Sidney Young Professionals held a political forum on Sept. 9 to allow the public to hear from the candidates running for alderman for Sidney. This is the second and final installment for that forum.
Eight candidates attended the forum, including Frank Difonzo (Ward 3), Kali Godfrey (Ward 2), Ken Koffler (Ward 1), Rick Norby (Mayor), Kysa Rasmussen (Ward 2), Jason Schrader (Ward 1), Elaine Stedman (Ward 3) and Shawn Story (Ward 2).
Candidates were asked what part of the current zoning code would they like to see changed.
Storm and Stedman did not offer a response to this question, stating they had not had the chance to research the issue.
Rasmussen said the city should look at the current setback limits. “I think they take a lot of space from our yard,” said Rasmussen. Koffler also stated this was an issue as well. He also said some codes could be simplified.
Godfrey said the cost of applying for a variance was too expensive and needed to be addressed.
Difonzo said the city needed to require new and major renovation constructions projects to install a sidewalk. He also said the city should not allow commercial businesses to be established in residential area due to noise issues.
A discussion on how to implement sidewalk requirements included the possibility of sidewalk districts and the city allowing the property owner to pay for the sidewalk over time.
Schrader said he is opposed to requiring property owners to install sidewalks. He also said permits should be a set fee and not based on value. “To force an individual who purchases a piece of property to forfeit some of that property to the city and then pay for a sidewalk is not right. He’s already paying his taxes. It seems like double jeopardy,” said Schrader. He said he did support sidewalks but not requiring the property owner to pay for them.
Norby disagreed with Schrader, saying every property has a five-foot right of way where people are allowed to walk so they do not have to walk in the street and that the property owner is liable for that five-foot section as well.
Candidates were then asked what the three most pressing issues were for Sidney.
Godfrey said water and sewer upgrades upkeep were a priority and that she would like the city to be more family friendly and kid friendly. She also said she has learned how important the drainage and runoff issue is as well.
Difonzo agreed that water and sewer was the primary focus, stating some of the lines were 100 years old. He said his second issue would be traffic safety and that streets are safe. Public safety was third on his list. Difonzo said that neither one was more important than the other.
Norby agreed that water and sewer were important. “The main functions of the city are to provide water and sewer, garbage, and public safety,” said Norby.
Schrader agreed with the previous comments and added more community involvement was needed, including attending city council meetings.
Storm also agreed with previous comments and said a water purification system is also a priority. He also mentioned public safety and providing recreation and facilities for children to go outside their homes.
Infrastructure was at the top of Stedman’s list as well as growth.
Rasmussen said she agreed with everyone’s comments and said adding things for community members like a local theatre group would make the city more attractive. She would also like to see better retention with the police department and staff members.
Koffler said his list was similar to the others as well. He also wants to find a way to increase the pay for city employees.
Candidates were then asked if they supported growth and if so, how do they keep the small-town feel while adding population. This question also prompted a discussion on oil booms and how the city could recoup the cost of additional infrastructure required when the booms occur.
Difonzo said he has been through three oil booms and saw growth and saw it go away. He also experienced the problems that came with it as well. “When the boom came, we had to provide the infrastructure that came with it, and then when they left we were left with having to pay for that infrastructure,” said Difonzo. “I think every community needs a little growth.”
Difonzo said there needs to be a focus on providing jobs for young people so they do not go away to college and never return.
Godfrey said she supported some growth, stating many businesses, including places like Sidney Sugars, were unable to hire a sufficient amount of workers. Godfrey said growth to about 7,500 would help fill those vacancies.
Koffler also agreed some growth was needed to fill workforce needs but felt the city only needed small growth.
Rasmussen also talked about the booms and the costs of those to the city. “I think any growth should be gradual,” said Rasmussen. “With growth comes possibilities but being a small community is what makes us special.”
Stedman said the culture in larger towns was totally different than smaller communities like Sidney but that some small slow growth was needed to improve the job market as well.
“We need people,” said Storm. He said Sidney was the smallest town he has ever lived in and wouldn’t live anywhere else. “We do need growth. I’m not talking about bringing back the boom days, but this town needs growth and I don’t think we can wait years to fill those slots.”
Schrader also talked about the hometown feel and that Sidney residents support one another. “Growth is good as long as its managed,” said Schrader. He also wants to see the empty homes in town filled.
Norby said the city could support 12,000 but said he would like to see a population of around 8,500-9,000 people.
The discussion then shifted to how the city could better taken advantage of the influx of people during the booms. The consensus was that Montana’s tax code was outdated and sales taxes were needed to help the city provide services for those who are not permanent residents and send most of their money back home.
For those who would like to see the entire forum, go to the Sidney Young Professionals Facebook page at https://tinyurl.com/yxc6cvnb