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MACEDC Surveys Candidates Running for City Council

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MACEDC Surveys Candidates Running for City Council

Posted: May 13 2024

Ahead of the June 11th election, the Minot Area Chamber EDC posed nine questions to each candidate running for Minot City Council. Here are the questions and answers from the seven individuals running for the three spots on the council:

What programs or efforts will you keep or change to improve the economic wellbeing of the individuals and businesses in our community?

Mike Blessum: I would like to see the council and its partners undertake a process to reevaluate all of the economic development activities going on in the city. I believe that it is time for a change in approach to meet the future needs of the city.

Scott Burlingame: Fiscal Responsibility: Ensuring responsible fiscal management and budgeting practices to maintain a stable economic environment, providing businesses with confidence and predictability for future growth and investment. Workforce Development: I am committed to prioritizing initiatives that address workforce needs, including childcare. By investing in quality childcare options and support services for working families, we not only empower parents to participate fully in the workforce but also ensure a strong foundation for our future workforce. Furthermore, I am committed to challenging our city staff to ensure that Minot is proudly announced as "open for business." By streamlining processes, providing excellent customer service, and fostering a business-friendly environment, we can attract new investment, support local entrepreneurs, and create opportunities for economic growth. Together, let's showcase Minot as a welcoming and vibrant community where businesses thrive and residents prosper.

Rob M Fuller: The biggest effort that needs to be made to improve the economic wellbeing of our community is to lower property taxes. We have to find better/other ways to fund everything the city needs/wants to do, without continuing to burden the property tax payers in this community.

Mike Gietzen: I can't speak intelligently on the specifics of a certain program to improve our Economic wellbeing... but I can explain my efforts will focus on making the City of Minot easy to do business with. I will require accountability and integrity.

Steve Podrygula: The city needs to continue providing the basic services (e.g., police and fire protection) and infrastructure (e.g., roads, water and sewer lines, flood protection, etc.) then make Minot a desirable place to live and work. As part of this, we need to continue and strengthen our economic development efforts (e.g., Magic Fund, Renaissance Zone, TIF, tourism promotion, small business development loans, etc.).

Scott Samuelson: I believe as a council member it would be my responsibility to represent the communities' vision for Minot and not my own. Too much focus, time and revenues are spent on economic issues and not enough effort is being placed on everyday concerns and issues the citizens of Minot face, such as the cost of living and increased taxes.

Leif Snyder: Ballot initiatives are the will of the people and while some want to see the Magic Fund go away it was the will of the voters so I would not do anything to eliminate it, quite frankly I don’t think the council can. I would like to see changes made to it so it can serve a broader range of businesses rather then seeing the same people benefit from it over and over again. Also it’s no secret I have a problem with the recent changes to the guidelines that allow a current City Council Member to receive Magic Funds as well as a Chamber EDC Board Member to receive them. My definition of conflict of interest differs from the current council that voted in favor of the new guidelines 7 to 0.

How will you play a positive role, through your elected position, in developing a region that continues to thrive and grow?

Mike Blessum: Making our city a great place to live falls on each one of us. We start the businesses and build the new buildings. We create the community in our churches, coffee shops, and school functions. We need to BE the community we want to build. City council members, led by the mayor, have a role to play in promoting the city and ensuring that the city is an inviting place for all. In the end it is the residents that make the city what it is.

Scott Burlingame: As your elected representative, I am committed to playing a positive role in developing a region that continues to thrive and grow. Here's how: Promoting Minot as a Great Place to Live: I will actively promote Minot as a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family. It's the home I've chosen, and I believe it can be an ideal home for generations to come. By highlighting our community's strengths, amenities, and quality of life, we can attract new residents and businesses to contribute to our growth and vitality. Challenging Negativity: I will stand up against negativity and skepticism that hinders progress. Instead of accepting defeatist attitudes like "we can't do that" or "that will never work here," I will advocate for creative solutions and a can-do spirit that propels us forward. With optimism and determination, we can overcome obstacles and achieve our goals. Embracing Our Unique Identity: : I refuse to allow our entire city to be defined by the coldest 10 days of the year. Minot is a dynamic community with a rich culture and unlimited potential. By embracing and showcasing our unique identity, we can foster a sense of belonging and pride among residents, attracting newcomers and fostering a spirit of inclusivity. Through these efforts, I am dedicated to ensuring that Minot continues to thrive and grow, evolving into a vibrant and resilient region that offers opportunities and prosperity for all who call it home.

Rob M Fuller: As an elected representative, I would approach the task of developing a thriving and growing region with several key strategies: Community Engagement, Collaborative Decision-making, investment in infrastructure, promotion of economic opportunities and SUSTAINABLE development that doesn't burden the taxpayers.

Mike Gietzen: I plan to focus on listening to those in our region bringing solutions to the table. I'm not interested in listening to complaints ONLY, I realize it's part of the job. In my opinion, suggestions for success carry a lot of weight.

Steve Podrygula: We need to continue partnering with, and financially supporting, MACEDC in its efforts to attract and grow businesses and improve the overall climate of the community.

Scott Samuelson: I will represent the citizens first and foremost and focus on getting spending under control and strive for tax reform. The Citizens in our community need to thrive before any growth can happen.

Leif Snyder: I don’t think it is the role of local government to insure growth and economic well being for a select few while everyone else seems to be struggling. The City of Minot needs to get back to basics and provide essential services like fire and police, street maintenance and public works. Let business and private enterprise take care of the growth and get away from putting economic development on the backs of taxpayers.

What can your organization do to support the development of current employees and the continued attraction of new workforce to our region?

Mike Blessum: My son and I own and operate a full service tax and accounting firm. I meet with new clients weekly that are starting and expanding their businesses and looking for support. Hiring and workforce needs are front of mind for nearly all new business that start up in our community. Those that thrive utilize an intentional approach to how they set up their staff development, compensation, and benefit programs. My experience working with startups and growing businesses will give me unique insight into the needs of local employers.

Scott Burlingame: To support the development of current employees and attract new workforce to our region, the City of Minot can implement several initiatives focusing on livability, smart growth, childcare, and housing: Livability Initiatives: We can collaborate with local stakeholders to enhance the overall livability of our region by investing in amenities such as sidewalks, accessibility improvement, and quality streets. By creating a vibrant and attractive community, we can retain current employees and attract new talent to the region. Smart Growth Strategies: Minot can advocate for smart growth strategies that prioritize sustainable development, efficient land use, and infrastructure investments. By promoting mixed-use development, transit-oriented design, and walkable neighborhoods, we can create a more livable and economically resilient region that appeals to workers seeking a high quality of life. Childcare Support: Recognizing the critical role of childcare in workforce attraction and retention, we can work with local partners to expand access to affordable, high-quality childcare options. This may involve collaborating with childcare providers to increase capacity, advocating for public funding for childcare subsidies, and supporting initiatives that improve the availability and accessibility of childcare services for working families. Addressing Housing Shortage and Affordability: Minot should play a key in addressing the housing shortage and high cost of housing in our region. This may involve advocating for policies and incentives that encourage the development of affordable housing, such as zoning reforms, density bonuses, and tax incentives for developers. By addressing the housing affordability crisis, we can create a community that attracts and retains a diverse workforce. By implementing these initiatives, Minot can support the development of current employees and attract new workforce to our region, ensuring a vibrant and sustainable future for our community.

Rob M Fuller: We need to bring down property taxes so businesses have more money to pay employees and employees have less monthly rent/mortgage payments.

Mike Gietzen: This a very tough question.... I went to the Chamber EDC website, unemployment is at 2.8%, up from 1.7% in Dec. It's also higher in Minot and Ward County than it is throughout the state. I'm concerned to see this trending in this direction. Is it a culture thing?

Steve Podrygula: We need to provide basic government services, in a more effective and efficient manner, to help make Minot a place where people want to live and work. Workforce training, affordable housing, and improving the amenities of a growing city are particularly important.

Scott Samuelson: N/A

Leif Snyder: First of all I am a citizen, not an organization nor do I represent an organization like you do representing your 600 member investors. I instead will represent the nearly 50,000 citizens of Minot. The opportunities, as far as jobs go, already exist in Minot. The reason people are not moving here is the high cost of housing that is complicated even more because of the high taxes that in turn cause higher rents. The out of control taxes have to be stopped, plain and simple.

What will you change and/or improve from a quality-of-life standpoint that will assist existing or new businesses?

Mike Blessum: One thing I want our residents to realize through this campaign and my hopeful tenure on the city council is that we shouldn’t depend on the government to accomplish these things for us. Our government plays a role in keeping our city inviting. Keeping things clean and orderly and enforcing ordinances creates the city we all want to live in. The government needs to focus on what it can do well, but we need to make sure it doesn’t veer into areas best handled by the private sector. Keeping the focus on excellence in basic services is the best thing we can do to improve the quality of life in our city.

Scott Burlingame: I will work to streamline regulatory processes and remove barriers to business growth. By reducing red tape and bureaucratic hurdles, we can make it easier for businesses to start, operate, and expand in our community. As our infrastructure ages, it's crucial to make smart investments that prioritize maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. By proactively addressing the needs of our aging infrastructure, we can avoid costly emergencies, ensure reliability, and extend lifespan.

Rob M Fuller: I believe the largest issue for local business, existing and future, is employees. Every other business owner I speak with talks about the lack of people willing to work. Why does Minot have an employee issue...because it is TOO expensive to live in Minot for low to medium income employees. Now there are a number of factors that contribute to the high cost of living in Minot, including national inflation, but property taxes are a huge factor in peoples monthly rent/mortgage payment. We need to address this so people making between $10-$20/hour can afford to live in Minot.

Mike Gietzen: If we get good answers for the question above.... this one will follow right along. All businesses, new or existing, need a steady employee pool to pull from.

Steve Podrygula: Basically, we need to continue our ongoing efforts, to make Minot an attractive place to live, recreate, and raise a family. We've got a good thing going, and can't take the chance of messing it up (e.g., by ignoring infrastructure needs, letting public safety slide, or allowing uncontrolled expansion).

Scott Samuelson: It is important to have citizens engaged in the discussions and process, and not left out of the conversations.

Leif Snyder: I don’t believe it is the role of City government to pick and chose winners in business. Being business friendly means equal opportunities for all businesses whether they are located downtown or not. Treating all businesses the same and eliminating the favoritism in the name of growth would be a good start.

How will you as an elected leader in our community support our military?

Mike Blessum: During my time as an owner and the general manager of Dakota Property Management I had the opportunity to place hundreds of military members in apartments around the city. In many cases our team was some of the first interactions these airmen had with members of the Minot community. We placed a significant focus on helping our military clients understand their value to the community through enhanced communication, military discounts and unique lease terms, and check in/check out flexibility. I tried to take the approach that I would have wanted for my kids were they renting their first apartment in a new place. Supporting our military is the responsibility of each and every member of our community. City leaders need to model the behaviors, but in the end the community itself is its best asset.

Scott Burlingame: As an elected leader, I will prioritize making Minot a welcoming community for our military members and their families. This includes advocating for their needs, fostering community engagement, and recognizing their contributions to our community and nation.

Rob M Fuller: Overall, my goal would be to create a supportive and welcoming community for our military personnel and veterans, where they feel valued, respected, and appreciated for their service to our country.

Mike Gietzen: I am in 100% support of the MAFB and their mission. They are critical for our Community, our Country, our Longevity. I sleep better knowing I have them defending me 24/7/365. My support knows no bounds. I was proud to be a part in the Home for the Holidays and the positive impact it made on our local service members. There is no place like Home.

Steve Podrygula: As a practicing clinical psychologist, I've worked for 47 years to provide support to Air Force personnel, their families, and military veterans, by giving them the best clinical care I'm capable of. Our military needs to know we provide unquestioning support to them and their families. I strongly support the city's efforts to help fund Task Force 21, to promote the long-term viability and growth of the Base.

Scott Samuelson: I will continue to support the men and women serving in the military. I believe our community has been very welcoming to our neighbors to the North.

Leif Snyder: While data and numbers can be vital with regards to the economic impact of the Minot Air Force Base and local military I will not think of them as a dollar to be made, instead I will treat them as the fellow citizens and members of the community they and their families are. They are our neighbors, friends and co-workers. I have been told over and over again it’s hard to move here and some military and military families don’t feel welcome, that needs to change.

Do you support the City of Minot funding economic development efforts at the Minot Area Chamber EDC, through the current annual budgeting process and at the current levels?

Mike Blessum: I believe it is time to reevaluate our economic development efforts to determine if we need a new direction. It appears at this point that the Magic Fund is not receiving new applications. Expanding the guidelines to allow committee members and council members to bring their own projects is the wrong approach. Inventing new ways to spend public funds like the facade program is not a winning approach either. It is time to explore new options.

Scott Burlingame: Yes, I support the City of Minot funding of economic development efforts at the Minot Area Chamber EDC through the current annual budgeting process and at the current levels. While nothing should be absolutely untouchable in the city budget, I believe the Minot Chamber EDC is a valuable community partner in improving the viability of our city. The work they have done with military relations, business mentorship, workforce development, and more is critical to growing our city. Supporting their efforts aligns with our goal of fostering economic growth and prosperity for all residents.

Rob M Fuller: I do support it, but I also think we need to address some of the concerns that have been raised in the community with regards to the EDC.

Mike Gietzen: I cannot completely answer this at this time. I don't know what the current levels are. I don't know what they were 2 years ago. I support the Chamber EDC and its mission. I recognize the important goals set forth by the organization. I can only imagine I would be more of an asset than a hinderance.

Steve Podrygula: Yes, definitely.

Scott Samuelson: I currently do not support the way the City is funding economic development in Minot. Economic development investments should be coming from the private sector. Taxes collected from our residents should not be funding programs that offer tax relief to revenue driven businesses.

Leif Snyder: No. I would prefer it if the MACEDC as a member investor organization collecting yearly dues from your members was separate from the city and you didn’t have the influence you do over sales tax dollars. Let the Magic Fund Screening Committee handle it.

What role do you see the City of Minot and Minot Area Chamber EDC playing in the continued efforts of workforce development? And do you support the funding of these efforts and/or programs through the City budgeting process?

Mike Blessum: The dual role of the Chamber as a member organization as well as a EDC contractor for the city leaves it in a situation where it is unlikely to be as effective as it could be in either role. The Chamber could be an effective advocate for its member organizations through the normal work that like organizations do across the country. Mixing the public funds and the EDC mandates into that work is unlikely to lead to success, particularly in the unique post flood, post oil boom economy we have in Minot.

Scott Burlingame: The City of Minot and Minot Area Chamber EDC play crucial roles in workforce development efforts. They can assist by providing childcare support, offering training and mentorship to businesses, and advocating for the Minot business community on local, state, and national levels. Again, it is important to note the Minot City Council is going to have some really hard decisions to make in the next few months, however, I do support funding these efforts and programs through the City budgeting process.

Rob M Fuller: The City of Minot and the Minot Area Chamber EDC both play crucial roles in the ongoing efforts of workforce development. The City can support this through policy advocacy, funding for training programs, and collaboration with local businesses and educational institutions. The Chamber EDC can facilitate job placement, recruitment, and retention efforts, fostering a thriving local economy. Supporting these efforts through the City budgeting process is important for the continued growth and prosperity of Minot. However, if the EDC funding is going to continue to be done through the city budget, it will be imperative that it is done through RESPONSIBLE budgeting that doesn't come from any increase in property tax.

Mike Gietzen: I support the Chamber EDC and its mission. I recognize the important goals set forth by the organization. I can only imagine I would be more of an asset than a hinderance.

Steve Podrygula: We need to cooperate to strengthen vocational training and development programs, to give our young people a reason to stay here and develop the skills necessary to earn a decent living. Affordable housing (e.g., with planning guided by our recently completed housing study) is also important. I think the city needs to play a more active role in economic development, with funding adequate to support stronger efforts.

Scott Samuelson: I am unaware of successful or current efforts from the City of Minot or MACEDC pertaining to workforce development.

Leif Snyder: I don’t, the MACEDC charges its member investors up to $10,000 a year in dues, why is it the role of taxpayers to fund workforce development for your members? Let your membership fund it.

Do you support the City of Minot’s continued role in Minot Air Force Base retention efforts, through the annual funding of Task Force 21 under the guidance of the Minot Area Chamber EDC?

Mike Blessum: Absolutely. Task Force 21 needs to be continued and enhanced to ensure that we are meeting needs of our base partners and base personnel in our city. I support the funding of Task Force 21 whether through MACEDC or other means.

Scott Burlingame: Yes, this is a major priority.

Rob M Fuller: The Minot AFB is vital to the well being of the City of Minot. We need to do everything possible to make sure Minot AFB never leaves our community!

Mike Gietzen: I support the Chamber EDC and its mission. I recognize the important goals set forth by the organization. I can only imagine I would be more of an asset than a hinderance.

Steve Podrygula: I totally support strong funding of Task Force 21. As we face increasing challenges to our national security, MAFB needs to maintain and enhance its critical missions. The Sentinel project, along with B-52 modernization, provide real opportunities for growth.

Scott Samuelson: I support the efforts to retain Minot Air Force Base. I also support fiscal responsibility with any role the City of Minot plays in these efforts.

Leif Snyder: I could be wrong but I think its funded at $75k (from sales tax) a year. I do support this effort as long is it’s no more than that.

Is there anything else you would like to share that has not been covered?

Mike Blessum: I believe that MACEDC has done a good job adapting to the changing needs of the local economy. At this point I believe we may have reached the natural end of the current approaches we have used for many years. It is time to revisit the programs from top to bottom to determine whether diverting funds to economic development efforts should be continued and at what level.

Scott Burlingame: I am committed to stopping the growth of property taxes, and that will make the budgeting process difficult and painful. However, I do believe in the role of the Chamber EDC as a key partner in our efforts to make Minot proper and thrive.

Rob M Fuller: Minot, this is our city, and our shared future is at stake. I am asking for your support, your ideas, and your vote. Together, we can build a Minot that we are all proud to call home.

Steve Podrygula: I believe my experience (e.g., on the Board of Directors of the Chamber, 16 years on the Council), independence (not part of any faction, clique, or special interest group), and realistic and common sense approach to things set me apart from the other candidates.

Scott Samuelson: As a City Council member, I would support true Property Tax reform. Our local citizens and the citizens of ND are overburdened with ever increasing property taxes. If we are going to have a thriving business climate in Minot, we need to reduce the tax burdens on our community along with businesses.

Leif Snyder: No.

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