On November 8, residents of District E, City of Minden, will be electing a new city councilperson to represent them.
Running for that office are all new candidates: Thomas Adams, Michael Fluhr and Andy Pendergrass.
Webster Parish Journal emailed questions to all candidates, and every candidate in District E responded.
Their answers are below, in alphabetical order.
1. What are three steps you would take to improve the city’s financial stability?
Adams: The first step in order to improve the city’s financial stability begins with hiring a competent and qualified economic development employee. This will help promote new businesses and help existing businesses. Steady and stable businesses are crucial for securing the city’s overall stability. Second, I believe every city department needs to examine and explore their options as far as ways they could bring in revenue streams for the city. This could also solve problems many departments are currently facing, such as, raises, roads and the general well being of the city. Third, we need to examine ways to bring in tourism and expand on tourism for the events that we already have in place.
Fluhr: Financial and economic stability in every City is related to the financial wellbeing of its residents. Every municipality operates the best with consistent, yearly revenue increases, and foreseeable expenses. Budget shortages could mean cutting public services. Minden is no exception. The major pillars of the City’s financial stability are associated with: Revenues for charges of essential services (electricity, water, sanitation, permits), Sales Tax, Property, Occupational and other Taxes State and Federal Grants.
To secure and improve the City’s financial stability, the short term focus needs to be on: Essential services (secure monthly cash flow / avoid delinquencies), Implementation of a budget billing program for all utilities, a water rate freeze for all Seniors 65 and older as well as for all disabled residents with a minimum of 80 % disability, a Senior Citizen (65 and older) discount on Water and Sewer usage (first 2000 gallons free)
Grants: Hire a grant writer on a contractual basis to apply for the many available grants the government currently offers. Sales Tax: Support established small businesses and inspire local entrepreneurs with new business ideas to create additional Sales Tax revenues (TIF program deserves better promotion). Smaller businesses are the life line of each community. Furthermore assist and support different organizations to attract tourists through disparate festivals throughout the year (real Christmas market, Mayfest, Octoberfest)
The City administrations long term focus should be on: Lower City personnel costs (benefit packages), rising costs for Public Safety, restructure electricity mark-up rates (after SWEPCO contract – increase revenue), 5-year budget plans for major infrastructure projects (how to finance), Bond options for project financing.
Pendergrass: After studying the audit report for the City of Minden and consulting with a municipal finance expert, these are the three steps that I feel are most important:
Planning. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The same is true in municipal finances as it is in personal finances. The city is taking care of financial needs as they arise, but my focus is on the future. If we do not set aside adequate funds for future projects and needs, we could end up in a very bad financial situation. I am a financial planner. I go to work every day to plan for the financial future of my clients. Municipal finance is a different category, but the principles of financial wisdom are the same. I have already been taking steps to learn the ins and outs of municipal finance from experts on the topic.
Properly manage revenue and expenses. This relates to the first step. Upon studying the audit report, the city has more expenses than revenue in the general fund. So the general fund needs money from other sources in order to operate. One of those sources is the city’s utility revenue. Yes, it is true that the city has a bad contract with SWEPCO that creates high energy costs. However, the money you pay for electricity does not all go to SWEPCO. The city makes a margin on utilities that pays for the city to provide services, but it also is creating enough revenue to supplement a substantial portion of the city’s general fund deficit. I believe that most of us would rather the city seek other ways to generate revenue for the general fund so that our utility bills would be reduced. I also think that the city needs to go back to SWEPCO with its best effort to either re-negotiate the terms of the remaining years on this contract or seek another way out.
Grants. Before becoming a financial planner, I worked for the United Way of Northwest Louisiana as the director of community impact. My job was to receive, score, and lead a committee of board members to award grants. I have been on the granting side of grants. So I know what it takes to win grants. I believe that grants can be a huge benefit to Minden. I believe that because I have this skill, my presence on the city council would make a positive impact on Minden’s revenue numbers – which in turn could take pressure off other sources (like utilities) to keep the general fund afloat.
2. Minden has seen a steady decline in population the past couple of censuses. How would you stop it?
Adams: The biggest reason I believe the city is experiencing a decline in population is due to the soaring electric bills. Sadly, not much can be done to change this until the contract is up in about six more years. My solution would be to encourage residents to challenge their elected officials not to sign long term contracts in the future. On the bright side, a way to try and encourage residents to stay in Minden is to have more small businesses open, jobs to offer people and things for people to do. This starts by keeping your money in Minden. The thing I hear the most is that “there is nothing here for me” Well that needs to change and we are fully capable and have the potential to make that change.
Fluhr: Improvement in Quality of Life and Quality of Business Environment. While Minden has made some improvements in community amenities such as a decent school system, child day care, recreation and additional cultural activities, the typical economic factors – higher incomes, low poverty rates and job opportunities – still have made no essential progress. Progress is necessary. Higher Quality of Life probably would help to stop or slow down the exodus and decline of residents, specifically younger generations. Economist underline that a town/city with a higher Quality of Life might be more attractive to smaller companies that may not create hundreds of jobs, but want to be in a community with a quality of life that matters to them. Naturally, the Business Environment (properties, infrastructure, etc) must be at a certain level too and ready for new businesses. Some talking points are: Business friendly policies and procedures (permits, rates etc), Economic Development Forums with local leaders to discuss Economic Development, pick and choose business development projects (variety of smaller companies, City assistance in business creation), cooperation with other communities for shared benefits, affordable housing for singles and young couples, additional recreational options, specifically for teenagers, public safety.
Pendergrass: Minden lacks the infrastructure and skilled workforce to support a large employer who might be looking at a location in North Louisiana in 2022 and beyond. The world has changed. Needs of companies who would employ Minden residents have changed. Minden must make changes, or it will continue to lose population. A long-term plan that addresses raising up a workforce with relevant skills, infrastructure, and appealing housing at affordable prices will need to be put into place for Minden to be a place where families and business can flourish.
3. What are the pressing needs in your district and how do you plan to address them?
Adams: I think the most pressing issue in District E currently is Country Club Circle. The road condition has gotten past the point of dilapidation. Frankly, it’s unsafe to drive down. From what I have heard from the people within my district, the biggest reason for this is due to the road basically being used as a state highway late at night to travel to and from 79 and 159. This could be avoided by enforcing the road regulations put in place in order to preserve our roads. This is a problem that needs to be addressed so we aren’t spending large sums of money to maintain it with no state funding to assist.
Fluhr: District E is fortunate not to see urgent and necessary infrastructure projects for street overlays, electricity lines and sewer lines, unless a disaster would strike Minden. Beneficial for District E would be the construction of a new water tank to supply sufficient water storage for the next 30-40 years, not only for the “Upper Plane” but also for the rest of Minden including new subdivisions. Always important and on top of the list is public safety and broadband connectivity for every household. Bonds and Grants could be financing sources.
Pendergrass: The pressing need in District E specifically are certainly infrastructure and safety. Parts of Country Club and Germantown roads need to be fixed. There are large areas in District E where good internet is not available at an affordable price. In my neighborhood (East Todd area) there are concerns over speeding cars. Because most streets do not have sidewalks, pedestrians must walk or bike on the roads. Many drivers do not drive like they are sharing the roads with pedestrians. Many people walk their dogs, and kids go to and from Victory Park. They need to be able to do these things safely. The Minden Police Department knows that this is a concern of our neighborhood, and I have had good conversations with them about ways to improve safety.
4. What part do you intend to play in making this a cohesive, cooperative council?
Adams: I truly believe the key to ensuring our upcoming city council is cohesive and cooperative is through respectful dialogue and negotiation. We might not agree all the time but we have to stop being disagreeable. What I mean by that is no matter the situation we should always keep an open line of communication and be able to look past those differences to work towards what is best for the residents we represent and the city as a whole.
Fluhr: To me, serving on a Council means more than just participating in a monthly meeting. I would see my role as one member of a team, be effective and efficient and achieve the best outcomes for my district and the entire community. To accomplish these goals, I believe it is important to: define and understand the tasks before me, not to abuse the given authority as an elected official, stay in my boundaries as a Councilor, follow laws and rules but not shying away from changes (if necessary) of established local practices, engage in communication and respect other people’s and colleagues opinions and positions and practice responsibility, accountability and transparency (oversight function).
Pendergrass: I am much more interested in coming together around what we have in common than allowing our differences to divide us. I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing it for Minden. Practically speaking, as in any relationship between anyone – respectful communication is key. Good communication is more about listening well than talking.
5. What do you see as top priority for the city and why?
Adams: If I had to choose a top priority for our city to address, I would say Economic Development is the top priority. Economic development will provide our city with more resources and will guarantee better opportunities, for our current residents and future ones, as well. Promoting a larger tax base without raising taxes is the only sure way the city thrives. Every problem the city is plagued with is important, but as with everything else, the city having more money and resources will fix most of these problems, not all, but most.
Fluhr: Municipal governments are uniquely positioned to build bridges of trust between different groups inside the community, between community leaders and the residents. As the local government, Council and Mayor should demonstrate an example on how the community can come together, avoid tension and distrust, by creating an atmosphere between each other so the community can find a way to trust its leadership. For the last 4 years, in my opinion, the citizens have lost that faith. Therefore, the new administrations first priority must be to create and demonstrate partnership, collaboration and communication between each other to do the people’s business and earn the people’s confidence.
Pendergrass: The top priority for Minden is having a plan to succeed for the future. There are financial, population, infrastructure, workforce, housing, and economic development issues that need to be addressed. Those issues need to be solved in the context of a long-term plan rather than using fingers to plug leaks. We are running out of fingers. I would rather not see Minden be washed away into irrelevance like many other small towns in the South. I think all of us would much rather come together around an achievable plan for our future and begin the work to execute that plan.
Early voting is Oct. 25 through Nov. 1 (excluding Sunday, Oct. 30) from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. at the registrar’s office in the courthouse.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Nov. 4 by 4:30 p.m (other than military and overseas voters). You can request an absentee ballot online through the Voter Portal or in writing through your Registrar of Voters Office.
The deadline for a registrar of voters to receive a voted absentee ballot is Nov. 7 by 4:30 p.m. (other than military and overseas voters).
On election day, November 8, the polls are open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. If you are unsure of your voting precinct, please call 377-9272.
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