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Willmar City Council candidates talk business

WILLMAR -- Candidates for the Willmar City Council shared their thoughts and ideas about issues affecting the city and its business community at a candidate forum Friday.

Briana Sanchez / TribuneLinda Kacher, from left, Kathy Schwantes, Julie Asmus, Steve Peppin, Fernando Alvarado and Bob Enos sit in front of a crowded room Friday during a City Council candidate forum sponsored by the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. Kacher and Schwantes are running for Ward 1 representation, Asmus and Peppin Ward 2, and Alvarado and Enos Ward 3.
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Linda Kacher, from left, Kathy Schwantes, Julie Asmus, Steve Peppin, Fernando Alvarado and Bob Enos sit in front of a crowded room Friday during a City Council candidate forum sponsored by the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. Kacher and Schwantes are running for Ward 1 representation, Asmus and Peppin Ward 2, and Alvarado and Enos Ward 3.

WILLMAR - Candidates for the Willmar City Council shared their thoughts and ideas about issues affecting the city and its business community at a candidate forum Friday.

While most of the candidates thanked the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce for sponsoring the forum and providing them the opportunity to speak on business issues, Ward 3 candidate Bob Enos used his two minutes for a closing statement to criticize the host.

"Now your leaders intend to take over Willmar's elected government with the ticket you see at the end of the table here. With (Mayor) Marv Calvin the outcome would usher in the new gang of four, finally setting the table to crown Willmar the new Hormelville," Enos said.

During the forum, Enos called for the City Council to support the unionization of Jennie-O Turkey Store and the possible privatization of Rice Memorial Hospital.

Other candidates who took part in the forum were Ward 1 candidates Linda Kacher and Kathy Schwantes, Ward 2 candidates Julie Asmus and Steve Peppin, and fellow Ward 3 candidate Fernando Alvarado.

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The forum questions ranged from the proposed local option sales tax and business subsidy agreements to the city's role in amenities and the candidates' priorities.

Peppin, who owns several businesses, said he has never received a tax abatement, nor have many other business owners he knows.

"Why would we give an abatement to (business) people who have a lot of money already," when people in his ward are living on fixed incomes and barely making it, Peppin asked. However, he believes abatements could create jobs, which is important to him.

Schwantes supports the use of business subsidies while giving manufacturing businesses more of priority over retail.

"Our manufacturing businesses are the ones that have the greatest economic impact on our community," Schwantes said.

Kacher, who serves on the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, has supported many abatements during her time on the commission. She doesn't think the council is attacking businesses when it doesn't automatically approve an abatement, instead the members are gathering information to make a decision.

"When questions are asked it's not necessarily beating up the businesses," Kacher said.

Schwantes, Asmus and Alvarado support the current sales tax question and projects, while Peppin and Kacher were on the fence. Enos was the only one to state opposition to the proposed sales tax.

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"A sales tax is the last thing you want if you want to drive consumer spending in your town," Enos said.

Asmus said she fell in love with the beauty of Robbins Island when she first moved to Willmar and wants to bring more activity to the Island and feels the sales tax is a good way to do that.

"We are a regional center and that does have regional significance," Asmus said.

Alvarado said having people who work and visit Willmar and use the city's services, but don't live in town, should help the city in providing those places and activities.

"We've got to support those amenities that will bring people to Willmar," Alvarado said.

Peppin said it isn't his opinion that matters when it comes to local options sales taxes, but the opinion of the voters. He said the projects should reflect what the people want. Peppin also said any tax should be scrutinized, and projects should be prioritized so needs are taken care of.

However, Peppin does also see a need for amenities.

"We have to have more things in town, we have to create more stuff," Peppin said.

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While Kacher said when she and her husband moved to Willmar they didn't look at the number of parks when making their decision, Schwantes said such places are important when people are deciding to come to the area.

"It is important for us in being able to attract and retain businesses and our employee base and it also allows a better quality of life for the rest of us who live here," Schwantes said.

Also important to the candidates was helping create a more stable and harmonious council and city as a whole.

"We have to work together to make this city an example of what we can be together," Alvarado said.

Asmus said having a council with common sense, and members who can act with civility, does have an impact on whether businesses will come to Willmar and if city staff will stay on board.

"That will come with a healthy community, they will want to come and work here. We have a lot of staff leaving and we need to get rid of the dysfunction," Asmus said.

In her closing statement, Kacher said voters have to decide what type of council they want.

"It is up to you to decide character, and what you are looking for in your leadership on the city council," Kacher said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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