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Detroit Lakes City Council race: two vie for at-large seat

Bruce Imholte candidate for DL City Council at-large. Submitted Photo1 / 2
Rick Johnson candidate for DL City Council at-large. Submitted Photo2 / 2

Though there are four city council seats and the mayor spot up for election this year in Detroit Lakes, there is only one race -- the Alderman At Large seat.

Incumbent Bruce Imholte will be defending his spot on the city council, and newcomer Rick Johnson will be challenging him.

The remaining seats that are up for election and the aldermen that currently fill them include first ward alderman Ron Zeman, second ward alderman Jamie Marks Erickson and third ward alderman Marty Waller. Mayor Matt Brenk is also up for re-election.

Bruce Imholte

Age: 59

Address: 720 South Shore Drive

Occupation: Certified Public Accountant

Family: Married to Ginny for 38 years, three grown children, three grandchildren

Why are you running for city council, and what are your qualifications?

My qualifications are the same as anybody: I live in the city, and I love Detroit Lakes.

I think I bring business experience to the council. And just my passion for all things that happen to Detroit Lakes. I'm just really interested in the community and want to see it do well.

(Imholte has served 12 years on the council.)

A city sales tax has been discussed. How do you feel about it and why?

I am a very strong proponent of the sales tax, but I have never really said it should be 1 percent.

I was against the sales tax. (The council voted last year to approve a 1 percent sales tax but didn't find support on the state level.) That sales tax, No. 1, was not going to replace the food and beverage tax. It was not going to sunset, and it wasn't for any specific projects. It was just going to be money we were going to trust the city council to spend.

No offense to my fellow city councilmen and me, but I didn't like that proposal.

To me, the sales tax we need to have needs to replace the food and beverage tax because that's unfair for restaurant and bar owners, I believe. Two, it has to sunset. I'm throwing out a 20-year timeframe. And three, it has to be for specific projects -- for, in my mind, infrastructure for the city.

What I've been promoting is what I call an assessment buy down. All of us, as citizens, when we have a street project, there are two components -- one the citizen has to pay and then the city component. What I would like to do is take some of that sales tax money and use it to help citizens not have to pay so much in their assessment.

And then help the city share because what that does is directly impact the property taxes. The way I see it, it (taxes) would go down or at least not continue to go up.

I would definitely be against any proposal that said it would go just into the general fund to be used for whatever. That I cannot support.

From my standpoint, whether it's half a percent or goes all the way up to 1 percent, I guess I'm flexible as to what that number is, but I would want to see what that's generating because we've been very blessed in town to have a lot of new businesses come in so that number is probably a pretty decent sized number. If we're generating $300,000 off the food and beverage tax, I have to believe the sales tax would be generating a lot of dollars.

Right now, the food and beverage tax is limited to flowering rush. One thing I would want to put (in a sales tax) is invasive species in general. All of these things (besides just flowering rush) coming up, we have a funding source to help us with it.

To me, I would want to have a blend between what projects do we have and let's plan on those, and then how much money can we generate to do that. I wouldn't want to generate too much money.

And we don't want to go to the liquor fund for every project. You have to have those liquor funds there for the reserves in the city, too.

What do you feel are the most important issues facing Detroit Lakes in the next five years?

Maintaining our infrastructure and having the funds to do that. When I say infrastructure, it's not just the streets but all the buildings that go along with that.

The recreation trails, which is a passion of mine, not only in town but also trying to get this Heartland Trail coming into town.

Invasive species, making sure our lake is protected, and it's continuing the program of storm water treatment. I'm glad that the city is looking at this West Lake Drive thing. It's not just about putting a trail along there but the important part of that is storm water control and what we can do to protect the lake.

Everyone talks about how important the lake is to the community, but I'd like to see us walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

The budget, I think we need to continue to monitor that and continue to find what I call non-property tax sources. Since I've been on the council, I think I've been an influence with my business background, looking at if there are other funding sources we could find that aren't necessarily related to property taxes.

And the final thing I've always been big on since I've been on the city council, long-term planning. Making sure we're taking care of today but what we do impacts 10, 20 years down the line.

Sometimes we may do a project now and it costs some money, but it might cost a lot more later. On the other hand, we've done some projects I feel we've probably spent more money on than we needed to do, and if we had thought about it a little more, maybe would have put it off a few years.

How do you feel about the Highway 59 projects including the proposed roundabout and underpass?

Right now, I'm not in favor of the plan. I have to be sold yet on what the benefits are to the city of Detroit Lakes. I know what the benefits are to MnDOT, and I don't dispute the value of the project to MnDOT. It's a great project for MnDOT because they want to move traffic along the highway safely and as fast as they can.

I'm not sure what the underpass and the frontage road specifically will do for Detroit Lakes and I'm yet to be sold on the project. That doesn't mean I'm against it. I'm just not convinced it's something we need to do right now.

That might be one (project) I would say is it better to spend the money now because you're going to need it in 10 years, or is it better to wait 10 years and then see if you need the project.

Right now I'm not as convinced we need it because it's going to be a lot of money, and I'm not convinced you're going to have people cross the Soo Line tracks to go out to Walmart and Kmart and whatever. I'm not convinced the underpass is going to do us a lot of good.

Rick G. Johnson

Age: 60

Address: 1127 Wilson Avenue

Occupation: Retired, substitute teaching in Detroit Lakes

Family: A sister near Audubon

Why are you running for city council, and what are your qualifications?

I'm just a normal citizen here in Detroit Lakes and I've been working here in different occupations.

When they decided to build the liquor store, I wanted them to at least put it on a ballot or something so the people could vote on it somehow. They kept saying they would have a public hearing, that they would do this, do this. The council people never wanted to admit to the fact that they wanted to build a liquor store when I went to the council meetings, and then all of a sudden, hello! They built it.

In this economy, I don't think that's right. I think the money could be spent better than that here in the city.

The liquor store is the second most profitable in the state of Minnesota. It's the kind of thing that if it isn't broke, don't fix it. I don't understand why they felt they had to build, especially something so outrageously expensive.

That's the main reason.

Second, qualifications I have, I'm just a normal citizen who wants to conserve the city's money and spend it on things the people think are a little more worthwhile as opposed to lavish expenditures that don't really need to be done.

I've worked various jobs around here and gotten to know quite a few people and kind of gotten a real good feeling for what their feelings are about Detroit Lakes. The biggest complaint I find is that we might be overspending and that's what I want to reduce.

A city sales tax has been discussed. How do you feel about it and why?

The liquor store is a very profitable enterprise and it may be that we don't need to have another tax. I would certainly do everything I can to prevent it. Again, I'd like to see the money being spent more wisely.

I would hate to say I'm in favor of the Tea Party, because I'm not particularly fond of those labels, but in a way, I am -- reduce taxes and reduce expenditures.

What do you feel are the most important issues facing Detroit Lakes in the next five years?

That's a very difficult question to answer because we don't know what's going to happen in the next five years and I'd like to take each one and examine them individually as they happen.

I would like to take everything one by one and talk to people about what their opinions are rather than just second-guess what the future is going to bring.

How do you feel about the Highway 59 projects including the proposed roundabout and underpass?

I think they are a good idea.

I think we need to find the people who can do it the most economically as opposed to just saying, 'oh, you're good. We've used you before.' I'm beginning to feel that might be too much (the way it's going) as to the bidding on projects. I'd like to make sure there's fair bidding going on.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.