“I’ve got experience, I’ve got plans, I’ve got ideas that I am ready to hit the ground and implement. They’re not just inspirational quotes; they’re actionable.” – Alex Young
BY NAOMI KOWLES
For the Star Journal
Editor’s note: The Star Journal is publishing a series of profiles on the Rhinelander mayoral candidates. We will feature Chris Frederickson March 21 and Scott Counter March 28.
“The job is what you make of it,” candidate Alex Young asserted as he laid out his plan for mayor. After 13 years as an alderman, Young is campaigning with a vision that incorporates various goals for enhanced communication between city hall and the public, a new budgeting system, park and downtown improvements, and family-supporting jobs.
About Alex Young
Originally from the suburbs of Milwaukee, Young moved to Rhinelander with his mother and siblings when he was 12 years old. He graduated from Rhinelander High School and attended a few classes at Nicolet College without completing a degree, working various jobs in banking and real estate in the years following his high school graduation. Currently, he maintains software he wrote back in 2003 for print-on-demand websites, as well as working as a ski patroller on various hills.
“Most of [the ski patrolling] is on the weekends. My computer stuff and website stuff…because I’m my own boss, I can be flexible with my own time. And that’s one of the reasons I took on this challenge, running for mayor,” he explained.
City council experience
Young was just 22 when he was elected to the city council, where he recalls being “pretty quiet” the first couple years as he learned the mechanisms of Rhinelander’s governing system. “There’s a pretty steep learning curve to learning some of this stuff,” he observed when asked to comment on the opinion that Rhinelander could benefit from a mayor without government experience.
Young said one of his favorite accomplishments from his work on the city council was the refinancing of the city’s Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) debt back in 2013. The liability, taken on in the 1980s after the WRS brought most local government employees under the state retirement fund, had been accruing interest at a higher rate than the city’s annual payments were covering. Local news reports indicated his efforts to refinance the debt will save Rhinelander over $1 million by the end of its payoff in 2033.
Another incident he reflected on was his role in rewriting Rhinelander’s open meeting ordinances, after Expera’s 2013 drop in taxable value was kept confidential from the city council by Mayor Dick Johns and former city administrator Blaine Oborn.
Young explained that he viewed the mayoral position as providing the common thread between each of the various city departments and committees, facilitating both internal communication and external interaction with the public.
“The administrator’s job should be to implement the policies that are set for the city and do the day to day work…Once something crosses the boundary from implementing policy to creating policy, or the political functions in terms of relations with the community, that’s now the mayor’s role.”
Young identified communication improvements as his most important priority as mayor, explaining that he believed much of the misunderstanding between city hall and the public has been caused by poor communication.
Last August, Young said there had been “a lack of leadership from the top” of city government. He expanded on that statement during the interview to focus directly on what he saw as communication issues.
“I think there’s been a vacuum in that regard in recent years, and it shows,” he said. “In a vacuum, people speculate. If we can fill that vacuum with the truth…I think that will go a long way.”
“I think we ought to have better social media and web presence for the city…possibly a newsletter from the mayor; possibly things like a city hall Facebook account. I think that we need to do a lot of those things to try to engage the public more so people understand what’s happening at city hall.”
His campaign Facebook page has become a testing ground for new ideas such as live streaming city hall meetings, as well as an avenue for informational political posts and graphs.
Projects and plans
Key to Young’s plans is an emphasis on expanding the tax base rather than increasing property tax. “What we need to focus on is economic development and growing the tax base overall for everybody, both in terms of residential and commercial development for the city. We need to focus on jobs, and bring resources into the community rather than trading dollars amongst ourselves.”
Young also wants to “revitalize the downtown” district with a program called Connect Communities. “It offers a lot of the same advantages of the Main Street program, but without many of the mandated requirements that cost money,” he said.
The Connect Communities program, offered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, supplements the Main Street program by making its services available to a wider range of Wisconsin downtowns. According to the WEDC website, participants can expect to “increase tax base, jobs, reinvestment, and appeal of the downtown districts and long-term vitality of their respective communities.”
Developing Rhinelander’s amenities to further attract new community members is another important element of expanding the tax base, in Young’s estimation. He cited the need to take advantage of current city property that had potential to be developed, such as the railroad bed on the Pelican River which he envisions as a good spot for a trail and boat landing. He wants to focus on available grant money as well as partnering with Friends of Rhinelander Parks to continue improving existing facilities and developing new recreational spaces.
Another undertaking that Young intends to “aggressively pursue” is the Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) system, something he said he has proposed to the city council several times in the past.
PBB advertises itself as a holistic approach that, according to the Center for Priority Based Budgeting, helps communities organize their budgets by priority so that elected officials can make better informed decisions and the public gets a clearer picture of the budgeting process.
He identified the first step in the process as transitioning into the “lesser cousin” of PBB, project-based budgeting.
“You can see how much money you’re spending on each actual project or function that department is doing, which is something you can’t do the way that the city budget is currently presented.”
In his own words
“Positive thoughts aren’t going to get the job done,” he said. “I think we’re at a turning point in the city, and at a very catalytic moment, where things could go very good and we could see some big improvements, or things could take a turn for the worse. I just don’t know that we’re in a position where we could afford somebody with no experience.”
“I’ve got experience, I’ve got plans, I’ve got ideas that I am ready to hit the ground and implement. They’re not just inspirational quotes; they’re actionable.”