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1st District aldermanic race features Nelson vs. Stippich

March 19, 2014

W. Scott Nelson and Matt Stippich are running against each other for 1st District alderman.

Nelson, of 6191 Washington Circle, is a legislative aide in the Wisconsin State Senate and a license attorney in Wisconsin and Illinois. He was a candidate for alderman in 2006 and for state Assembly in 2004.

Stippich, of 2220 N Wauwatosa Ave., is an owner and general counsel of Digital Intelligence, a local computer forensics firm, and a partner in Stippich, Selin & Cain.

Here are their answers to a WauwatosaNOW questionnaire:

Why are you running?

Nelson: I'm running because I think Wauwatosa is a great place to live, and I want to help keep it that way. Our alderman decided not to run again, and I think my background and experience make me an ideal replacement for him. The skills I use every day in the legislature are exactly what I need to serve as our alderman. An alderman needs experience working with government budgets and agencies. I've worked on the Joint Finance Committee in the state legislature, working with state agencies to produce a balanced budget. My experience working on the state budget will help me tackle the Common Council's most important task, the city budget. At work, I respond to constituent concerns on a daily basis, something that people expect from their a. I'm running because I have the skills and experience to hit the ground running after I am elected alderman.

Stippich: Anyone who has met me knows that I am passionate about Wauwatosa — especially East Tosa. I want to help continue the positive path we have started in District 1 and bring this passion to the city by representing our active constituency. For me, Wauwatosa, and specifically District 1 is much more than the houses and buildings within a geographic boarder. There is a soul in this District that is represented by the collection of neighborhoods that are unique, vibrant and alive. As we continue to develop and grow, we will naturally encounter tough decisions about the direction we want for our city. I believe my dedication to the community, combined with my experience as business owner and legal adviser, will allow me to make these tough decisions in a manner that will serve the district well.

The 2015 city budget will be tight, and city officials have warned that services may be cut. How will you address this?

Stippich: I met with the city administrator and finance director to better understand our current financial picture. We must carefully manage our finances moving forward, but the 2015 budget will not be as "doom and gloom" as originally projected. New construction surrounding the Mayfair Collection and Discovery Parkway and the projected closing of tax-incremental finance district 3 will all help to increase our tax base and levy without impacting the taxpayer. Unnecessary expenses have been identified and eliminated. That places us at a critical, yet extremely exciting point in our history where we, as a citizenship, need to engage in honest dialogue about how our city will serve us. What services are important, at what levels and how will we pay for those services? Our first goal must be to focus on raising revenue through positive, sensible development that improves the tax base. This focus will create relief for the citizens while improving the overall financial health of Wauwatosa.

Nelson: City officials, like state officials, always say that they've gotten everything they can out of their budget, and there's no more room for savings. In my experience working on the state budget, they're usually wrong. Understanding what to look for and what questions to ask to see if the departments are operating as efficiently as possible is the best way to deal with a budget problem. We also shouldn't assume that because things have always been done one way that they can't be done another way. Challenging those assumptions is what members of the Common Council should do for each city budget. My experience working with the state budget will help me ask the right questions and find ways to ensure that the level of service that we have come to expect from the city remains the same without asking taxpayers to pay more for that same level of service.

What is the city's biggest challenge, aside from the budget, and how will you address it?

Nelson: While it may not be as high-profile an issue as jobs, economic development or the budget, Wauwatosa's infrastructure problems are a black cloud on the horizon. Our sewer system needs major upgrades, particularly in the east part of Wauwatosa I hope to represent on the Common Council. The estimated cost of these repairs is more than the total annual city budget, so, the financial effect it will have on the city is significant. The size of the problem requires an incremental approach, and the city's long-term plan is a good start. Ensuring that this project remains a top priority and is fully funded over the decade required will take real leadership from the Common Council, particularly the members from our district. To help reduce the impact to homeowners, we should also develop a revolving, low- or no-interest loan program to help homeowners who require expensive repairs to their sewer laterals.

Stippich: Deferred capital projects, including our sewers, pose the biggest challenge for the city moving forward. We are literally sitting on a network of sewers and laterals that are long overdue for repair. Sewer backups in District 1 and neighboring District 5 are a big issue for homeowners. The issue is further complicated by the fact that both public sewers and private laterals are implicated. Fortunately, our forward thinking Public Works office has started the process of finding cost conscious solutions to this projected $100 million issue. The recent decision to explore the transfer of jurisdiction over Schoonmaker Creek and the surrounding watershed to Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is one creative solution that may help with some of these costs. We need to develop a comprehensive plan that restores our infrastructure to a status that will protect against further damage to homes and provide a foundation that will serve our community in future years.

In a proposed development opposed by neighbors, how would you decide which side to support?

Stippich: This is not an issue of we vs. they. Development is absolutely necessary. It impacts our ability to raise revenue in the world of levy limits. It is necessary to develop properties that have been neglected. It is necessary because healthy commercial districts are foundational to our vibrant community. However, any development decision must be weighed against the potential benefits to or burdens on the quality of life in our neighborhoods — the neighborhoods that make Wauwatosa great. This requires early communication among the city, developers and citizens to find sensible solutions. The root cause of most recent development controversies has been a lack of early communication among all affected parties. We are a dynamic community that is continually growing. Growing pains are natural. I'm not afraid to make the necessary tough decisions on these issues after engaging in thoughtful conversation with a focus on doing what is best for the community.

Nelson: If I am elected alderman, I would be serving my constituents, not outside business concerns, so the choice of who to support would be relatively easy. That being said, economic development opportunities are limited in a well-developed and mature city like Wauwatosa. Even though members of the Common Council are elected to represent a district, they also must represent the overall good of the city when they serve. Weighing the pros and cons of economic development proposals is one of the hardest things you face as an elected official. Having advised a number of elected officials during my career as a legislative aide, I have been through this decision-making process and understand what it takes. I'm confident that I can balance the needs of the local residents against the needs of the city for economic growth and come to a conclusion that best serves the residents and the city.

What are the biggest issues affecting your district?

Nelson: East Tosa has the unique opportunity to give itself a face-lift, both aesthetically and economically, by developing the east end of North Avenue. The master plan for development created by civic organizations and embraced by the Common Council is a wonderful blueprint for turning East Tosa into a destination for residents and people throughout the Milwaukee metropolitan area. The area is ripe for economic development. Encouraging that development in a way that helps the city but also recognizes the needs of the residents of the adjacent neighborhoods (particularly the need for more parking) is a major issue for the 1st aldermanic district. Parking in the village is also a major issue for our district since it covers part of the village. Current plans to provide more parking are great but need to be constantly re-examined to make sure that we are providing adequate parking for residents, visitors and businesses alike.

Stippich: Aside from the sewer issue (discussed above), District 1 residents have shared with me their enthusiasm over the developments along North Avenue, Milwaukee Avenue and the Village. This progress, however, has raised issues of the adequacy of parking along the neighboring blocks. Most residents I have talked with agree that this "problem" is far outweighed by the benefit of the new business, but it is something for which we need to find a solution. Another area of concern among residents is one of communication. District 1 residents want an alderman who is active and connected with the neighborhood — one who communicates with them and keeps them informed. We may not always agree, but as long as we keep an open and transparent line of respectful communication, good things will follow. I am committed to this dialogue. I am committed to Wauwatosa.

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