Citizens, council call for action at coffee talk

Published 7:30 am Sunday, May 13, 2012

Amid spurts of debate and varying opinions, Austin residents and City Council members echoed one sentiment Saturday morning: Community members need to get involved with local projects.

“This community needs to start doing something,” local bus driver Gene Novak said. “Let’s get going.”

The Austin City Council held its third Coffee with the Council at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Mower County Senior Center. About 16 people attended the informal meeting, including citizens, Mayor Tom Stiehm and some members of the council.

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Novak said he was dissatisfied with recent developments in Austin. Chief among his concerns were taxes, which he said were overbearing and causing some people to foreclose on their homes. He also mentioned Packer and Riverside arenas as problematic, since the two venues don’t generate revenue.

“If they’re not making any money then they’re not contributing at all,” he said.

Austin’s taxes are very low for a city its size, said Marv Repinski, chair of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority board. A recent audit of the city showed Austin was 222nd out of 225 in its size category, with higher numbers representing lower taxes.

Novak expressed concerns that the city would feel free to raise them since they were so low at the moment. Many bike trails were a waste of taxpayer money, he added, since so few people use paths like the one circling Mill Pond.

Margaret Blue, a citizen who lives in Chauncey Apartments, disagreed. She said the city needed more of such paths.

“I can’t get to the bicycle paths without going across traffic,” she said, and added that it was hard to access the paths from downtown.

Blue also asked about a city ordinance on landlords that the council voted down in November last year. It would have required rental property owners to register their properties with the city for a fee.

Stiehm said the council dismissed the ordinance because of the cost burden on the landlords. Businesses and rental properties, he said, were “being hit already.” The council can bring the measure back if need be.

Council members addressed a number of other comments and concerns during the meeting, many of which included street and bridge repair.

Repinski made a point of recognizing all the volunteer work already being done in Austin that bettered the community. Council member Marian Clennon encouraged citizens to support that effort by joining a Vision 2020 committee.

“We’re looking for regular people who have ideas,” Clennon said. “Anybody’s welcome to come.”

Blue, who attended a Coffee for the first time, said the meeting was good. She expects to come to another in the future. She was surprised more people who attended didn’t have anything to say.