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Detroit Lakes City Council candidates talk snowy sidewalks, Pavilion and future of city at candidate forum

Incumbent Detroit Lakes City Council members and the candidates running to replace them discussed sidewalk snow removal, the future of the Pavilion and other issues affecting the city during a candidate forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters, at the Detroit Lakes Police Department on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022.

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Candidates for Detroit Lakes city council participate in a League of Women Voters candidate forum in the community room of the Detroit Lakes Police Station on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES — Candidates for Detroit Lakes City Council answered tough questions about the future of the city during a voter forum hosted by the lakes area League of Women Voters on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

Candidates were given one-and-a-half minutes to respond to each question with topics ranging from the future of the Detroit Lakes Pavilion to budgetary concerns.

"The League of Women Voters sponsors the public forums because it is our mission and has been for 101 years to promote active participation in government and to influence public policy through education and advocacy," said Sharon Sinclair, moderator for the event. "The League does not endorse candidates for office, or political parties, so the views tonight are from the candidates."

Candidates were asked how the city should approach affordable housing concerns.

Celeste Koppe, candidate for alderman-at-large, said she expects the Detroit Lakes Housing Redevelopment Authority to play a role in helping keep homes affordable, but always believes engaging community members directly to gain perspective will be important as well.

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Celeste Koppe, candidate for alderman-at-large, speaks to area residents during a Detroit Lakes area League of Women Voters candidate forum.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"It takes curiosity and careful examination and really going out and talking to people," said Koppe. "It can sometimes be easy to lock ourselves in rooms with spreadsheets, but it's really getting out there and hearing from people ... and young people are going to have wildly different challenges than people who aren't young."

Jackie Buboltz, candidate for alderman-at-large, said she would bring the city, county and private investors all to the same table because affordable housing is a concern of everyone in the area.

"We need to look at our other partners," said Buboltz. She added those entities need to be working together and not in competition to solve the housing problem separately.

Jay Deraney, candidate for alderman-at-large, said tax incremental financing (TIF) should be utilized at the city and county level to draw in private investors to build more affordable-priced dwellings.

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Jay Deraney, candidate for alderman-at-large, speaks to residents during a Detroit Lakes area League of Women Voters candidate forum.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"The problem right now is the cost of construction and the interest rates, and that's pretty much out of anybody's control," said Deraney. He added that the lengths of the TIF repayment plans could be adjusted to entice more investors and the city could also utilize more statewide programs to help address the problem.

Matt Boeke, incumbent alderman third ward, said he'd love to see a partnership with area trade schools to fix up derelict houses that could be purchased by the city's development authority and provide real-work experience on a project that would benefit the city.

"Work with the trade school and get the interior design team to work that and get the carpentry skills to bring it up to speed," said Boeke. "Maybe we find a semi-retired contractor who'd be willing to help out and from there we'd put it on the market and whatever funds (raised) would go back to pay back the initial purchase and then keep rolling those projects together."

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Natalie Bly, incumbent alderman-at-large, speaks to residents during a Detroit Lakes area League of Women Voters candidate forum in the community room at the Detroit Lakes Police Station on Sept. 28, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Natalie Bly, incumbent alderman-at-large, said the city's HRA program has $300,000 in levied funds from the last two budgets ready for Detroit Lakes residents to address some affordable housing repairs, furnace replacements and roofing. She also said TIF financed homes fall under income restrictions that are set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and those restrictions have not kept up with rising incomes, which can eliminate some potential candidates.

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"For developers, if you can't sell that home to this income-level based family to meet the mortgage payment, you only have a small audience you can sell to," said Bly.

Candidates were also asked about the potential future of The Pavilion and West Lake Drive near Washington Avenue.

Jay Deraney said he's worried about losing "green space" in the area and said he's opposed to cutting down trees along West Lake Drive for any proposed expansion of the street

"I'm not sure we want to destroy those trees," he said. "There was a lot of public comment about don't take green space and don't destroy more trees and that's what could happen if they proceed with this and, therefore, I have to stop it."

He also added that he sees a need for a year-round new Pavilion, but designers should keep some of the original building in its redesign to preserve some of the historical structure.

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Matt Boeke, incumbent alderman third ward, speaks to residents during a Detroit Lakes area League of Women Voters candidate forum.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Matt Boeke said he doesn't want to keep putting money into a "sinking ship." He added the Pavilion structure moves about eight inches every spring since it rests on a floating slab.

"The structure is gone there," he said. "Do we start over? Do we put new foundations down? I don't know. I think it's a real opportunity for the city of Detroit Lakes to move forward. I think a year-round venue there would really benefit the community."

Boeke also suggested putting a full kitchen into a new redesign and possibly creating a new permanent home for the farmers market.

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During her response, Natalie Bly said potentially adding six more months of events at The Pavilion with a year-round building would expand the city's draw and tourism appeal.

Jackie Buboltz said she knows something needs to be done with The Pavilion, but doesn't want to lose the nostalgia she remembers from attending events there in her youth.

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Jackie Buboltz, candidate for alderman-at-large, speaks to area residents during a Detroit Lakes area League of Women Voters candidate forum in the community room at the Detroit Lakes Police Station on Sept. 28, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"I have such fond memories of The Pavilion growing up here in Detroit Lakes," said Buboltz. "How do we want to use The Pavilion? What are some options of a multi-use, multi-purpose ... and then design it appropriately, but keep some of the nostalgia that makes it unique."

As far as West Lake Drive, she said, no one wants to cut down trees, but, in the end, more can always be planted. She also described a situation on Summit Avenue, years ago, when they lost many of the trees along the road, but, after re-planting, they have grown back fuller than ever.

"That canopy and the purposeful way in which the trees were planted, it's a beautiful street," she said. "Sometimes those things, short-term, there might be some pain, but long-term, if we do it purposefully ... I think we can come up with something really special and fantastic."

Celeste Koppe said she wants to preserve the integrity of City Park and its green space, and also to keep as much of the historical building in any potential redesign. She also said alternative funding measures like grants and other state or federal programs should be considered opportunities before passing costs onto the local tax base.

Candidates were asked if they favor the city plowing all sidewalks for area residents.

Natalie Bly said the sidewalk plowing was a heavy topic of conversation during the city's August budget workshops, but it was not included in this year's budget because of rising costs for other items and the cost of a new full-time fire chief.

"If we can't do this as a city, we are full of volunteers in this community," she said. "You know, reminding people that during these snow storms to go out and plow your neighbor's driveway ... so I would encourage people to reach out and help a neighbor."

Celeste Koppe said federal funds and grant programs are where she would look to bridge the funding gap for sidewalk plowing.

"There are hundreds of programs and I'm guessing we can find one that's going to fit a snow plow, I hope so," said Koppe.

Jackie Buboltz said the issue provides a difficult trade-off because, after buying the equipment and hiring the staff to do the snow removal, departments and projects the city is currently budgeting for will need to be cut to make up the difference, or increase taxes.

"We expect people to mow their lawn," she said. "We don't help them mow their lawn. There's an expectation about when you have property and how you maintain it."

Jay Deraney said, growing up in Grand Forks, they were required to shovel their sidewalks too.

"I sympathize with people that have the heavy snow to lift and three-foot plow edge at the end of the driveway," he said. "It does provide the opportunity to give good will toward your neighbor ... but another extrapolation of that is, if we're going to do the sidewalks, are we going to mow the green space between the sidewalk and the street ... what other services are we going to provide for individual homeowners?"

Mike Stearns, unopposed candidate for alderman second ward, and Shaun Carlson, unopposed candidate for alderman first ward, also participated in the forum. To see their responses, and the entire forum including candidates for Detroit Lakes School Board, be sure to check out the event video on YouTube .

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Mike Stearns, unopposed candidate for alderman second ward, speaks to residents during a Detroit Lakes area League of Women Voters candidate forum in the community room at the Detroit Lakes Police Station on Sept. 28, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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Shaun Carlson, unopposed candidate for alderman first ward, speaks to residents during a Detroit Lakes area League of Women Voters candidate forum in the community room at the Detroit Lakes Police Station on Sept. 28, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Jay Wold, candidate for alderman third ward, did not respond to multiple phone and email invitations from the League of Women Voters to participate in the candidate forum and was not in attendance.

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