Wausau Pilot & Review

Four candidates are seeking a seat on the Wausau City Council to represent Dist. 4, after Tom Neal announced he would not seek another term.

With four candidates on the ballot, a primary will be held Feb. 15 to narrow the field to two. Doug Diny, Jesse Kearns, Vada Perkins and Kate Tracey have all thrown their hat into the ring. The top candidates will move on to face off in the spring election this April. Dist. 4 is on the east side of the city just north of the downtown area, as shown on the map below.

Here is what the Dist. 4 candidates had to say about their experience and the way they will address Wausau’s challenges if they are elected. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

Doug Diny, 60

Doug Diny. Contributed photo

Occupation: Process control and automation: Pulp/Paper, Power, Renewable Fuels, Food/Beverage plants.

Other public service: Mayor Appointment to Airport Committee, N2N Committee.

Education: BS, Physics, St Norbert College, DePere, WI.

Election website or Facebook page: Doug Diny for Wausau City Council https://www.facebook.com/wausaudistrict4/

What are three things you want people to know about you before heading to the polls?

  • Community Longevity/Connections: As a homeowner raising three children on the East side for over 20 years, I paid attention to our neighborhood community, to our kids’ schooling, to taxes, and the local government. We like Wausau.
  • I trust citizens’ judgement: I support letting people choose. On major financial decisions, let the people decide through referendum what they want, and whatever decision comes of that – I’m fine with. I’ve agreed to hold quarterly citizen feedback and exchange sessions with county supervisor John Robinson should I be elected.
  • I like Candor:  When asked, I will tell you what I think. If after the boss (Citizens/Council/Mayor) hears me and still decides a different course of action, I will support them and that course of action 100%. I don’t always need to be right; likewise, I expect the same from staff, tell me even if it’s bad news, no surprises please!  Leadership comes from every level of the organization.

What is the greatest challenge facing Wausau and what would you do to address it?   

The Council Holds the Purse Strings!  In two recent media Q&A’s, my opponents Kate Tracey and Vada Perkins mentioned fiscal responsibility.  Jesse Kearns cited a variation with his concern about how we prioritize “subsidies” to developers versus other interests. I will agree with them, for the mayor’s Five-Year Strategic Plan success, how we allocate assets and find revenue streams in response to citizen input, we need council members who understand the revenue and budget process. To add revenue, we build tax base.

The Economic Development Team is key, and I’ll seek a seat on that committee to help shift our focus from the entertainment industry to hunting down manufacturing and projects that generate jobs and tax base. Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) was supposed to be a tool for that, but it has mostly failed to bring 30 year projected added tax base. Few TIF districts meet or beat what we were originally told they would, and those that do, we have fallen on a bad habit of using them as “TID DONORS,” meaning the city siphons off tax increment from successful projects and “donates” it to failing project areas. Comingling this money greatly hampers our ability to score success of these projects. I’ll call for a TID scoring team of business experts to provide Pro forma projections of best and
worst case outcomes for citizens to see before we ink development agreements.

As for a housing needs focus, I will insist future city developer deals with affordable housing be negotiated to the city and residents’ best long-term interest. In this area, state subsidies and GRANTS should be aggressively sought and welcomed to ease the growing demand and recent losses in Section 42.
Critical position city workers who need special skills, qualifications and certifications are being poached by our neighbors. Shoring up staffing is a leadership issue, not a big budget issue, as most departments are budgeted for full agency, we need to aggressively recruit, retain, and train our workforce.

What is the best way for Wausau to tackle its affordable housing crisis?  

Mayor Rosenberg’s new  housing task force meets this month, Feb 23. They must immediately take inventory of each housing category in the city (affordable, workforce and luxury).  I encourage anyone with an interest in housing to consider attending. I’ll be there, as 46 apartments in my East High Apartment building have been given notice that the City’s agreement for WEDA Section 42 has ended. Normally, SEC 42 are 30-year deals, but an exception was given and agreed to by the city for ONLY 15 years. So, property given for pennies on the dollar to a developer has just been flipped for a huge profit.  Additionally, the original developer enjoyed a low interest loan from the city, city property tax relief as well as state tax credits to offset the subsidized rents. 

The whole purpose of the program is to leverage city assets for developers to make long term improvements. According to reporting done by Brian Kowalski, “… there are 430 total affordable housing units in the city … Removing East High would eliminate 46 of them, according to HUD’s data sheet. That would leave 384 total units. The loss of those units amounts to a nearly 11% drop in the number of affordable housing units (at least those that are affordable because of the HUD program.)”

Who cuts deals like that? I wouldn’t. Section 42 is a viable long-term solution; I won’t squander those opportunities in the future with short-term solutions that enrich developers and short sheet residents.

Among Wausau’s many competing needs, what would you prioritize in the next budget?

In my hometown of Green Bay, the debate over how to spend ARPA money has gotten ugly. This process should not pit competing groups against each other; rather, ARPA is a straightforward budget priority process. It’s not just money falling from the sky; it’s a short-term boost to our revenue stream, so we must spend it within the law and not leverage against our future ability to maintain spending. At 195 pages long, it’s a whale at approximately $100 million, and the devil is in the details: (https://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/Portals/0/Departments/Finance/Documents/2022_Budget.pdf) …  but if you check your city tax bill and see the pie chart that shows where every dollar goes, here’s the top 5:  Police 24.69%, DEBT Services 23.65% (up 3% from last year), Fire 14.67%, DPW 15.11%, Government administration 10.18%. Interest payments on rising debt is costing us opportunity. To be clear, this hasn’t happened overnight, it’s a trend; I think the mayor campaigned on fixing this, and I can help. Budgets get executed by department heads, they have far more flexibility than the mayor or council in finding savings. Let’s offer incentives to city employees for cutting costs.  Gain sharing pools can be shared with departments that create a surplus.

When I knock on doors, I think street maintenance is a big complaint. We currently defer and borrow money for street maintenance. I would prioritize street maintenance and properly budget for it every year so that we don’t get to the point we need to borrow just to keep up.  Maintenance is like shaving, you’ve got to do a little every day.

How has your experience prepared you for Council service?

I’ve taken charge of struggling organizations and lead them back to the top in their segments. I’ve commanded soldiers around the world on very challenging and sensitive missions. I understand staff work and inter agency communications.  I was trusted to get the mission done. My current customer base includes over 120 Central Wisconsin companies, I talk to business owners and operators every day, I can help bring a jobs approach to our council team.

I’ll provide leadership with candor and welcome and expect it from city employees and citizens looking to make positive, responsible change for our city. We’re stewards of this gem called Wausau; our unique and positive blend of cultures, industry, and natural resources will sustain us if we are wise. I will act on constituent feedback that promotes our common vision.  

Jesse Kearns, 42

Jesse Kearns – Contributed photo

Occupation: Inside Sales Representative, Heartland Business Systems (HBS). 

Prior elected office, if any: Senator, Student Government Association, UW Marathon County 2011-2012 

Education:  BA Sociology/Certificate in German Language Studies, UW Madison – 2017 

Election website or Facebook page, if any: Facebook: Jesse Kearns for Alderperson, District 4 

What are three things you want people to know about you before heading to the polls?

  • I spent a good portion of my childhood in District 4 and attended Hawthorn Hills Elementary. I bought my home in this area because I believe it will give my family the kind of community not found in many other cities across the state. 
  • While I have spent the majority of my life in Wausau, I feel that it is difficult to fully understand where you are from without having spent time in other places, with other communities. I spent several years living on Maui, HI. There, I learned the value of celebrating the culture of Indigeous People and the dignity it can bring to acknowledge every culture in a community. This experience helped me understand both the need for economic stability in cities across this country, while also shedding light on what can happen if ambitions blind us to the human consequences when development is at the behest of the people and not on their behalf. 
  • Being scientifically literate is something that every person should have an opportunity to become. There are few ways to examine social issues without taking data and research into account. It is important that our leaders be able to not only interpret the data presented to them, but also to have the fortitude to accept the conclusions the data supports, especially when the findings disagree with individual preferences and biases. I spent a year working on a research project at UW Madison where my biases were challenged continuously. I learned to humble myself before the evidence, to abandon those ideas and preferences proven to be inaccurate or unsupported, and to embrace the process that brings us closest to the facts at hand. 

What is the greatest challenge facing Wausau and what would you do to address it?

Wausau continually faces a paradox when it comes to retention and growth where its population is concerned. While making the community attractive to talented, industrious, and creative individuals, as well as new industries and employers vital to the prosperity of this city’s future, we must engage and encourage those members of the community that are already invested and involved residents. Oftentimes changes to the city find opposition in one form or another, particularly where aesthetic development is concerned. The city’s leadership needs to foster citizen engagement if it ever hopes to solve these issues, which means Wausau’s leaders need to do the work of outreach to a much greater degree in order to understand the drivers and incentives of the local population’s needs. 

To address this issue we need to increase the amount of outreach we do as leaders, in order to create as many opportunities as we can to give rise to higher levels of public engagement. Any time there is a public event that directly informs us on an issue a committee is handling, the council members on that committee should attempt to obtain public comment. Whether that means being there in person to ask questions or reaching out to organizers to coordinate discourse, it is crucial that our leaders make the effort to listen and be present. 

What is the best way for Wausau to tackle its affordable housing crisis? 

It’s important to identify what we mean by “affordable housing crisis” in Wausau. Rent prices increase steadily year over year, while wages seem to have stagnated in the area. That alone would be enough of a problem, but to compound the issue some in the city feel the answer is to build newer, higher end housing, meant to draw “young professionals and empty nesters alike from other communities to Wausau’s downtown,” according to Nick Patterson of T. Wall Enterprises. (page 33 from PDF) In the same letter to the economic development committee, Patterson illustrates why this approach is not meant to address the affordable aspect of the housing in his next paragraph by saying, “I point out the timing for development of this property because we don’t want to deliver the riverfront development and the mall redevelopment at the same as we don’t want to risk the properties competing against each other…” (page 33 of PDF) Essentially this illustrates the reality that Wausau is not facing a lack of housing in a general sense, but rather it is lacking affordable housing for middle to low income families. The direct admission by the developer that opening two new, high end housing developments simultaneously would more than fulfill the needs of those able and willing to afford them means that the city’s focus from a governance standpoint should be on affordable housing, such as the project by Gorman & Co. A project that is using federal and state funding, rather than municipal tax dollars, and would provide fifty affordable units for local renters of various income levels. We cannot assume that Wausau’s economy is keeping pace with other similarly sized cities in Wisconsin, such as Brookfield, when the average annual income of our residents is less than half of what we see in that area. (see attached chart). We all want to live in beautiful houses and apartments, but until there are “high end” jobs in the area, most of us cannot afford to live in “high end” living situations.


City of Wausau Economic Development Committee Meeting 12/07/2021: https://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/Portals/0/Departments/Council/Archives/Standing%20Com mittees/Economic%20Development%20Committee/2021/ECON_20211207_Packet.pdf? fbclid=IwAR3jJboS7d6LgHsDdP7MT5eDAo7gyYYsK1aHp_hDMR20n2aS9ySHplzbvjA

Wisconsin Policy Forum, public.tableau.com, Municipal DataTool: https://public.tableau.com/shared/7MD9M9RCH?:showVizHome=no

Among Wausau’s many competing needs, what would you prioritize in the next budget?

This image is present on our property tax forms and is available to us all. If we wish to ensure our city is able to afford the greatest opportunity to its constituents, focusing on reducing our capital and debt services so that we can increase the effectiveness of our local police and firefighters, ensuring public safety is at the forefront of where our budgetary dollars are spent. Infrastructure investment is often in response to need rather than expansion or innovation. If we were able to allocate more funds to various projects in the area using foresight instead of hindsight, we might be able to get ahead of potential issues before they ever arise. Investment in public lands in the form of parks and shared spaces has helped shape Wausau’s downtown in an astounding new way with the advent of the 400 Block. These spaces not only serve as a way for the community to come together, but they help generate tourism and event dollars for local business. By allocating land, the city retains the ability to ensure the public is considered as a whole when development projects are proposed and permits are drafted. The best way to prioritize our budget is to encourage civic engagement so that as the funds collected from local residents is spent, the residents themselves are able to guide the hand of their local leadership. 

How has your experience prepared you for Council service?

Living in several communities over the last fifteen years has given me an opportunity to see the strengths and weaknesses of each. During my time in Madison I watched the city attempt to tackle their issues with homelessness by attending the public forums regarding the new day shelter at the time. I was moved to see the compassion people in the community had for the struggles the unhoused face, particularly in winter. I was also sympathetic toward the concerns of the residents living near the proposed site for the day shelter, as they had legitimate concerns and questions about what services would be offered to the likely increased number of people in their area who faced mental health and addiction issues. While I was not in a position to make decisions or act decisively on the matter, I paid close attention and learned a great deal by listening to all involved parties. Instances like this have helped me realize the value of being open to the perceptions of each group an issue touches, in an attempt to obtain a view of the larger issue at hand in any situation. This particular skill of active listening is vital for anyone who wishes to serve the public in a formal capacity, especially where minority or disenfranchised populations are concerned.

Vada A. Perkins, 50

Vada Perkins. Contributed photo

Occupation: Policy executive and small business owner

Prior elected office, if any: None

Other public service: Retired from Active Duty (15 years US Army, 12 years USPHS)

Education: BS-University of Maryland, MS-Johns Hopkins University, MSc, Doctoral Studies-University of Southern California

Election website or Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/district4wausau

What are three things you want people to know about you before heading to the polls?

 I am a family man-Stephanie (Goetsch) Perkins (wife), Max (8), Ava (2), Benjamin (new!)-with a vested interest in the success of Wausau for years to come. Wausau must continue to be a place where our children and grandchildren can build upon their generational legacy and the legacy of this community.  To achieve this, Wausau must be both economically and financially viable which is why my top priorities are (1) fiscal accountability; (2) business and economic opportunities to attract and retain local talent and promote entrepreneurship; and (3) family focus.

What is the greatest challenge facing Wausau and what would you do to address it?

 It is, by far, future financial and economic viability and how we incentivize people to move to the city; we have to be very competitive in that regard. Short term, temporary measures must lead to solutions that promote long-term success. We must prioritize independent economic sustainability and limit dependencies on “free” funds from federal/state sources because there is no such thing; if we can’t afford it, then we can’t afford it.

What is the best way for Wausau to tackle its affordable housing crisis?

Depending on who you ask, Wausau either has plenty of affordable housing or is lacking affordable housing. Given this ongoing debate, I certainly believe there needs to be more actionable dialogue with objective findings/recommendations to truly understand the pain points and come up with real solutions.  I am a strong advocate in providing affordable housing opportunities to young professionals-new nurses, teachers, police officers, etc. that this community needs.

Among Wausau’s many competing needs, what would you prioritize in the next budget?

 Consistent with my message on the economic and financial long-term viability challenges we face, I believe we must revisit budgetary commitments that are unsustainable, be honest with ourselves on the direction of property assessments, and reassess current tax practices that prioritize spend over long-term economic viability.

Kate Tracey, 34

Kate Tracey. Contributed photo

Occupation: Fitness instructor at Woodson YMCA 

Other public service, if any: Pro bono legal services while at Marquette Law School

Education: B.A. UW-Madison, J.D. Marquette University Law School

What are three things you want people to know about you before heading to the polls?

  • First: I strive for transparency and accessibility in my personal life and would do the same as a city council member, offering the community clear information about what their local government is doing, as well as relaying their concerns and advocating for their needs to city leadership. I am eager to serve as a direct link between district 4 citizens and government. 
  • Second: as a Wisconsin native, I believe strongly in the values and attributes that make our state special. I also bring broad insights and fresh perspective from years spent in larger Wisconsin cities, out of state, and abroad. It is my goal to foster development of cultural amenities and infrastructure enjoyed by larger cities while retaining the close knit, hometown character unique to Wausau. 
  • Third: My family takes pride in patronizing Wausau’s local businesses, from shops, entertainment and restaurants to industry and farms. I see the connection between support for entrepreneurship, keeping dollars local, and growing the tax base, attracting investors, creating jobs. I believe this is the most essential, grassroots engine to building a great place to live and work. 

What is the greatest challenge facing Wausau and what would you do to address it?

Strategic, responsible planning for the future landscape is the foremost challenge facing Wausau. At this critical juncture in its history, Wausau has the opportunity to reshape the heart of the city, the downtown area, and link it to the ongoing riverfront revitalization. At the same time, the city is responsible for maintaining cost of living (both property tax and rents) at a reasonable level that will not only retain but attract new and talented residents, further adding to our city’s vibrancy. The challenge will be balancing these considerations, which are often practically at odds despite being aligned in ideals as quality of life markers. 

What is the best way for Wausau to tackle its affordable housing crisis?

Start by recognizing that affordable housing is not just a city but a regional and state issue, seek to collaborate with surrounding communities and explore innovative strategies employed across the nation to address housing shortage (such as tax incentives, flexing zoning, municipal bond elections, etc). Using this analytical approach, we can elevate discourse on the matter at the local level to come up with creative solutions customized to our community. Mayor Rosenberg’s Affordable Housing Tax Force is a promising first step. Going forward, we need to ensure qualified people serve on the task force and communicate with private enterprises that could lend assistance. 

Among Wausau’s many competing needs, what would you prioritize in the next budget?

While it is of course appealing to fund ambitious redevelopment, I would prioritize setting realistic allocations for such projects and spreading cost over reasonable timelines, keeping in mind (and in balance) the basic needs of the community: schools, fire and police departments, existing public space maintenance. To that effort, I would seek to optimize available state and federal financing so that progress can be realized without overburdening taxpayers or cash-strapping essential departments.

How has your experience prepared you for Council service?

My legal training has equipped me to interpret and apply federal and state law and municipal code law, to find and utilize available programs and form impactful policy. My law practice (representing employee benefit funds) honed my negotiation skills, key for fostering cooperation, productive discussion, and balancing different parties’ interests. My life experience in widely varying communities has shown me what works and what does not, what makes a city tick, and the importance of attracting and retaining quality civic-minded individuals. Combined, this has uniquely equipped me for the role of alderperson.  

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