A supporter of the city’s still-controversial water and sewer project is East Bethel’s new mayor, replacing an outspoken opponent of the nearly $50 million undertaking.
Voters ushered in Steven Voss, who took office earlier in January after defeating incumbent Bob DeRoche and Council Member Heidi Moegerle in a three-way race in November.
Voss had previously served on the council from 2005 to 2012 and voted for the sewer and water project in 2010. He said he is “entrenched” in the community and will bring calm to the council that had a reputation for being volatile.
DeRoche and Moegerle both had reputations for being outspoken and critical of one another during council meetings. It had resulted in some testy on-the-record exchanges in the past few years. DeRoche had also been highly critical of the water and sewer project, which was built with future growth along the Hwy. 65 corridor in mind but also raised property taxes throughout the city. Residents absorbed a 15.1 percent levy increase in 2014 followed by a much smaller 0.9 rise for 2015.
Voss said his goal is to change the tone on the council and the talk surrounding the new sewer and water systems.
Voss said he stands by his 2010 vote and believes the project will one day pay dividends for East Bethel.
Of his own return, he said: “I still felt I had a lot to give and offer the city. Some of the disharmony that was going on at the council encouraged me to run. The energy at City Council could have been directed better.”
On the campaign trail, Voss said some residents compared the City Council meetings to reality TV drama.
“Council meetings should go smooth and boring,” he said.
‘Proud of what I did’
Former Mayor DeRoche said he simply did not tolerate “grandstanding and the showboat stuff.”
DeRoche, who was elected to the City Council in 2010, became mayor in 2014 when the previous officeholder was removed after a residency challenge. De- Roche said he has helped East Bethel weather the financial storm surrounding the water and sewer project as well as unrelated litigation.
“I saw things I did not like and thought was wrong and made a lot of change. I am proud of what I did,” De- Roche said. “If I am collateral damage to getting the city back on track, that is OK.”
East Bethel borrowed from the regional planning agency, the Metropolitan Council, to pay for the sewer-and-water system, which went into operation in 2013. To date, only a handful of businesses are connected to it, and new development is needed to help support the infrastructure.
Voss said the negative drumbeat surrounding the system won’t fix things. An environmental consultant and engineer who works in development, he said the dialogue needs to change to attract new homes and businesses.
“It was the right investment to make. We are in a position now that as a city we can accommodate virtually any kind of development along [Hwy.] 65. You couldn’t do that without the infrastructure. We are in a position that in 20 years from now, someone will say, ‘That was the right move.’” Voss said.
The city has approved a 48-home development that will be connected to the new city services. Aggressive Hydraulics moved from Blaine to East Bethel in 2013 and access to city sewer and water had everything to do with the move, its owner said. It employs 50 full-time skilled workers with an average salary of $50,000. Shaw Trucking, which has 47 full-time workers, moved from Ham Lake to East Bethel two years ago.
Voss said the city needs to keep marketing itself and working with the Met Council, which expects to recoup its investment in the project with new hookup fees.
“It is a partnership. It’s in Met Council’s best interest for the project to succeed,” Voss said. “We are going to work together to find something that is workable for everyone.”
Voss, 52, moved to East Bethel in 1993. He and his wife were looking for more room to raise their family. They have two children. They now own four pieces of property in the city.