MARSHALL - As the time until Election Day continues to count down, candidates for Marshall City Council are continuing to talk about their positions on local issues. A total of five candidates for two council positions spoke during a candidate forum Thursday night at the Marshall Area YMCA.
Candidates present Thursday included Glenn Bayerkohler and Don Edblom, who are running for council in Marshall Ward One, and Ellayne Conyers, Justin McKinney and Craig Schafer, who are running in Marshall Ward Three.
Candidates were given a chance to discuss what they saw as the top issues Marshall will face in the next five years. Encouraging economic growth and maintaining city infrastructure were shared priorities among the five candidates, as was keeping an eye on the city budget. Bayerkohler and McKinney said they felt careful spending would be important for the city.
"We can't spend money we don't have," McKinney said. Encouraging business and population growth in Marshall, which McKinney said were also priorities for him, would help on that front.
In addition to the other issues named by candidates, Schafer named public safety as another priority for Marshall.
When candidates were asked to share ideas about how to balance the city budget, encouraging the growth of the city tax base through new businesses and industries was a common suggestion across the board. Edblom said he thought the city should continue to use tools available to it, like Tax Increment Financing funding, to help attract businesses to town, as well as working with state legislators to protect Local Government Aid funds.
Other candidates, including Conyers and Schafer, said the city also needed amenities to be attractive to potential residents and workers.
Schafer said the difficulty of attracting high-quality employees was "one of the constant complaints" he heard from local residents and businesspeople. Adding some of the amenities those employees look for, he said, "That's a key thing to help us bring people back."
The issue of amenities - in particular, a proposed amateur sports facility and expansions at the MERIT Center - was one that created one of the most clear divisions among the city candidates. With the exception of Bayerkohler, all candidates said they supported the projects. The city needed to invest in development in order to keep moving forward, they said. They said both projects could bring people to Marshall as a regional center. If the sports center was managed responsibly, McKinney said, it would be good for the city in the long term.
However, Bayerkohler said he was not eager to approve tax increases for the two projects. Raising taxes for the MERIT Center expansions, he said, would be "subsidizing" other communities in the region who use the facility. Bayerkohler said he also thought building an amateur sports center would not have the best return on investment for Marshall.
"The question is, is this the best way to invest $20 to $30 million? I think not," he said.
Candidates were also generally in favor of improving transportation infrastructure around Marshall but had mixed opinions as to the feasibility of a four-lane highway project on Minnesota Highway 23. Much of the ultimate responsibility for highway upgrades rests with the state, candidates said, and it's a slow process. However, Schafer said that was an important reason to keep lobbying for improvements now. Conyers added that highway infrastructure would be vital for business and industrial development in Marshall.