Winona City Council candidates Ken Jackson and George Borzyskowski discussed Winona's needs and its contentious issues at the League of Women Voters (LWV) forum Tuesday. Jackson is one of two candidates challenging 16-year City Council veteran Borzyskowski for the Fourth Ward (East End) seat. The candidates articulated their visions for the city and responded off-the-cuff to audience members' questions about such as issues as frac sand, the 30 percent rule, the Winona State University (WSU) ball field proposal, park maintenance, East End traffic, and a revitalized downtown.
Borzyskowski said his top priorities are to relieve congestion at the Mankato Avenue railroad crossing, repair city streets and sewers, and complete the Louisa Street extension or a similar project to provide a secondary route between Highway 61 and the East End. Jackson named park maintenance and generating more tax revenue from the rental industry as his top priorities. Another candidate, Matthew Hazelton, was unable to attend to the forum. In a written statement he said he supported keeping taxes low, repairing railroad crossings and intersections throughout the city, and addressing the weeds in Lake Winona.
"I'm not a fan of the 30 percent rule. I'm not even sure it's legal," Jackson commented when asked about the rental license cap. He stated that the rule benefitted WSU and the city's largest rental housing companies.
"When the 30 percent rule first came to the council, I supported it, and it went through with no problems for five to six years," Borzyskowski said. Then came the lawsuit in which homeowners challenged the legitimacy of the rule. Borzyskowski pointed out that both the local district court and Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with the city. "I'm advised that is all I can say on the matter because it is in litigation," Borzyskowski said. The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear the case this fall.
Asked how he would protect neighborhoods' character without the 30 precent rule, Jackson replied, "You can't mandate character." He added, "If character is important to you, put your money where your mouth is" and buy the properties that would otherwise become rentals.
When asked how the city should handle the frac sand industry, Borzyskowski stated, "As far as mining operations go, we have none in our city. There is one mine and it has not operated in two years," Borzyskowski stated, referring to Biesanz mine. Regulations have been set for washing and loading sand, and taxpayers have paid for air quality monitors, which so far have not shown any cause for concern, Borzyskowski continued. The state paid for two air quality monitors that were installed on top the Winona YMCA. Measurements of particulate matter show the city's air quality is "good" to "moderate." There are no results yet on the amount of silica dust in the air.
Jackson said he would be absolutely deferential to citizens on the issue of frac sand. "Who cares what I think? This isn't my town; this is your town.
If the majority of the people want a frac sand mine in the middle of Windom Park, I'll vote for it." He said that based on what he has heard from citizens so far, "nobody in this town wants it, and if that's the way it is, I'll vote 'no' for it."
When asked, Jackson and Borzyskowski both said they would support requiring air quality monitoring at the fence lines of frac sand facilities in the city.
How would the candidates revitalize downtown and Levee Park? Borzyskowski pointed out that the city has loans available for rehabilitating historic buildings downtown. At Levee Park, he suggested displaying the Julius C. Wilkie's surviving steam engines at the boat's former site. Jackson said that instead of "drizzling" city funds for historic rehabilitation throughout downtown, the city should focus on making a single building a prime attraction. As for Levee Park, Jackson said, "What we have is pretty enough, if you just clean it up."
When asked how he would promote financial transparency at city hall, Jackson advised curious citizens, "Talk to Judy [Bodway, city manager.] That's the smartest chick in this whole building. She'll tell you anything, and she knows everything. She's the nicest girl; she'll sit you down and talk to you. She's got a stack of paper this high all about money and she knows every little thing about it. That's as transparent as it gets."
"I agree," Borzyskowski responded, adding that citizens could also contact Ms. Mary Burrichter, "the finest finance director in the state of Minnesota." Burrichter's department has consistently won awards for financial reporting. "Mary's phone line is open, and Mary has total control of what all is in those budgets and how the numbers work and how the monies go from one deposit account to another," Borzyskowski said.
One question submitted during the forum noted that poverty levels are higher than average in Winona and asked candidates why they thought that was the case. According to the U.S. Census, 23 percent of Winonans in 2012 were below the federal poverty level, an income of $23,283 for a family of four. The state average was 11 percent; the nationwide average was 15 percent.
"Poverty is a number," Jackson said. "If you look at the federal number, I'm brutally impoverished, but I'm not miserable." At the forum, verified statistics on local poverty levels were not available, only the question's assertion. Borzyskowski said he would need to have additional information to respond, but commented, "I know that we do have a lot of, you know, subsidized housing programs that people can get on, and maybe it's other people who lived far away and moved here."