Watertown City Council Candidate Q&A
Watertown residents Chuck Charnstrom, Adam Pawelk, Jason Theisen and Steve Washburn are all vying for two open seats on the Watertown city council. All four recently responded to a series of questions from the Carver County News.
Here is a look at their responses.
1. Why do you want to be on the Watertown City Council? 100 words.
Adam Pawelk: For the past three years, I have helped to improve this community by making recommendations to the City Council pertaining to park improvements and maintenance. I have also assisted with park clean-up as part of the City’s Adopt-A-Park Program. Serving on the Historical Sign Subcommittee, I have learned a great deal about the past citizens that have helped make Watertown what it is today. I have enjoyed my time as a Park and Rec Commissioner, and I want to continue serving Watertown at the next level.
Chuck Charnstrom: In short, I fell in love with Watertown. I love the city and the people in it. I have lived in four different cities throughout my life, but I consider Watertown a slice of heaven on earth and the green grass on the other side. I believe that I can keep Watertown vibrant by being a good go between the city and her citizens. The final push I needed occurred after I gave a speech on Americanism at our last Memorial Day service. I was humbled and encouraged by the number of people who said that I should run for office.
Jason Theisen: I would like to be involved in helping the City through the many issues that come up throughout the year. With the knowledge I’ve gained from my education and work experiences I think I can greatly benefit the city through many items, including, but not limited to the following: construction projects, budget concerns, and future business opportunities. I believe I would be a passionate and reasonable voice for the citizens of Watertown and would like a chance to represent them.
Steve Washburn: I recently was appointed to the Planning Commission. Through that involvement, I started understanding the importance the City Council plays in determining policy and providing direction to City Staff and all the various City Commissions. From this involvement, I came to realize the best way I could make a positive contribution to our community would be at the City Council. My goal in running for City Council is to make sure that future of Watertown builds on our past successes. I will work to maintain our strong agricultural roots, our strong sense of community, and our small town charm.
2. In order to balance a budget, would you be more willing to support tax increases or service cuts? More specifically, are there any areas of the city budget that you feel receive too much or too little funding? 250 words.
Washburn: Through my educational training and professional career I have become very familiar with budgets and understand the tradeoffs when working to balance a budget. As part of my job, I frequently have to make decisions about what investments we make to ensure we can deliver the services our customers need. I will use these same financial skills to help our City make prudent and responsible budgetary decisions. I recognize this will be a little more complex at the City level since decisions that are made at other levels of government can impact our local budget, and this will limit the flexibility our city leaders have to balance a budget.
With that said, as a rule of thumb, I would oppose raising taxes as a means to balance a budget because I believe raising taxes increases the cost of living, drives away residents, and will hurt our local businesses.
Areas of the budget that I feel need more attention and review is that of managing large capital expenditures. I applaud the activity the current Council and Staff are working on in regards to developing a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that will help the City better plan for capital expenditures. Many of the City’s existing capital equipment is nearing the end of life and developing a plan to manage the replacement of these assets will be critical to managing the budget in a way that keeps tax rates at or below current levels.
Theisen: Balancing a budget can be a tricky ordeal for even the normal family. Balancing a budget for the City of Watertown is certainly a challenge because there are so many different items that need to be taken into account and the council needs to take into consideration the many people that are affected by their decisions, taking care not to alienate any one party over another.
I don’t think supporting tax raises is the way to balance a small town’s budget. We are all residents of Watertown and adding additional burdens to each family’s own budget is a tough direction to go when balancing the City’s budget. Ideally the housing market will continue to make its way back and some of the housing developments that are sitting with empty lots will have a chance at adding residents, which in turn will add additional money for balancing the City’s budget.
I am aware that adding additional homes and more population may take away from the small town feel we are accustomed to in Watertown, but I believe seeking a balance here is a necessary evil in helping balance the budget of the City of Watertown.
Charnstrom: I am quite satisfied with the present state of the city. Watertown has as many amenities as our neighbor cites but we don’t have the industrial or commercial tax base. The lack of business and industry in Watertown puts a great deal of pressure on the residents and businesses that are here. I feel that the residents are already being taxed enough.
As someone who has started two businesses I also understand the needs of business. I will look for win-win situations to continue to improve our city’s services while not adding to the tax burden our businesses and residents face. I do not feel that we need to be put in the position of either choosing tax increases or service cuts.
We have a wonderful resource with the businesses and schools in Watertown and I will look to build on those relationships to make sure the city continues to provide the services we have grown to love in Watertown and not look to tax the citizens more.
Pawelk: I am always more willing to support service cuts rather than increase taxes. However, there is always the potential that certain situations will arise when cutting services is not an option, and the only solution is to increase taxes. I will do my best to avoid those situations as much as possible. The key is making cost-effective decisions that not only make sense in the short-term but also in the long-term in order to get the most out of every dollar spent.
Since becoming a candidate, I have been regularly attending the City Council Workshops regarding the 2013 budget. I have reviewed the City’s budget, and there is not any specific area that stands out where spending should be dramatically reduced. There are areas that could use additional funding, however.
For example, being on the Park and Rec Commission, it is evident that certain parks still need improvements, including the replacement of the playground equipment at Highland Park. But just like our own personal budgets and with today’s economy, it is difficult to spend money on those types of items when they are more pressing needs.
3. Numerous issues in the past several years have led to discussions regarding residents’ vision for the city’s future, and more specifically, how and where the city’s retail and commercial growth should occur (i.e. downtown or along highways). What is your stance on this issue, and what should the city do to promote this type of growth? 250 words.
Charnstrom: I love the fact that we have a vibrant downtown with everything you need in it. There are still a few vacant spots downtown and in our new industrial complex that we should try and fill first. If it is not feasible for those options to work well, we should definitely be open to using highway frontage as a spot to attract businesses to.
I would actively promote the city with industrial and business groups. The city sells itself, and we just need to get the individuals that make the business decisions to come and visit to see what we have to offer. There are a couple of county roads and a state highway that go through Watertown. It seems like all roads lead to our wonderful city.
While most see Watertown as a bedroom community, where they just sleep and travel outside of it to work, it is a great place for businesses to settle. Watertown would benefit if more residents were to go to work on foot or bike. We need more businesses and industry here to make that happen.
Pawelk: I support the growth of business in both locations. However, every situation is different and should be looked at carefully before deciding on the best location for each particular business.
In order to make Watertown a more attractive place for a business, the City must be willing to work with the potential business owners in order to find a solution that works for both parties. The City must also show there is a need and a desire for businesses to become a part of Watertown. And again, just like the budget issues, the decisions that are made must not only be beneficial in the interim but also in the future.
Washburn: I believe that it is very important that we continue developing and strengthening our downtown business district. The strength of our community lies not with the commercialization of our community with strip malls or chain stores along our highways but in the charm of the downtown area, the connections (trails) we have to the Crow River and Luce Line, our small town atmosphere, and most importantly the friendliness and kindness of our residents.
To promote this type of growth I believe it is important that we continue with current zoning and planning policies that strengthen our local business owners and the downtown area.
The challenge we will have with this is ensuring we are providing the services our residents want since there is limited real estate for additional retail/commercial growth in the downtown business corridor. This will be a challenge that we will have to manage and balance. The recent discussions with the relocation of the Subway store is a good example. Subway is a valued asset to our community and a business I support. In situations where we must balance these decisions, I will work to ensure these businesses can succeed in our community in a way that allows us to maintain the strength of our downtown yet also provides the amenities our residents desire.
Theisen: If I was elected onto the Council in Watertown I would not dissuade new businesses from coming to Watertown. I don’t believe that having just one business sector is the answer, especially if a potential business owner is planning on coming in and developing an area of town that is capable of supporting a business.
Granted, there are challenges in starting a new business. There is always the possibility that a new business will not be successful and the Council needs to consider this when making decisions so that the City is not left with the burden of a failed business. In my opinion, I think that local government should try and recruit new businesses with incentives to establish in Watertown.
Our downtown should not be the only location open to businesses. Through careful city planning, we’ll have to allow for business opportunities to expand elsewhere within the city.
4. What is the most pressing issue facing the city right now, and how should it be addressed? 250 words.
Theisen: I don’t know that Watertown has one particular extremely pressing issue currently. I think we have many smaller issues that need to be addressed, just like most other cities. These issues include attracting new businesses, attracting new people, and monitoring existing construction contracts. I think that the idea of attracting new business and people to the community is something that all cities need to figure out so that they can continue to expand towards a happy future.
There is also the concern of attracting too many new people/businesses to our great community and losing the sense of the neighborhood that we have grown accustomed to. Also, a concern with a larger population is the concern of the existing bridge and potential for a second bridge. A new bridge is needed, but I don’t think a second bridge is important right now, especially if the entire cost would be a burden of the City of Watertown.
In regards to the recent construction projects, I have heard many issues that have come up, and I think with my background in construction that I will be helpful in handling these construction companies and the issues that they may present to the people and homes of Watertown. I don’t believe there is any reason the City should have to fight with a contractor over poor construction practices, and I would definitely focus my efforts on making sure construction projects were done correctly and economically.
Washburn: In the short term, I think the biggest issue is the upcoming replacement of the Highway 10 bridge and how that is going to affect our Community. There are many factors that need to be understood and weighed so that prudent decisions can be made with the smallest impact on our daily lives. The alternatives to address this short term issue needs to be reviewed with an open mind, with no preconceived solutions, and in a manner that actively solicits feedback from all members of our community so all voices can be heard and everyone given the opportunity to participate in the decision making process.
Over the longer term, I think the challenges for our community relate to managing the change that will undoubtedly come to our community. I want to manage that change in a manner that maintains our small town charm. I think these challenges should be met head on with community outreach that helps us define and document the vision and values of our community. There are many ways this can be accomplished such as focus groups, surveys, and open community meetings, etc. Soliciting this input from residents will allow us to validate or update the long term comprehensive plan and establish policies that are aligned with the shared vision of our community.
Of course, these short term and long term issues are woven in with very complex budgetary issues that will need to be managed so high taxes don’t drive away current or future residents.
Pawelk: The most pressing issue is to solve the river crossing problem in Watertown. The City has been working on this issue for quite some time now, and it has been very difficult finding answers to all of the questions that accompany an issue of this magnitude. With the amount of money that will be spent, the decisions need to be ideal.
We do not want to have any regrets a few years from now. I have been following this whole process and have been attending the City Council Workshops discussing the river crossing, so I am very familiar with this issue. The City needs to continue to work with the engineer consultants and the Carver County engineers in order to find a solution that will best satisfy the needs of the motorists that cross the river on a daily basis.
Charnstrom: The tax burden the residents and businesses face is probably the biggest issue facing the city. We received a gem of a gift with the new community part but I think we need to proceed cautiously with what we do with it. The city also needs to be cautious regarding the county’s insistence that we build a new bridge south or north of the city. Studies were done on the present bridge that showed 95 percent of the traffic on the bridge either originates from Watertown or has Watertown as the destination. I don’t believe that Watertown is similar to Minneapolis in that we need a bypass as Minneapolis has the 494/694 loop.
Another big issue I see is how the roads are funded. I think that for residents to pay 80 percent of the street reconstruction costs is bordering on egregious. We deduct our taxes on a paycheck by paycheck basis because we don’t like to pay our taxes in one lump sum. We should not have to pay for the roads in one lump sum either. The roads are mostly in good shape across the city due to completing planned upgrades and maintenance and now is the time to address the issue before more roads need to be rebuilt.
5. Why should the residents of Watertown give you their vote? 100 words.
Pawelk: I am well qualified to be a council member for the City of Watertown. I have knowledge in the workings of municipal government. I have experience in both municipal and private construction projects. My work as an engineer includes site layout, street design, sewer and watermain design, as well as budgeting, cost analysis, and feasibility reports.
Also, I am an honest, rational person that will make smart and sound decisions that will benefit the residents of Watertown. I would be a dedicated servant, and I promise to serve this community to the best of my ability.
Charnstrom: The people of Watertown should vote for me because I am passionate about the city and the people. I will use a reason-based approach to how the city deals with the residents and businesses all the while having a soft heart. I want to continue to make Watertown a place that businesses and families want to settle down and establish roots.
Theisen: I believe that the people of Watertown should vote me into the City Council so that I can use my experiences through my education and work life to help move our City forward. I would like to be your voice in making sure our great City of Watertown continues to be a rewarding place to live, a beneficial place to raise your family and a wonderful place to visit now and in the future.
Washburn: I feel my extensive business, management, and leadership background provides me the necessary skills to be a good Council member. I know it is hard to get a “good feel” about me from just a few questions. To provide residents a means to learn more about me I set up a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/VoteSteveWashburnCityCouncil.
Feel free to post any question. I’ll respond as quickly as possible. I welcome any discussions or dialogue you may have around my background, values, or vision for our community. Thank you for your consideration and I humbly ask for your vote.
6. Please tell us about your background. 100 words.
Washburn: I grew up about 60 miles west of Watertown in Hector Minnesota and graduated from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. In 1999, my wife and I settled in Watertown shortly after getting married.
We are members of Immaculate Conception and have three beautiful children, ages 10, 8, and 5, who attend Watertown Mayer school. I am employed at Convergint Technologies, a company with over $300 million in annual revenue, 26 offices and 1,000+ employees where I serve as the business leader for the Minnesota office that has 18 employees.
Theisen: I have lived in Watertown nearly my entire life. I am a graduate of Watertown-Mayer high school and received my four-year degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Human Geography, the study of communities and their development.
My wife Bethany and I moved back to Watertown to set up roots. We have a 1.5 year old son that loves going to the many city parks around town. I have worked for a general contractor for 11 years as a project manager and assistant business.
Charnstrom: I graduated from Mankato State University in 1997 with a degree in finance. I met my wife on the college swim team and we moved to Mayer in 2001. In 2006, we moved to Watertown. I have coached swimming at the local high school since 2003.
I currently am a stay at home dad to twin daughters in 4th grade and a son in 1st grade. I coach swimming to young kids through Community Ed’s local area swim club, both high school teams (boys and girls) and Masters for adults.
Pawelk: Grew up in Hollywood Township; Attended grade school in New Germany; Graduated from Watertown-Mayer High School in 2000; Graduated from Minnesota State University-Mankato with a bachelor degree in Civil Engineer in 2006; Purchased a home in Watertown in 2006; Employed by an engineering firm in Eden Prairie; Watertown Park and Recreation Commissioner 2010-2012, serving as vice-chairman in 2011 and 2012.