Franklin — As the primary election for Franklin's mayoral seat draws near, NOW posed a series of questions to the three candidates: Common Council President Steve Taylor and former aldermen Steve Olson and Basil Ryan.
Current Mayor Tom Taylor announced that he would not seek a fourth term back in September.
Candidates were given identical questions and asked to answer them within a week, abiding by a 75-word limit. In cases where that limit was exceeded, answers have been edited.
The primary election will be held Tuesday.
Tax base ratio
NOW: At the Dec. 19 Common Council meeting, city officials celebrated progress toward the goal of having a 70 percent residential, 30 percent commercial tax base. Based upon the city's current 75-25 ratio, what plans do you have to encourage commercial growth?
Olson: I've worked for more than 22 years to add quality commercial development to Franklin, including Franklin's Business Park, Northwestern Mutual, Wheaton Franciscan and more. To achieve our 70-30 tax base ratio, we need to change our ordinances to make commercial development in Franklin more efficient while continuing to protect our neighborhoods and environment. We will re-engage the development community in a renewed effort to attract quality development and move forward on our next business park.
Ryan: Though I don't quite agree with the rationale behind a 70-30 goal, I am in favor of commercial development as long as it is quality. One of Franklin's most valuable resources is its land. It must be protected and developed while also protecting residential areas. For example, Northwestern Mutual Insurance is a quality development, generating more tax dollars than your average business park while using less municipal resources.
Taylor: You need to eliminate developer roadblocks. I have done this the past six years by creating a task force to streamline how the city handles a development proposal. I pushed for revamping the Economic Development Commission, eliminating political infighting and focusing on marketing the city, recruiting new businesses and retaining businesses. I made the motion to fund an Economic Development Director, allowing us to compete for businesses wanting to relocate.
NOW: In November, the council unanimously agreed to freeze the tax levy for 2014. If the tax levy freeze is enforced again in 2015, what municipal services would take priority when considering expenditures? Would you approve another freeze?
Olson: Public safety is the No. 1 priority. The 2014 budget could have been cut rather than just frozen. I would present a budget with another levy freeze that will focus on the core business of city government. I spent the last nine years as alderman fighting for reduced spending and taxes. I'm the only candidate who has done so.
Ryan: The levy freeze for 2014 is not a freeze. When you look at the 2014 budget, you'll see an increase in the tax rate and expenditures, four new employees required, more than $2 million in borrowing, expanding capital improvement funds and an increase in the sanitary sewer fund. The purpose of a levy freeze is to control the operating needs of the city by controlling its spending. Franklin is not doing that.
Taylor: I am proud to be president of the council that adopted a zero tax levy budget. Forecasting for the upcoming year isn't easy but a goal of a zero tax increase budget should always be the priority. City services are important, especially public safety. Police and fire will always remain off limit as long as I am mayor. Unexpected expenses can sometimes arise, but with proper planning we can do our best to be prepared.
NOW: What are your qualifications for being Franklin's next mayor? What can you offer constituents that you believe the other candidates cannot?
Olson: (I have) 22 years of service to the city — 12 as alderman with no aspirations for other elected offices. My 35 years as a successful businessman brings experience, maturity and focus to the office with a distinct lack of political agenda. I listen to and respect everyone. I focus on the big picture rather than the political payback. I pay attention to the details that benefit all constituents. I focus on Franklin.
Ryan: As a former alderman, I had a proven record of lowering taxes by 17.5 percent, building a police station, fire station and library, and bringing in quality, commercial development. Franklin was on the right track during that time. As a successful businessman, I will commit time, energy and creative solutions to solve Franklin's current and past problems, while building on Franklin's future success to benefit all residents.
Taylor: The mayor's retirement brings a void of leadership. I fully intend to fill that void. As Common Council president for the past six years, I have experienced the pressures of being mayor. I have the vision to do the job. I will be ready to serve on day one, without on-the-job training. I've served multiple levels of government. I am the candidate who can link longtime residents' needs and new residents' expectations.
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