Mayoral Candidates Face Off at Voters Forum
By Joe Bachman
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — The League of Women Voters hosted a candidate’s forum on Wednesday night for Wisconsin Rapids Mayor.
Incumbent Zach Vruwink stood alongside challenger Keith Hetzel, as the two were asked various questions regarding community issues. A brief summary of some of their responses, with notable quotes, are below.
How Would You Bring More Industry, Vitality and Young Families to the Community?
Hetzel states that he would start with a partnership with Mid-State’s economic development program to survey the needs of businesses. According to Hetzel, the area has jobs available, but no skilled workers to fill them. Hetzel also wants to make this a “user-friendly” city — meaning annual recreation and viable local shopping to keep people in the city.
Vruwink uses his status as a millennial to point out that many want to find a place to work and live. Often times, younger individuals will look for employment, before location. Creating attractive amenities, and focusing on the city’s housing stock are points that may lead to the retention of young families. Partnering with economic development organizations in the process will further this goal.
Plan for City’s Aging Infrastructure, and how to Pay for it?
Vruwink: “When the state hands us strong marching orders, where we can’t raise new revenue; we can’t increase our tax levy, we have to make some really strategic decisions on how we’re going to spend our money on infrastructure. In this town, we’ve invested our time in a capital improvements plan — [which] accounts for all of our infrastructure. I can say confidently, that our city is in a better position today because we have a plan for the future — we’ve identified various funding sources and really put forth equity when it comes to residents versus industry paying for infrastructure.”
Hetzel: “We need to bring in more businesses to our community, and we need to increase our tax base. We’ve been losing our tax base, so if we can bring our tax base up we’ll have those extra dollars that we can add into the infrastructure. …We need to make sure that we have the resources that if something like that happens again, [Hetzel previously cited $90 million taken from state budget for infrastructure for the Foxconn plant] we can take care of it.”
Do you Support Downtown Riverbank Project?
Hetzel supports the project, but fears the perceived high cost, and wishes that it had been portioned out over several years. Hetzel feels that the project is important due to the amount of people that would utilize the area, but wants to focus on the downtown area and questions if the city can fund it.
Vruwink points out that the project has been portioned out into three phases over several years, and that the perceived high costs of the project is partially covered by a DNR grant. Vruwink believes that these projects create family-friendly entertainment and recreational amenities for all ages.
Positives that are Happening in Wisconsin Rapids?
Hetzel: YMCA/Boys & Girls Club Project, Riverfront Development, Triangle Development, Aquatics Center.
Vruwink: Aquatics Center, Riverfront Development, YMCA Boys & Girls Club, Aspirus Riverview Expansion, Mariani Expansion, Countless Small Businesses
Hetzel: “I would do everything I can to make sure as your Mayor, that I represent every last citizen in Wisconsin Rapids. From the millennials, to the children, to the seniors living in nursing homes. Every person needs to be represented. We’ve done a lot of things in this city, but we still have a lot of work to do. We need to make sure we have a plan so that we have growth.”
Vruwink: “There are efforts and projects occurring at levels beyond the activity of the last fifteen years, and it’s very exciting to have the privilege to be a part of those activities. …In the last number of years businesses are investing nearly $100 million dollars of their own money and to create jobs, and the city continues to invest in critical infrastructure as well as the facilities necessary to become an attractive place for perspective residents, current residents, and future residents and generations to come.”