Voters in Savage next week will have a chance to weigh in on two starkly differing conceptions of the role of government.
In topic after topic, from senior centers to the historic Savage Depot to the controversial seasonal dome, one set of candidates for City Council supports a fairly aggressive role in providing services and ambience while the other seeks to yank on the reins and minimize risk.
But both groups find the city’s existing debt load unsettling and vow to bring it down.
Both incumbents, Gene Abbott and Jane Victorey, are seeking to return to office. Four men — Shaun Alexander, Chuck Boisvert, Jeremy Seykora and Josh Welter — seek the two contested seats.
What follows, drawn from a lively candidate forum last week, is an edited version of each candidate’s thoughts about a few key issues. There’s a full video on the city’s website.
What’s most important to achieve?
Gene Abbott: Reduce long-term debt. We’re 39th of 225 larger communities in the state in debt, and that’s too high. We did reduce it 20 percent after a 2009 debt study and we’re coming up with a plan again to reduce it by another 35 percent. And we got fund balances back in line; we have the second highest bond rating you can get.
Shaun Alexander: Fiscal responsibility. Fundamentally, the purpose of local government isn’t to buy real estate. We owe on the Depot, we spent to renovate municipal liquor stores to compete with Lakeville, and I don’t agree with that. I don’t want people to say, ‘Why do you live in Savage, taxes are so high there!’
Chuck Boisvert: Let’s focus attention downtown. Every amenity used to be down there: police, city hall, fire, library, post office, all left that area. It’s kind of a sad thing. There’s no way to bring all that back, but I’d like it to be vibrant like it was.
Jeremy Seykora: Live within our means. Retire debt. We’re $85 million in debt — $2 million a year in interest alone.
Jane Victorey: Finances. Reducing debt. And fire response times — we have problems finding people for daytime fires, and that hurts response times.
Josh Welter: Finances, debt, economic vitality. Let’s get jobs and commercial enterprises coming here, expanding tax base and allowing us to pay down debt.
Was the Savage sports Dome worth it?
Gene Abbott: Our residents were going all over the metro to other domes. We came up with a plan, and taxes are not paying for it, user fees are. We have 68 users, and if we stick to the plan, it should work. Give it time.
Shaun Alexander: A great civic amenity, in concept; I wouldn’t have voted for it. The risk is not on the city, it’s on you and me. If private enterprise believed it could succeed, they would have done it.
Chuck Boisvert: I like the dome; it’s hard to say if I would have voted for it. We tried to go there for the garden show, and it probably took half an hour looking for a parking spot. Admirable concept, poor execution in location and parking and access.
Jeremy Seykora: I wouldn’t have voted for it. It’s pie-in-the-sky. Every city had a plan and they are failing. The city is taking a risk with taxpayer dollars.
Jane Victorey: I did not support it. I was the one vote against it, because of the risk and its neighborhood location. But it’s there, and we need to try and make it succeed.
Josh Welter: It’s still a gleaming white hump. Will it become dull camelback? Other cities’ arenas are rotting away. I have three young kids who will probably use it, but why did we not partner with other entities?
With the depot as an example, what’s the city’s role in redevelopment?
Gene Abbott: Before the Depot moved in, that was a dirt parking lot. And the Historical Society paid to bring it back. It fosters pride in place, to revamp it, and I enjoy going there. [Another downtown building] was a shambles and was going to sit there forever without us. We need to help revitalize.
Shaun Alexander: I don’t believe it’s the government’s role to promote or restrict growth. Government creates legal frameworks. Subsidies penalize some for the benefit of others.
Chuck Boisvert: I have seen a redevelopment plan for downtown and my house isn’t on it, so I dread that eventuality. But attractions like the Depot don’t have to be cash-flow positive to have a positive impact.
Jeremy Seykora: Government needs to make the city attractive to business, not to buy up property no one wants. Eventually it will sell. What are we going to do with it? Sit and hold it? Spend money on it?
Jane Victorey: The Depot lends a great sense of history; whether or not it makes a dime, it’s a centerpiece. There is a negative fund balance of $100,000 but plenty of time to repay that. What would downtown look like without our investments? We’ve also helped pay for facade improvements to help downtown businesses succeed.
Josh Welter: Let’s promote ourself to business without giving away the farm in the form of incentives.