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Thank you to the American Association for University Women, the Citizen Action Educational Fund, and the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point at Wausau for hosting the first public mayoral forum, providing thoughtful questions, and offering the residents an opportunity to ask questions about the future of our community.
From my vantage point, it’s clear that Wausau has two very different choices. Four more years of the status quo; an administration who presided over chaos at the riverfront and gave second and third chances to a developer who ran up over $3 million in subcontractor charges for construction on city-owned land without signing a development agreement with the city and then sticking taxpayers with the liens; an incumbent who doubled the city’s debt over the last four years; a mayor who is long on superlatives but short on specifics about how he plans to get aggressive on the city’s finances.
But Wausau residents have a second choice and an opportunity to bring change to business as usual at city hall. I am ready to be that changemaker, a fierce advocate for accountability, and a strategic leader for our community. That starts with re-envisioning Wausau’s economic development program by injecting criteria into the process, ensuring we have the right people leading the discussions, and establishing measurement outcomes for each and every project. While it will take hard work, Wausau won’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are several Wisconsin communities that are showing real successes and we can learn from them.
First off, we need to make sure we have the right people leading the charge. La Crosse has a robust and methodical approach to economic development. Their successful model puts city planners at the heart of economic development so that urban planning best practices can be used to unite development opportunities, rather than being forced to work around disparate projects.
Second, we need to do our homework. Let’s make sure that developers who want city resources are up to the task of working with Wausau to provide accountability to policymakers and residents. In another best practice example from La Crosse, developers who want financial backing from the city complete an application and pay a non-refundable $10,000 fee, ensuring that only serious proposals are considered. Those applications must include a thorough background check, up to the same standards that any bank would undertake before granting a commercial loan.
Third, let’s set some standards. Wausau cannot get the most return on the public investment when there’s no competition. That means getting specific on Requests for Proposals and rewriting and re-advertising RFPs that don’t get enough responses. One or two responses is not enough. If the city owns a property and we truly don’t know what we want to do with it, put it up for sale and let someone with a vision handle it with their own money.
Lastly, we need to focus on the goals. Our successes must be based on garnering a solid return on our public investment within reasonable periods of time; ideally fewer than ten years. That also includes calculating the fair market value of land transferred and interest that the city pays on borrowed funds into that ROI. Results matter.
Wausau, you have choices here. You can continue business as usual at city hall. Or you can put someone in charge who will level up our processes, provide accountability, and aggressively pursue results. But as you are considering your options, ask yourselves, can Wausau afford four more years of rising debt coupled with no long-range strategic planning?
Katie Rosenberg, candidate for mayor of Wausau