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Paynesville Press - Oct. 27, 2010

Paynesville City Council
Neil Herzberg

Neil Herzberg, 60, is a 1968 PHS graduate who worked for 30 years in automotive parts and served 23 years in the National Guard. He was an original member of the ambulance squad (1974-76) and a part-time auxiliary police officer (1974-78) for the city and currently works part-time in the public works department.

Why are you running for city council? I have been interested in city government and have monitored it closely for many years. My wife worked for the city of Paynesville, so following the decisions made by the council was second nature.

I feel there are several critical issues that the city must address in the near future. From budget cuts to the Highway 23 project, the city is at an important crossroads right now. In recent years, there has become an imbalance of power on the council, which emphasizes special interests instead of common sense.

With decreases in Local Government Aid from the state expected to continue, likely causing ongoing city budget crunches, what do you see as core city services? The essentials are water, sewer, and street maintenance. These three are at the top of the priority list, and all remaining services fall to the second and third tier. The second tier would include fire, ambulance, and police protection. Parks, trails, airport, and recreation are a distant third.

The city has nearly $1.3 million in general fund reserves. What do you think is a healthy fund balance for the city? The current $1.3 million general fund reserve is adequate, but we should try to avoid using reserves if possible. We also have reserves in the sewer and water fund that we could also access if we absolutely needed. With cuts to Local Government Aid, Paynesville is currently facing a $100,000 gap. Since we have a $1.8 million annual budget, that amounts to about a six percent reduction in overall expenditures and then we would not have to touch our reserves.

In each of these budget categories, explain your view on making budget cuts as needed.
•Amenities: (lifeguards, Fourth of July fireworks, Summer Recreation, contributions to community organizations such as the Paynesville Area Center and the historical society, etc.)
Sharing many of these costs with the township has directly reduced the burden on the city. There are definitely items within this group that we need to prioritize and determine if its worth the additional costs. If certain organizations want to expand, that should not become an obligation of the city. The city should not be in the business of funding an ever-increasing bunch of special interest groups.

•City Infrastructure: (streets, water, sewer, etc.) The cuts to infrastructure (streets, water, sewer) have been made all the way through 2012. We will need to revisit this area in the future to see where we stand, but for the time being, the cuts have already been made. There is an important issue that needs to be addressed here. In the past, the city has been fronting the capital for sewer, water, and streets in new developments. Rather than the city incurring these costs, I would like to see the developer pay these costs. The city has allowed the sewer and water portion to be paid back as the lots were sold, which amounts to the city (taxpayers) financing the project.

•City Staff: The city has expanded dramatically over the last decade with new developments on the northwest, south, and east side of town. Each time new development is completed, new parks or trails are also added. While the city has expanded, the number of Paynesville employees has stayed the same. The staff took a six-day furlough last year in an effort to reduce our budget constraints.

•Parks, Trails, Recreation: We are having a hard time maintaining the parks we currently have without adding more. Instead of trying to increase the number of parks or recreational areas, we need to determine if we have the resources to maintain them first. We have added an airport, soccer fields, bike parks, T-Ball fields, etc., over the years because certain groups felt like it was a good idea. Our council failed to see these issues arising in the long term, and now we are faced with maintaining more area with the same number of staff.

•Public Safety: police, fire, etc. Maintaining our current level of police protection is adequate, and I see no reason to increase staffing. The township is helping pay for police and fire, which helps the city tremendously. I feel its important that the township continues to share these costs in the future.

•Other: One area that needs to be addressed is the hangar rental at the airport. The city has previously charged only $100 per month for renting a large hangar which houses cars, boats, and planes. The amount is significantly under the going rate and should be increased accordingly. I also suggest that the council members and mayor take a 20 percent reduction in pay to set an example that we are committed to solving this issue. I see council members asking employees to take cuts, yet I have not heard about any reductions in their compensation. We need to lead by example if we are urging others to make some sacrifices.

What sort of tax increases (if any) would you support as a council member? The budget gap is $100,000 for the fiscal year. There have been recent discussions that this gap could be closed if two people be laid off. I feel there are several areas in our budget that could be addressed to close this gap instead of laying off staff. We are going to run into more issues with trying to lay off staff members than if we simply eliminate some of the amenities/contributions directly. Remember, the staff did not create this problem; the council created the problem by having a hard time saying no. If some groups do not receive funding from the city for a year or two, they will need to take care of the issue themselves. There is no need to increase taxes since we have the flexibility of taking care of this problem on the expense side.

Is annexation an appropriate revenue tool for the city? If so, how is it possible in light of the Orderly Annexation Agree-ment with the township? Annexation of "Islands" within the city limits should be required. There are numerous properties within the city that are not connected to the city services, even though the septic and water lines run directly in front of the properties. As long as the lines are in place and our infrastructure supports the properties, they should be annexed to the city.

What should be the city's relationship with Paynesville Township? And what, specifically, would you do to foster such a relationship? The city and township currently share a number of services, including fire, police, lifeguards, hockey, etc. In the past, maintenance at Veteran's Park has been left exclusively to the city. Recently, the city has been having discussions with the township about receiving assistance maintaining Veteran's Park. If the township is unable to assist directly with the maintenance of various parks, monetary contributions would also be helpful. One additional area where I feel the township should also help share the costs is the library. The city has continued to pick up the tab year after year for the library, yet residents from both the city and township use the facility.

What does the city need to do to make Paynesville attractive from the new Highway 23? Paynesville needs to make sure that all the eyesores coming into town are blocked from view using evergreens, trees, and shrubs. The gateways to town should be clearly marked and landscaped nicely. Since Highway 23 will run near the sewage ponds, we need to make sure that we aerate and maintain these ponds to the fullest extent. The impression tourists get as they enter the town will determine whether they stop for fuel, groceries, or other items.

What can the city do to to bring the visions of the Minnesota Design Team to life in Paynesville? The Design Team is an absolute waste of taxpayer money. This team lives largely in a fairy tale world, where there is unlimited capital and the most outrageous ideas are entertained. The city has spent thousands bringing this team in and accomplished nothing as a result. The Design Team wants a youth center but overlooks the fact that they already have one - the UZone - which is being funded by Grace United Methodist Church. Why would the city need to duplicate a service that is already being offered? With the city facing deficits, this exhaustive list of wants needs to be placed on the back burner.

What will you do, as a councilor, to make Paynesville a better place to live? Paynesville is a fine place to live, but we must learn to live within our means. Decisions have been made over the last few years that were short-sighted and unsustainable with our limited resources.

In order to improve the appearance of the city, I would like to encourage business owners to take pride in their storefronts. Guys like Cal Sixta and Dave Schrupp, who improved their buildings by updating and remodeling, should serve as an example to others.

The decisions I make as a member of the city council will consistently place an emphasis on how Paynesville can become a better place to live.

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