Park Rapids council candidates answer questions
Candidates for Park Rapids City Council share a common dedication to maintain the quality of life residents enjoy in the city.
The Park Rapids League of Women Voters sponsored a debate Tuesday night where the audience was invited to submit questions to mayoral and council candidates.
Mayor Nancy Carroll and Pat Mikesh, who currently serves on the council, are seeking election for the two-year term as mayor.
Carroll has been the mayor for six years and is heavily involved in many organizations in town. She works as a part-time zoning administrator for Thorpe Township.
Mikesh has been a member of the community for 25 years and said he's known to many as "the gas man," for his work with Minnesota Energy Resources, a natural gas company. He has been a councilmember for six years and is a Park Rapids firefighter.
Council candidates are David W. Konshok, Rod Nordberg, Dick Rutherford and Joel Vorhes. Konshok is seeking re-election. Voters will be choosing two council members this fall, one to succeed Sue Tomte, who is not seeking re-election.
Konshok is a third generation Park Rapids resident and a military man. He is also a local businessman. He has two children.
Nordberg graduated from Park Rapids High School and after working in other parts of the country moved back in 2003. He has attended council meetings and was an interim councilmember in 2010, filling in for Konshok when he was deployed.
Rutherford is a lifelong Park Rapids resident and businessman. He owns Toys for Boys.
Vorhes first came to Park Rapids in 1993. He moved away and earned his law degree before returning to the area.
Candidates were asked about aging sewer and water infrastructure in the city, which has been an ongoing concern.
Mikesh said the city needs to stick to a plan on improvements. The five-year Capital Improvement Plan keeps changing, he said, and that needs to stop.
"We need to fix what we have now," he said of infrastructure improvements. He thinks the city needs to wait on annexation projects.
Carroll addressed the city's proposal for a water treatment plant, which is one of the last options for the city to improve its water quality. It has struggled for years with high nitrate levels.
"We need to increase the volume and quality," she said.
Nordberg said the new council will need to work on finding funding for upcoming projects such as the treatment plant and sewer/water infrastructure.
Rutherford said he has listened to people who have issues with paying for water/sewer improvement projects for years and he thinks the city needs to focus on the current infrastructure.
Vorhes said that interest rates are at an all time low and it is a good time for bonding. Maintaining the quality of water in the city needs to be a priority, he said.
Konshok added that the city has made some big accomplishments with completing Main Avenue. He wants the city to compete for design firms on future projects and go after grants.
Councilmembers agreed that the city should be involved in Aquatic Invasive Species issues but generally thought that the funding needed to come from the state.
Candidates were also in favor of "The Wreck," a proposed youth and family center in Park Rapids. Again, they were supportive but stopped short of pledging to budget any city funding for the project.
When asked about their positions on the Voter ID legislation candidates had mixed feelings.
Konshok said that although it could cost the city money if it passes it is important legislation.
"It's the 21st century," he said. "I think we should go ahead and update our method."
Nordberg also said that the legislation was important and costs will have to be born.
Rutherford said the legislation makes sense.
"When I have to show an ID for a fishing license then I should have to for voting," he said.
Vorhes, on the other hand, thought the Voter ID legislation "is a solution looking for a problem."
He said it is not as easy as some people think to get an ID.
Mikesh agreed that there would be costs associated with the Voter ID legislation if it passes but said that it's important for people to have something to prove who they are.
Carroll said she was concerned about potential extra costs for the city but was more concerned about elderly people who might have a hard time getting an ID.
She described how her mother voted in every election and when she went into a nursing home she voted absentee. She couldn't leave the nursing home to get another ID and wouldn't have been able to vote if the legislation had been in place when she was still alive. Others could be in the same situation, she said.
Candidates were asked about the city's relationship with the county and possible opportunities to cooperate on issues.
Mikesh said that issue can be tough. For example, he said with equipment it can become difficult if one entity owns something but is sharing it with the other entity.
Carroll said the city and county already collaborate on the parks, for example.
"I think there are a lot of future projects," she said.
She suggested having an annual meeting together to set goals.
Nordberg also noted that there is already a lot of collaboration among law enforcement. He thought that the county should contribute more to the library.
Rutherford suggested that the city could use Sentenced to Serve more for projects in town.
Vorhes said he believes there is always room for more cooperation. He proposed possibly collaborating on street maintenance.
Konshok said there is a lot of collaboration already but thought a meeting with city, county and school officials could be a good idea.
In their closing comments, Vorhes said that he can bring an open mind to the council because he hasn't lived here his entire life.
Rutherford said he has seen the city grow over the years and would like to see that continue.
Nordberg said he wants to work on improving the city's water and infrastructure. He also suggested looking at a local sales tax like Bemidji has implemented.
Konshok said the city needs to go back to basics and work on public safety, public works and public administration.
"All I want is to make this a great place to live," he said.
Mikesh said the city needs to keep working on its infrastructure.
"That's the main issue we need to keep in check," he said.
Carroll said she believes experience matters and as mayor for the last six years she has kept a balanced budget and kept the city on the right track.
"It's so much fun to say I'm from here," she said.
The League is sponsoring other candidate forums in the coming weeks to educate the public about issues in the campaigns, provide an opportunity for voters to hear candidates discuss those issues face-to-face, stimulate public interest and participation in the elections and provide an opportunity for the candidates to engage their constituents.