BY NAOMI KOWLES
For the Star Journal
Mayoral candidates Alex Young and Chris Frederickson conflicted on several issues during the WXPR public radio candidate forum Thursday night including the golf course, city transparency and streets.
At least seven times, Frederickson referenced his opponent’s 13 years of city governing experience and questioned what he had accomplished during that period, while Young cited that same experience to support his view that the city could “not afford a learning curve” in the mayoral position.
Scott Counter was absent from the forum, telling WXPR he was sick and could not attend.
The candidates were asked to discuss their plans to address high priority roads in the city.
“[Young] talks about running towards problems and solving them,” Frederickson said. “When it comes to our road infrastructure, we need to have a plan now.”
Young cited the city’s $2 million plan to repair and resurface “nearly a quarter” of city roads using the Premier Area Resort Tax to fund the bond. “We took the initiative here in Rhinelander and solved it for ourselves,” he said.
The candidates were also questioned on their views regarding the most realistic outcome for the Northwood Golf Course. Young said he had been “driving for change” in that area, noting that he believed the best outcome for the golf course was to first “turn the revenue picture around,” raise its valuation, and ultimately sell the golf course.
“He talks about being in the driver’s seat,” Frederickson responded. “It’s been 13 years and we’re driving down a financial hole … If the golf course is not going to make money, we need to decide on that now.”
“If the direction’s so clear to someone who’s been sitting there for 13 years, it should have been done. If he had leadership skills, it should have been done.”
Young replied that the city had not been able to do anything about the golf course in the past 13 years because the paper mill had deed restrictions on the property that expired in 2017.
“So perhaps a little bit of doing your homework and a little bit of experience, you’d understand that’s why nothing’s been done,” Young said.
When Young said the city had not raised property taxes for “the last few years,” Frederickson called it “a joke.”
“Our water bills have increased by 100 percent,” Frederickson said.
“Experience is important,” Young remarked, saying that it was the sewer portion of the bill rather than the water that had increased, and that the issue was not related to property tax because property taxes and utilities are separate funds.
Another issue up for debate was city government transparency, with Frederickson saying current government had done “a pretty good job of staying behind closed doors.” He wants to keep an “open door” as mayor, with a continued dialogue between city hall and the public.
“I am committed to openness and transparency,” Young said. He discussed his support of “strict adherence” to open meeting laws, disclosure of requested information, public comment, and his own rewriting of the city open records ordinances. He also remarked that “employees have privacy rights,” and that other statutory limitations exist for open records, such as with police investigatory documents.
In regard to economic development, Frederickson said he wanted to build a business advisory committee where experts could generate fresh ideas. He wants the city to team up with Oneida County Economic Development (OCEC) and match what other cities are doing.
Young cited Printpack, ABX, Marshfield Clinic, Kohls, Hobby Lobby, and other financial projects that the city had been involved with during his time on city council, as well as the city’s current partnerships with the OCEC.
The candidates were also asked about the “dark store” tax loophole used by large corporations to reduce their property tax payments.
Frederickson said it was an unfair question because most of that had been dealt with in closed session. “Ideally, what I’m going to tell you is that I’m going to make our city so inviting and beautiful that there’s not going to be a dark store,” he said.
“I haven’t seen him come to any of the committee meetings that I’ve been on, which is really where most of the business of the city takes place,” Young said. He noted that property tax appeals are done at the city’s board of review, where by statute all meetings are open session.
“It’s fundamentally unfair to the residential tax payers in the city for somebody to claim that a thriving commercial store should be valued the same as a vacant, rundown store,” Young said.
Both candidates agreed that they wanted to make public comment an agenda item under their leadership. They also were able to find common ground on the roundabout at the intersection of Highway 8 and 47, both assenting that safety statistics of roundabouts should be of high importance when considering the issue.
“Without a learning curve, I’m ready to start the job on day one working to improve our city,” Young said in closing.
Frederickson wrapped up the forum saying, “I don’t shy away from conflict, I’m not going to say no, and I don’t quit.”