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Paynesville Press - Oct. 31, 2012

Paynesville City Council
Jeff Bertram

Jeff Bertram

Jeff Bertram, 52, is completing his second four-year term on the city council. Previously, he served ten years in the Minnesota House, nine years on the Stearns County Planning Commission, and on the League of Minnesota Cities Board of Directors. He is employed by West Central Sanitation, J&M Consulting, and the Bertram Family Farm. He and his wife Marlene have two children.

Why are you interested in serving on city council?
When Harlan Beek decided to retire from the council in 2004, many people encouraged me to run for his spot. Councilor Beek was known for being informed, for asking questions, and for not being afraid of voting his mind. He tried to keep the budget responsible for the city. I have tried to do the same, as I have done in all of my public positions and here on the Paynesville City Council. I believe we have accomplished a lot in the past eight years! I have used my past and current involvement with other levels of government for the benefit of Paynesville. I would be honored to serve one more term. As a reminder, there are two positions for council up for election this year.

What accomplishments on the council would you cite as reasons for your re-election?
We have trimmed our close to $2 million dollar budget by almost 10 percent by looking at creative ways of spending more wisely and simply controlling the out-of-hand spending that was occurring, such as 14-percent-plus pay increases, unlimited double-time/overtime, unlimited accrual of sick and vacation time, converting to PTO, etc. Interest-ingly, 99 percent of that change came with unanimous votes from the very council that had created the increased spending. If my commitment in changing the out-of-control spending wasn't the right thing to do, why didn't other members say something or vote the other way?

With at least one new member being elected to the council and limited engagement by others, it is more important than ever having someone on the council who is informed, willing to ask the questions, and willing to say no when the proposal of the day doesn't make sense for the ENTIRE community. Loans from the city need to be paid, agreements made to the city upheld, and request that have a cost of tens of thousands of dollars have to be denied or trouble is close by. We don't need to look very far to see prime examples of this very occurrence!

Some may not enjoy being held accountable, but the council has a fiduciary responsibility to protect all of the residents/taxpayers of Paynesville. Some may not like the message, but they know I have done my homework, will voice a position, and will have to work to reach a compromise. Unfortunately, I have had to overcompensate the lack of engagement by others, but I am convinced that any effective group needs informed, opinionated discussions on any issue, or problems are close by. It is very clear that some council candidates will join the inside group of benefiting a few. I will not!

What should the city do about the benzene pollution from the former gas station at the corner of Lake Avenue and Mill Street?
When the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and their consultant, Terracon, gave a council report in 2004, right after my first election to the council, I could not believe that no one had questioned WHY so much money was being spent on testing and not on a final elimination of the problem? Through the Well Head Protection Committee, I was able to build a consensus that it was time to once and for all eliminate the problem. The PCA has spent $4-5 million, and the contamination is still there! I was a part of the delegation that had met in St. Paul and in Paynesville to continue working on a FINAL shutdown, which is a complete restoration of the site. Anything less is a waste of taxpayers' money and ignoring the potential inevitable problem lurking in our aquifer.

Should additional budget cuts become necessary, what areas of spending would you target?
First and foremost, we need to keep the budget from being increased. My record has proven I will limit the increase others have allowed to occur. It is very clear that some, including some candidates, want to spend more money, many times on items which only benefit a few. It took eight years to get to where we are today. One or two foolish decisions will get us right back to where this city was financially.

We need to face the reality that Local Government Aid (LGA), which is state tax money funneled back to communities, will not be here forever. We need to continue streamlining services, keep manageable staffing levels, contract services more efficiently done by others, and stick to the fundamental services of a city: water, sewer, police protection, streets.

We need to stay out of areas government should not be involved in. Having to get building permits for shingling and other intrusive city bureaucracy does not make sense in tough economic times! Just because every other government wants to get more and more into our lives, this city should not!

As funds allow, where do you think the city could be spending more?
Right now, no where! Once again, we need to maintain a responsible budget by responsible planning. We have completed the major street upgrades and are now taking preventative actions to extend their life. We have water and sewer rates that are set to upgrade and pay for both systems for the future. We will have proceeds from the sale of Opportunity Park lots sold for business expansion that we need to use to pay for the infrastructure that was built for this development. Let's work the plan in place, meet the needs of our community, and do it with a reasonable fair tax system in place.

What types of tax increases (if any) would you support as a council member?
None! We do not need to increase spending or taxes. We have come a long way in assessing fees to match the service used. Water and sewer rates are based on usage. Police and fire protection are funded in a way that those services are there if needed. It will be important to keep any land sale proceeds to be set aside or some will want to spend even more than we have. This city hasn't had a taxing problem; we have had a spending problem! I'll keep doing what I have done to stop that.

What should the community do to make Paynesville attractive from the new Highway 23 bypass?
Some people tried to ≥fine≤ people for not having their properties well maintained. I suggested we reward residents who keep their homes and businesses looking good. We have started doing that before some council meetings. Providing great food, providing service with a big, friendly smile will do more for portraying a welcoming, positive attitude than anything else we can do. Becoming a destination for people is more important than anything. Those folks can now easily get to us.

How can Paynesville businesses entice highway traffic to continue to stop in Paynesville?
When we were forced to accept a bypass for our community, I recalled my hands-on involvement with the bypass to the east with our Richmond, Cold Spring, and Rockville neighbors and my involvement with that process. I immediately focused on five easy entrances into, and out of, the city. Many people sometimes think if you keep the traffic in the city and make it hard to get out that will benefit the community. I learned it would hurt the city. Instead we needed to make it easy to get in and out! Traffic will more likely come back many times if it is easy to move in and out. We accomplished that with the five entrances and exits here in Paynesville.

Now businesses have to work harder to give the increased traffic numbers a reason to want to come to their stores. Personal, friendly service, great food, smalltown relationships, and great products will encourage people to want to shop and to continue to shop businesses that meet that common goal all shoppers want. There are many small businesses, in very small towns, off any main road, that turn out hundreds each week for some creative weekly events. Those business have figured out what people want and make it happen over and over again. We can be a small part of marketing our community, but at the end of the day, businesses themselves will have to work together, and individually, to create the excitement and good feelings of coming here and coming back, over and over again.

What is the city's role in promoting Paynesville to Highway 23 traffic?
As I have shared many times, I do not think the city can or should be the lead in this effort. We should encourage a discussion, assist with a plan, but cannot be the lead. If you look at almost any other city, you also do not see that city leading these kinds of efforts. We have very effective organizations in this community that we can work with to support, but we should not financially commit the entire city taxpayers for the benefit of a few.

How important is having a full-time police chief to the city? When our former chief decided to leave, I believe it was important to raise that very question ≠ and so I did. Once again, asking the questions does not mean you'll get the answer one want to. With a $400,000 police budget, $85,000 of that for a chief, I believed we could better invest in our officers and equipment by outsourcing the management of the department and put more resources in our own street patrol. I did not think having one fourth of our overall budget sitting behind a desk was a wise move.

Stearns County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Robert Dickhaus did an outstanding job of cooperating with us during this transition. This council, on a 3 to 2 vote, decided we needed a chief.

So be it. Now it is my goal to help get the best chief we can. I have been directly involved in reviewing the recent 15 good applications, interviewing the five that made the cut, and then conducting the interviews.

What is your long-term view for police coverage in Paynesville?
Now that we have made the commitment to have a chief, we should move forward in having one more officer. Once that is complete, we will have a working active chief and three full-time officers and one part-time officer. This is what we had before the transfers from the officers and before the township stopped our patrol services. We need to continue to monitor the needs of this community and be in a position to meet those needs effectively and quickly. Paynesville is being protected by a new cooperative partnership between our community and the great work of the Stearns County Sheriff's Office.

What type of relationship should the city council have with its employees?
As a council, we need to remember we have a very important fiduciary responsibility to operate the city, manage its finances and manage all of our employees, for all the residents of the city. We are the board of trustees, the one and only link to the taxpayers we all serve. It's really no different than being a manager at work or a parent at home.

We are not in our positions to be friends with everyone! We ≠ and they ≠ have very dif ferent roles, and those roles will only be respected if we both perform those roles to the highest ability.

Prior to my election eight years ago, this city was sued two different times by previous administrators. We all have learned one thing in our lives; if you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting! Past councils will have to answer questions about previous lawsuits and previous staffs.

Today, most of our city employees are working hard for our council and taxpayers. Most have risen to the occasion and are working cooperatively to serve our community well. I will continue to encourage that great work and ask for an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. I will never ask any employee to do anything but their job and nothing that I haven't done myself. It is no surprise that high expectations return higher outcomes! It's also no surprise that not everyone likes being held accountable.

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