With the Feb. 21 primary election just days away Wauwatosa's mayoral race should be heating up, but the three candidates appeared lukewarm during a packed forum held at the Wauwatosa Public Library on Monday.
Topics ranged from improving infrastructure to economic sustainability and public safety, with the candidates - more often in agreement with each other than not - offering scant details as to how to go about addressing change in a city facing some tough economic challenges.
But one message was clear: Tosa's residents should be prepared to do more with less, a common theme among municipalities forced to bear down after the recession.
"We're facing an extraordinary set of adversities," candidate Peter Donegan said. "We can either capitulate and raise taxes, lay people off or roll up our sleeves and deliver more for less."
How to achieve that delicate balance with a tight budget and limited resources is still out on the table. All the candidates agreed service cuts and other efficiencies remain a necessary option.
Addressing council size
One way to cut costs may include reducing the size of the Common Council. Donegan, a six-year alderman, supports cutting the council size by up to 30 percent to create efficiencies in government, an initiative he repeatedly addressed throughout the forum.
He encouraged residents to vote for the change in the upcoming referendum, saying it would send a "symbolic" gesture toward city employees and bring reform.
Candidate John Pokrandt disagreed, saying a change in council size would force aldermen to work twice as hard as before and divert attention away from the residents.
"Our people deserve good, active and engaged representation," Pokrandt said.
Candidate Kathy Ehley said she would only support the cuts after a thorough investigation of the benefits.
In addition to reducing council seats, Donegan supports curbing employee benefits, the cost of which he believes has prevented the city from having money to spend on neglected infrastructure.
Balanced economic development
Economic development ranked as a top priority, but candidates said the issue has become a double-edged sword as potential developers increasingly demand assistance to fund projects.
Ehley stressed the importance of improving the city's existing infrastructure and preserving its green space. Creating and maintaining bike paths and improving pedestrian access would help lessen Wauwatosa's carbon footprint and increase connectivity among residents, she said. She would create a committee dedicated to green issues if elected.
"A lot of County Grounds have been gobbled up" by development where residents were accustomed to seeing green space, she said. "Developers are looking for a free ride right now. We deserve better than that."
With a projected flat tax revenue, offering incentives to developers could mean missing out on 15 years of property taxes, or worse, missing out on development opportunities completely, Donegan said.
Pokrandt said he has heard from residents frustrated by the lack of development, but he remains optimistic, pointing to areas of vacant land, the Burleigh Triangle and North Avenue commercial corridor as key spots for development.
He said it would be imperative for the city to get a return on tax-incremental financing investments.
"What we build today will be here fifty years from now."
Maintain protective services
None of the candidates supported Fire and Police cuts, even if crime rates continue to drop.
"We might be facing budget shortfalls but it is not an option to settle for less," Pokrandt said.
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