finally being reconstructed again. We added eight new restaurants and the best microbrewery around.”
The 2014 decision to create a new fire department ensured that the city maintained control over hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, Reinert said. Lino Lakes was paying 70 percent of the bill for the Centennial Fire District, but held a minority stake in its management. The department’s other two, smaller cities refused to change the management structure, Reinert said.
Reinert said he believes that fire service will improve under the new model and that it will be more cost-efficient. He added that his decision was based on what was best for the residents, not the firefighters.
“I knew I was going to walk through some fire, but I fixed the problem,” Reinert said.
Two of the city’s four council members are also up for re-election.
Incumbents Dave Roeser and Dale Stoesz will try to retain their seats. Roeser is the other co-founder of MNPHARM. Stoesz works in information technology.
They’re being challenged by Michael Manthey and Melissa Maher.
Manthey is a production manager at a medical device company and is a paid on-call fire captain in the Centennial Fire District. Maher, an attorney, ran for the council in 2013 and lost by two votes.
The election is Tuesday.