Communication, promoting city, taxes discussed at all-candidates forum

HUMBOLDT — Communication, promoting the city and taxes were major items discussed at the Humboldt and District Chamber of Commerce’s all-candidates forum for Humboldt's 14 candidates for councillor.

The Oct. 27 forum was hosted on the chamber’s Facebook page. With the exception of Philip Hinz, who had technical issues, all of the candidates were present.

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The forum started off with introductions before moderator Brent Fitzpatrick launched into a series of questions. The Humboldt Journal has selected the highlights of each candidate’s answer for three of those questions.

In your mind, what is the best way for members of council to communicate with residents and business owners? What tools or strategies would you like to see used to make council accessible to all?

Tawnie Johnson: Johnson said that she understood the city was developing an app. She added she knows a lot of work went into revamping the city’s website.

“I have had to call the office before for items and sometimes you have to go through a long phone chain to get to things.”

Larry Jorgenson: Jorgenson said there’s no one magic bullet for communication. If it’s only Facebook, people will complain it’s not in the newspaper or the website and vice versa. If there’s an open meeting, only a few will show up.

“It's a huge challenge and one that we definitely need to figure out because we want to be transparent with what we do,” he said.

“We’re open to suggestions on how to best communicate, and certainly working with the chamber and working with all the other organizations is possibly one way to do that to get the word out.”

Amanda Klitch: Klitch said she liked the idea of using surveys to gather opinions from the community.

“I like a survey because that weeds out the positive or negative comments, it just gives more facts.”

Roger Korte: Korte said that while social media is mainstream, a lot of the older generation feels they don't really know what's going on all the time because they don’t have computers,

“I think a guy would have to sit down and get together and try and think of ways we can get the word out to everybody when there's stuff to be said.”

Darcy Leonew: “I just think that we should be out in the public and let the public know who we are out there.”

“If the public sees what we are and we can interact with the public, we're going to have a lot better of a relationship.”

Megan MacInnis: MacInnis said she liked the idea of using an app, as well as being out in the public.

“That's where, if you're volunteering already, it's easier to approach, maybe, somebody that would be on council about an idea or concern. But overall, that's something I'll definitely have to sit down and talk about further.”

Rob Muench: Muench said there’s so much fragmentation that makes it hard to communicate with people over a single channel. He said the city tried a number of things, including newsletters and inserts in the utility bills. He added the city has an app, Humboldt Connect, that’s been out for six years.

“It is tough and we've looked at so many different ways over the last number of years. It's really hard to get everybody at once in one easy way. But all you can do is keep trying.”

Roger Nordick: “We must use every means of communication. There are so many diverse methods. Now, some of them are growing in popularity, some are failing in popularity, but we have a diverse demographic in our community and some of them I believe, are being left out.”

He added that some newer residents can’t read or write English well. As well, he added council was starting to talk to all of the businesspeople in the community before events in 2018 overtook them.

David Rowe: Rowe said he wondered if the bulletin board in the post office could be used to post civic information.

“I think we're really fortunate that we have Humboldt Journal and 107.5 Bolt FM available to us [and thier website] Discover Humboldt.”

Carrie Ann Schemenauer-Hradecki: “I'm a big believer in communication and I feel that it would be part of our job to be accountable and transparent. Yhe way I would look at it is that we have to use every avenue possible.”

She added the city can’t just use social media, but the newspaper and radio as well.

Caitlin Senko: Senko agreed that social media, newspaper and radio should be used to communicate, and added the Humboldt Connect app should be promoted.

“It's a slick app, I've used it several times, you can track the progress of the issues that you've posted, and people get back to you right away. It's awesome and for the people who are able to use it, I think we got to get the word out about it more.”

Michaela Fetter: Fetter said she did research on the city’s website when she decided to run for council, looking at items like minutes and agendas.

“I found that you couldn't really get enough information.”

She said there’s no one size fits all solution, but council should brainstorm ways to improve communication.

Kelly Herperger: Herperger said a number of methods, like website, inserts in utility bills and apps should be used to communicate.

“The other thing is just the councillors and the people that are involved in the town be out in the public, and don't be afraid to talk to people.”

How do you think that business people from outside of Humboldt see us as a community? How do you address that?

Kelly Herperger: Herperger said Humboldt is seen as a clean, safe and progressive community.

“We have shown how well the community can come together and support each other. We have also proven our spirit by our volunteers over and over with many provincial and national functions. Humboldt is also known for the industrial manufacturing and farming on a national and international basis. As a community we need to keep promoting and selling our city.”

Tawnie Johnson: Johnson said she leaves the city to deliver meals in the field.

“I often hear wonderful things about the business district downtown and I do feel like there are parts of the city that are being underrepresented. The new city marketing strategy really encompasses some of the wonderful things about Humboldt that I think should be celebrated and I'd like to see it marketed to younger families as well.”

Larry Jorgenson: “In my job at PAMI (Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute), I do get to interact with clients from outside that region and in general, they're very impressed with our community. We have a lot of the same services that a larger city has, but we still have that small town feeling. I believe this is a very important reputation to maintain.”

Jorgenson said the city’s recently unveiled brand should let the rest of the world know Humboldt is open for business.

Amanda Klitch: Klitch said at first that Humboldt, with its population of around 6,000, might be seen as too small for large businesses with no experience with the city.

“What I would educate them on is that we serve people within at least an one hour radius, if not more. If you add all of those communities within that radius, that number would easily rise to like 25,000 or more. Not only does Humboldt have that small town feel, there's a lot of possibilities with new sustainable development.”

Roger Korte: “I think that businesses outside the Humboldt area see Humboldtas progressive and a growing community. I think we as a council would need to find a way to keep that perception going by working hard to bring new businesses to our city.”

He added doing that is an ongoing challenge that doesn’t stop.

Darcy Leonew: “I think the businesses outside the city see us as a thriving community.”

He said that businesses must be shown that Humboldt is a great place to raise a family 

“Keeping our taxes down will give us a chance to thrive and prosper.”

He added the city is becoming more multicultural, with the Filipino community growing and prospering.

Megan MacInnis: MacInnis said one person she talked to sees Humboldt as a growing community that has a lot of potential.

New business owners that have talked to her told her they enjoy the people, how everyone can be so friendly and how Humboldt has that small town feel.

“From these two conversations, this is how other business people see us as a community.”

Rob Muench: Muench said the city is seen by outsiders as progressive and clean.

“I think it's seen as a place to invest. All we have to do is look at Dollarama, Tweed, Sobeys Liquor, PetValu, Peavey Mart, and we've got a downtown grocery store coming back in here for a market downtown. I think that perception is good out there.”

He added there is a perception that Humboldt needed to be left alone after the 2018 Broncos collision and that the new brand aims to counter that.

Roger Nordick: “Unfortunately, I have heard people that say that as a community of our size, we're not very welcoming. We need to deal with those types of comments.”

He said some of the comments he’s heard is that the process to establish a business is too cumbersome and the city moves too slow at providing information.

“To change that perception, I feel that the City, Chamber of Commerce and the RM of Humboldt need to collaborate to develop a comprehensive communication strategy that clearly aligns with the new city brand.”

David Rowe: He said outsiders see Humboldt as progressive and vital.

“We've got an opportunity here because the people of Humboldt, they value education, they value hard work, they value strong values. Because of that, it's a great place to raise kids. I found it with my own family. New business should see that they can be a part of that.”

Carrie Ann Schemenauer-Hradecki: Schemenauer-Hradecki said she really don't know how businesses see Humboldt, but they may see it as not open to new business, old fashioned or expensive.

“To change this perception, we can do a better job of marketing our city. We have so much to offer, but selling ourselves and promoting ourselves, I think, is critical.”

Caitlin Senko: “I think business owners are starting to see our city as an up and comingcommunity with space for new businesses. We have attractive new business development areas and our downtown is very active.”

She said the city is slowly growing out of a reputation as a retirement age community and becoming a community for all ages, including young families. She said it's important to promote inclusion and diversity, as well as educated business owners about the greater area surrounding Humboldt.

Michaela Fetter: Fetter said Humboldt is a regional hub that sees people come for new opportunities.

“I think we could bring more and new incentives to new up and coming businesses but not not just up and coming businesses but businesses that already exist.”

In 2017, the province underwent a property value revaluation. Some businesses in Humboldt had their property value increase way more than the average, resulting in large property tax hikes when taxes were calculated. How would you, as a city councillor, help these folks in addressing that?

Larry Jorgenson: “I believe a lot of progress has been made over the last two to three years with the current administration, and therefore feel that we're currently doing a very good job of balancing service and taxes.”

He said that council has always had rigorous discussions and debates around the table and will continue to do so. He said nobody likes to pay more taxes, but city staff has been presenting budgets that looked for ways to maintain or even enhance services without looking to taxation as the default way to fund these services.

Amanda Klitch: Klitch said this question was hard to answer because she wasn’t privy to the information that led to taxation decisions after the revaluation.

“I would want to make sure I have all the info as to why there were increases, and then be able to offer a more educated opinion as to where I feel we could be more balanced in services and taxes.”

Roger Korte: Korte said he also didn’t have enough information to answer the question properly.

“All I can say is that I would try my best to make sure that all businesses are treated fairly.”

Darcy Leonew: “Cutting taxes is not always the right answer. Explaining to the business owners that keeping services and infrastructure will benefit them in the long run.”

He added that the city shouldn’t overspend on big projects and keep any budget increases equal to the growth of the city.

“You have to work with and determine how you spend your city dollars. Levies and tax hikes are not the answer right now. Prudency much should prevail first.”

Megan MacInnis: MacInnis said she agreed with Klitch and Korte that she didn’t have enough information.

“I would need more information from the city administration to know the ins and outs of this to best serve our community and to make a better and informed decision on it.”

Rob Muench: Muench said businesses in the warehouse workshop category, which is made up of a lot of the farm equipment type places, had their property values go up more than the average after the revaluation, resulting in a substantial increase in their taxes.

“Staff has been working really hard, along with council, to bring our business tax rates down. We split those businesses off in a separate category, lowered their mill rate so that they can see a decrease in taxes over the next number of years.”

Roger Nordick: “What I will say is that in the 2021 budget, as council contemplates the different areas of that budget – and most important taxes – COVID-19 must be in the forefront. To this point, tax increases to storefront businesses should not increase for that one year.”

He added that financial assistance rulings should be provided on a case by case basis, depending on how well a business is doing.

David Rowe: “The balance between services and taxes is indeed a tightrope. What I would like to see is an expanded tax base, not just through businesses, but also through property owning citizens.”

He added the city should look into tapping into any available funding from the provincial and federal governments.

Carrie Ann Schemenauer-Hradecki: “Many of our businesses have had enormous challenges with their financial stability due to the COVID-19 crisis. My belief is that it would be in our best interest to keep business taxes as low as possible for the next year or longer. 

“In the future, if businesses are able to enjoy greater prosperity, we could possibly increase taxes slightly.”

Caitlin Senko: Senko said Muench posted on social media a huge portion of their loans paid off by 2021.

“I think by continuing to create responsible budgets, and applying for as many grants and funding as we can possible, that will keep large tax [increases] and levies at bay, due to unexpected costs or large infrastructure projects.”

She added the city should work with the chamber to connect businesses to grants, funding and other resources.

Michaela Fetter: Fetter said she’s the kind of person who will put in the work to understand a system and that having only skimmed the surface, she believes she’s in no place to promise anything.

“However, when I'm voted in, I will do my best to come up with ideas to ensure a balance of services and taxes.”

“I do know there are a lot of items that are driving factors with services and taxes that are behind the scenes. The possibility of being more transparent on how you're balancing services and taxes is something I will strive to achieve.”

Kelly Herperger: Herperger said taxes were a necessary evil to fund items like services, infrastructure and maintenance.

“The task of balancing this would be studying the budgets thoroughly and to find what we can give and take at the same time as maintaining regular and required services.”

She added she feels she would need more information to make a legitimate answer.

Tawnie Johnson: Johnson said her workplace, Prairie Diesel, was hit hard by the revaluation. 

“Thankfully, we were able to do research, bring an argument and support documentation to SAMA (Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency) and able to have our taxes actually reflect our business.

“This is a difficult and painstaking process. There should be more support and resources for businesses or individuals that would like to venture this themselves as it as an avenue that could be very helpful.”

She added businesses and property owners needed more communication when the changes were happening.

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