City council candidates talk economy, housing

Published 10:48 am Thursday, October 23, 2014

Though they didn’t differ much on the issues, the candidates for Austin’s city council made their respective cases to voters Wednesday night at the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum.

Brian Staska, Dave Hagen, Judy Enright, Janet Anderson and Jeff Austin were on hand to offer their perspectives on local economic and housing issues. Jon Boyer, who is challenging Enright’s seat in Ward 1, was absent from the forum but made his pitch via a prerecorded message.

Hagen and Staska are vying for current council member Roger Boughton’s Ward 2 seat. Anderson and Austin are unchallenged in the upcoming election.

Challengers for Austin City Council seats Dave Hagen, from left, Brian Staska and Judy Enright give their opening remarks during the candidate forum Wednesday night. -- Eric Johnson/

Challengers for Austin City Council seats Dave Hagen, from left, Brian Staska and Judy Enright give their opening remarks during the candidate forum Wednesday night. — Eric Johnson/

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The candidates expressed support for Vision 2020, concern for increasing taxes, and pledged to help Austin’s economic development expand as more people move to the area. Though the city’s tax levy is set to increase by almost 5 percent — about $205,000 — in 2015, several candidates pointed out the levy won’t affect homeowners as much due to an increasing number of households in Austin through recent annexations and more families that have moved to the area.

Hagen and Staska called for more emphasis on bringing businesses to Austin to help offset the city’s tax burdens and to grow Austin.

“Our whole lives, we’re a one-horse town,” Hagen said. “I’d sure like to find that other horse.”

Enright also called on residents to help Austin’s economic growth by buying goods and services in the area rather than in Rochester.

“People shop out of town way too often and that hurts small businesses,” she said.

Though each candidate expressed support for Vision 2020’s community improvement initiative, Staska pointed out the city of Austin will likely have to figure out how to maintain Vision 2020’s projects once they’re complete.

“You can’t help but be excited about these projects,” he said. “But … how do we as a community maintain these things so that they go on after the community is done with them?”

Enright is a first-term council member and the physical plant manager at Riverland Community College. She emphasized her efforts to deal with the city’s housing issues through the council’s pending rental registration ordinance, which will require property owners and rental managers to take a class for free and register their properties with the city. She also said the city can do more to make room for rental housing.

“Some of those houses need to be taken down, she said.

Hagen works at KSMQ Public Television in underwriting and development and has been active throughout the community for years. He stressed the need to make Austin a desirable place for residents to live and for people to visit.

“You need a theme, you need a reason, you need something catchy,” he said.

Staska has been a firefighter for almost 30 years and also works as an instructor at Riverland Community College. He stressed the need for more businesses in town and pledged to work to that end if elected.

“If we want to really succeed, we’ve got to figure out as a community how to get businesses here,” he said.

Boyer is president and founder of Austin’s Precision Signs. He was away on a mission trip in Asia Wednesday but promised to work with the community should he be elected.

“I understand the needs of our youth, our housing, our businesses,” he said.