First, many thanks to the Ward 3 voting bloc (as high as 45 percent by precinct) that expressed its confidence in me. Though losing is humbling, the outcome was still encouraging to this six-year Willmarite; and energizing!
Readers of my blog How Willmar Works have asked me to explain my newspaper quote regarding the “Perfect Storm” on Willmar’s financial horizon.
Five converging forces threaten to irreversibly transform Willmar’s financial footing.
By optioning 30 acres of land, Jennie-O signaled its intent to ramp up both manufacturing and a huge demand for unskilled workers.
The Nov. 2 Minneapolis Star Tribune reported a new wave of Somali refugee immigration. Along with secondary relocation to our state (which Somalis from other states call “little Mogadishu”), the reporter concludes the combined influx into Minnesota will be unprecedented. Cheap housing and unskilled meatpacking jobs make Willmar a top destination. Will government and church-based resettlement agencies again abandon Willmar’s taxpayers, or will they finally provide the financial follow-through to finish what they start?
Mayor-elect Calvin pledged to increase “affordable housing.” In government-speak, “affordable housing” means subsidized housing. The re-use of Regency East trailer park as “workforce housing” will be subsidized by tax breaks. Whose tax bills will pay for those subsidies? Ours.
The School Board wants taxpayers to approve nearly $50 million in new debt. Bilingual education is expensive; yes, property tax hikes.
While Willmar’s net population has remained steady, the in-migration of 7,500 foreign-born has been offset by an equal decline in middle-income residents. Historically, “white flight” reduces the tax base, which increases property taxes, which lowers house prices, increasing tax rates, which drives away more middle class - a familiar cycle.
Vision 2040 acknowledges Willmar has enough low-paying jobs. The Minnesota Board of Realtors calls Willmar the second-cheapest city housing market in Minnesota. Elected officials agree that improving local roads and infrastructure, reviving the downtown, and creating better-paying jobs are top priorities. Yet, special interests cement Willmar’s reputation as a one-company meatpacking town characterized by unskilled, low-paying jobs, corporate and public welfare, and a downtown whose streets resemble Mogadishu.
Willmar moving forward? You decide.
Related Letter: Enos' comments were a disservice to Somalis and to Willmar