Council candidates share future vision for city of Blaine

Voters in Blaine City Council wards 1 and 2 will have a decision to make this Nov. 6.

Jason Babler, 2830 Rice Creek Parkway N.E., is challenging incumbent Dick Swanson, 8702 Hastings Circle, in Ward 1, while incumbent Mike Bourke, 83 103rd Ave. N.E., is facing off against Dave Morrell, 2457 Tournament Players Circle S., in Council Ward 3.

Mayor Tom Ryan, 12147 Radisson Road, and Council Ward 3 incumbent Russ Herbst, 12875 Lever St. N.E., have no opposition on the ballot so questionnaires were not mailed to them. Ross Lorinser had filed for the mayor’s seat, but withdrew on June 7.

All elected officials on the Blaine City Council serve four-year terms.

1. Biography

Council Ward 1

Jason Babler: I moved to Blaine in 2006 and have lived in the north metro since 1994.

Jason Babler

Jason Babler

I graduated from North Dakota State University in 1994 where I earned a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering.

I work as a systems analyst for a food and beverage parts supplier in Osseo.

I have been married to my wife, Lisa, for 18 years and we have a 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son.

Dick Swanson: I have a B.A. from Mankato State University and a master’s degree in public administration from Kent State University. I have lived in the First Ward for 29 years and have served as a councilmember for 19.

Dick Swanson

Dick Swanson

I was employed by the state of Minnesota for 35 years and retired as director of finance, Minnesota Department of Transportation.

My wife and I are members of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. I served on Christ Lutheran’s long range planning committee. I have served as treasurer of the Rum River Kennel club, Westwood Townhome Association where I also served as president. I am currently treasurer of the Twin Cities Gateway Tourism board.

I have also served as chairman and am currently vice chairman of North Metro Cable Commission. I am also a member of the Blaine Senior Advisor Committee and the Spring Lake Park-Mounds View-Blaine Fire Fighter Relief Association Board. I have also recently been appointed chairman of Metro Cities General Government and Transportation Committee.

As an elected official, I have represented Blaine on the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Advisory Board which along with the Met Council determines the projects to be funded in the seven county metropolitan area.

Council Ward 2

Mike Bourke: As a lifelong resident and small business owner in Blaine, I understand the importance of community. Having grown up in Blaine and graduating from Spring Lake Park High School, I chose Blaine as the perfect place to raise my family and establish my roots.

Mike Bourke

Mike Bourke

It’s amazing how our city has grown from a small town to a number one city in Minnesota. My decision was to get involved early to be a voice for the people, to plan how our city would advance. It has been my honor to serve on the Blaine Planning Commission for three terms and then I graduated to the Blaine City Council for an additional two terms.

As our city expands it is critical that the residents have a voice down at city hall. Respectfully, it would be my honor to again be your council member for Ward 2. I will work extremely hard to ensure our city is fiscally responsible while maintaining the quality of services and keeping Blaine at the lowest tax rate for any full service city in Anoka County.

I have been married to my wife Sue, for 28 years. We have two wonderful children who both attended Blaine High School. My family attends Emmanuel Christian Center.

My hobbies include fishing, hunting, golf, and classic cars.

Dave Morrell: My family and I have been Blaine residents since 2002. In September, I celebrated 20 years of marriage with my wife Roxanne. We are raising three children ages seven, 12 and 14 who attend Spring Lake Park public schools.

Dave Morrell

Dave Morrell

Until this year, I was involved with coaching my sons Little League teams dating back to the time they started t-ball. In 2012, I was appointed by the Anoka County Board of Commissioners and presently serve on the county personnel review board.

I am a graduate of Mankato State University, where I earned a political science degree with an emphasis in public administration.

I have 20 years of private sector experience in the areas of project management, functional management, business analytics and finance. I also understand residential real estate markets from my years as a real estate broker from 2001 to 2011.

Presently, I work at Medtronic, in R&D, as a program analyst where I am responsible for managing schedule and budget for new medical device programs.

2. The Blaine City Council faces a contentious budget-review process this fall. Please explain why you agree or disagree with public works, fire or police department cuts as a means of balancing the city’s 2012 general fund budget.

Council Ward 1

Babler: The unfortunate fact is that the proposed 2013 budget already assumes a $500,000 draw on the reserve fund yet still contains a $489,477 deficit. The council has two choices to fill this gap – utilize more fund reserves or make budget cuts. It is in this context we should accept that all options are on the table.

Nobody, however, wants to live in an unsafe city and fire and police protection are two of the most critical roles performed by city government. As such, I would not advocate any cuts that would result in a reduction of public safety. Further, given that Blaine continues to grow in population, it is difficult to envision a reduction in the size of these forces. For this year’s budget, I would hope the council would exhaust all other options before considering cuts to our fire and police force.

In regards to future budgets, these are functions that call for creativity in providing services. One possible solution (that has already worked in other areas of the country) is to consolidate services across the county with neighboring cities.

As for public works, such as infrastructure projects, unless they are absolutely critical I would be in favor of their postponement until a future budget cycle that could more readily financially support them.

Swanson: The difference between the current budget and anticipated tax revenue is only about 2 percent. We have not reviewed the non-tax revenue estimates for 2013. We will probably gain some of our shortfall when those numbers are reviewed and finalized.

It also appears that our non-tax revenue and savings from 2012 will be significantly greater than estimated. This will help with the shortfall, while keeping our reserves at appropriate levels.

Finally, no department of the city should be off limits to being reviewed for efficiencies and effectiveness. It has been a while since the council has actually dedicated the time for this kind of review. I would be surprised if we cannot find some areas of duplication or possible sharing of staff or material between departments.

Given the size of the shortfall and the option to address it, I am confident that no services will be cut out.

Council Ward 2

Bourke: Under my leadership the 2013 budget (the budget council is currently working on) is already being done as an assumption based budget. This includes taking line item by line item and reviewing each and every department for inefficiencies. My goal is to make our city run as effectively as possible without cutting services that are vital to our community.

There are six categories of departments that the budget is broken down into. These departments not only include public works, fire and police but also include community development, finance and administration.

Each department is fully reviewed. Then a determination is made if the budget can remain the same, or if reductions need to be implemented. When working on the budget it is important to never forget, it is the Blaine taxpayers’ real money.

Under my direction, the Blaine bond rating has also improved from A1 to AA1—the highest rating in Anoka County. The higher rating saves the taxpayer money. The Blaine tax levy has also been reduced by $1.5 million from 2009; one of the few cities in Anoka County to reduce its tax levy for three consecutive years while maintaining the highest standard of service.

Morrell: One of the clearest missions of government, which it is uniquely equipped to provide, is public safety and maintaining vital public infrastructure. Too often, public officials and the media antagonize the public by first emphasizing these areas for cuts rather than identify the most favorable of options to achieve balanced budgets.

I believe we need to scrutinize all areas of the budget, thereby placing everything on the table for consideration. Fulfilling their fiduciary duty is the most important duty the city council owes the public. This means elected officials must act in the best interests of the community. Ironically, the city council isn’t considering cuts at all. So far, it has chosen an unsustainable approach to budgeting by borrowing from cash reserves to achieve a balanced budget.

3. Blaine council members have been reluctant to levy additional dollars to support the city’s economic development authority (EDA). Do you favor increasing the levy to fund economic development and a paid staff position to pursue such activities?

Council Ward 1

Babler: As one who does not believe that the tax levy should be increased for any reason, I would not support it for this reason. As the city council already serves simultaneously as the Economic Development Authority, I see economic development as simply an extension of the duties of the council.

There is no doubt that economic growth would solve many of the problems our city faces, from our budget situation to our property taxes which fall disproportionately on our homeowners. The good news is that there is an abundance of developable land in Blaine where this can happen. The question is how best to attract it.

I believe the best course for Blaine is for the city to create a more business friendly environment that causes business owners to seek us out. This can be done by examining our laws and guidelines. Business owners looking to relocate or expand do their homework and know which cities have a higher cost of business than others. Beyond that, by reprioritizing our budget expenditures, we can accommodate spending on economic development that creates a return for the taxpayer.

Swanson: Blaine has not needed to levy for the EDA due to the sale of land the Village is on to its developer. It appears that by the end of next year the EDA will need revenue. This could come from a levy, which I will support if needed or from the sale of assets.

The EDA was never intended to be a long-term property owner. It owns land and wetland credits, which at some point will be used to fund the functions of the EDA.

Council Ward 2

Bourke: Throughout my public service here in Blaine, I have worked diligently to bring economic development to the city we all call home. My mission has been to attract businesses that generate a quality tax base, to enhance our community and create job opportunities.

Over the past few years with our economic development we have created more than 5,000 new jobs. Including, but not limited to, the addition of the following businesses:

Infinite Campus, Lowes on Highway 65, Aldi Store, Blaine Medical, Aveda expansion, Mills Fleet Farm, Gander Mountain, Auto Zone, Parametric Tech, Anchor Bank, Teamster Office, Penn Cycle, Discount Tire, Taylor Machine, M&I Bank, Honest—One, Malmborg’s Nursery, Walmart on Highway 65, Home Depot at Northtown Mall, Goodwill, Tires Plus, Minnesota Eye, Rasmussen College, Target, Kwik Trip, Arrow Electric, Northern Tool, LA Fitness, Thorn Brothers, Primrose Day Care, Blaine Family Eye and General Pattern.

I will vote against any tax levy increase for a full time staff position on the EDA. The recent position has been vacated and will not be replaced on my watch. By maximizing our current resources, working with our business partners and utilizing our status as one of the best cities to live in America, I will accomplish my mission of a balanced commercial, industrial and retail tax base.

Morrell: No. I believe the following questions are more relevant: What additional investment(s) is required of the city [taxpayers] to spur economic development and why? Will incremental investments in this area generate a return? How and when will taxpayers realize this return? If required, how do we fund it?

Clearly, we must focus on business development as it’s crucial to Blaine’s economic future. We need to understand what the roles and responsibilities are the city, landowners, developers and new businesses will play in this process. If funding is required from the taxpayers to propagate business development, I would first look at existing staff skills and work assignments to determine if there are opportunities for job reassignment.

Next, I would require the city to sell its land interests to the private marketplace; this would not only free-up capital but it would generate additional property tax revenue that has so far been funded by the taxpayers. Finally, I would advocate prioritization and cuts in general spending to make room for economic development funding.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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