Candidate Profiles: Marquette Council

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Steve Eagle

Rinda Ferguson

Cindy Sharp Halvorson

John Ries

David Schneider

Ryan P. Young

Marquette voters will have to decide between six candidates to fill three open seats on the Marquette City Council when they head to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 7. Included on the ballot are Steve Eagle, Cindy Sharp Halvorson and John Ries, who are all incumbents, as well as Rinda Ferguson, David Schneider and Ryan P. Young. The three highest vote-getters will serve four-year terms on the council. The candidates recently shared their thoughts on some of the issues that are important to Marquette.

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Steve Eagle

Due to a family illness, Steve Eagle was unable to answer the questions posed by the North Iowa Times

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Rinda Ferguson

Rinda Ferguson has been married to her husband, Terry, for 52 years, and the couple has lived in Marquette throughout that time. They have two children, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Ferguson is retired after working for the school system for 18 years and the state of Iowa for 14 years. She previously served on the Marquette Council for six years and has also been on the Marquette Zoning Board and Marquette Comprehensive Planning Committee. Her volunteer experience includes serving on the Marquette/McGregor Great Place committee and as a Wetlands Centre board member and Friends of the Marquette Driftless Area board member (non-profit supporting nature activities and education). She’s also helped at the Wetlands Centre with school groups and events.

Why did you choose to run for council?

Railroad – Railroad - Railroad. We need “new faces on the negotiating team” to try to resolve some serious issues. It seems that the current group is at an impasse and things have intensified over the last year. Not only noise and crossings blocked, but it would also be a shame to lose a landmark business in our community if the railroad purchases the Marquette Café and Bar.

How do you think the city can or should support economic development and business growth?

Our hotel/motel tax revenue increased from $4,305.07 in 2012 to $77,055 in 2016. The amount of hotel/motel tax received means approximately 22,000 visitors stayed in our community last year. By law, 50 percent of this revenue must be spent on tourism. The Depot Museum and Wetlands Centre expenses qualify as tourism expenditures. People tend to stay longer and spend more money in areas with lots of activities. Adding more activities, especially during the winter, would be a bonus. As the number of visitors increases, attracting businesses to meet their needs will come. 

Looking at the city budget, is there a specific area where you’d like to see spending increased or decreased? Why?

My concern would be increasing or maintaining revenue. If we are not moving forward, all expenditures will need to be reviewed. The city should always be looking for grant funding for projects. 

Plans have been approved for an emergency evacuation route off the bench, and construction could begin yet this year. What are your thoughts on the route?

First, I would like to address the process that was used. I am disappointed that Clayton County Emergency Management, our local emergency responders and community members were not brought into the discussion. Seems a little backwards to have a route in place, but no evacuation plan, or, if there is one, no one seems to know about it. Sounds to me like it could end up being mass confusion trying to get out, especially in the winter. Other areas of our community are also at risk, but have not heard any discussion about taking care of them.

Now, back to the route, I have only heard about the area it is proposed to be going through. If I am correct, this is the same area that the city just completed a major and costly project to eliminate flooding issues due to the soil being disturbed above. In general, I am opposed to disturbing the trees and soil on our bluffs. I would prefer, if possible, a route with the least amount of soil disruption and loss of trees be considered. 

I have also pondered the thought that, if we are willing to spend $400,000 to $500,000 for a gravel path, has there been any consideration given to constructing a safe room with low to moderate income housing above? We have money set aside for LMI housing through the TIF program. The bench area would be a perfect spot for ground level condo style housing with a safe room on the lower level. This room could be used for weather-related events also. At one time, there were grants available for safe rooms through the federal government. 

The railroad is a hot topic in Marquette, with both residents, business owners and visitors raising complaints about noise and trains blocking crossings for extended periods. What, if anything, would you like to see the city do to address these issues?

I believe that a “new negotiating team” is needed to bring the railroad back to the table. Problems have really escalated in the last year and it appears the parties are at an impasse. 

Planning is currently underway for a proposed expansion of the Depot Museum. What are your thoughts on the project?

The six years I served on the council we included in the budget each year $50,000 for the design, engineering and bid process (all public projects over $25,000 must be bid). In 2015, a group of interested citizens formed a committee to get the ball rolling. I was told, at that time, by a committee member, that they felt it was too costly. The museum does need more room for the great displays they have. It would also help if it was made more energy efficient. Once again, have they looked for grants?

Although separate cities, Marquette and McGregor share functions like the police department and chamber of commerce and are often viewed as a big community. Do you think the cities should work more together? What are some ways they could do so?

Currently, we share the school system, churches, library, police and chamber. Sharing is great for efficiency and if it makes financial sense for all parties.  

Looking into the future, how do you envision Marquette?

Currently, there are lots of activities to attract tourists, but we also need to focus on more activities for community members. A town with a sense of community will attract young families. We need to find a balance.

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Cindy Sharp Halvorson

Cindy Sharp Halvorson is married to Jay Halvorson and has three daughters and three grandchildren. She’s an owner of Eagles Landing Winery in Marquette and has served as a 4-H and Girl Scouts leader, as well as a volunteer with the Marquette Action Club.

Why did you choose to run for council?

It has been a pleasure being on the city council for the last four years. I’m proud of what we have done and what we are accomplishing. We’ve balanced the budget and the books. We’re making good on a promise from years ago on an escape route. We are working with McGregor again.  

How do you think the city can or should support economic development and business growth?

I do support economic development and business growth. We’re in an area of exceptional beauty with the river and rolling hills. The new Casey’s General Store opened Oct. 19. Employment will increase from nine to 22. We do offer incentives with our economic develop package for new businesses or existing businesses. 

Looking at the city budget, is there a specific area where you’d like to see spending increased or decreased? Why?

I feel we need to continue as we are doing right now. I’m proud of how we have reduced spending. We have reduced the city hall staffing budget from over $172,000 per year to approximately $76,000 per year. That is a savings to the citizens of Marquette of over $96,000 a year. We have been under budget for capital projects this last year, as well. As an example, the North Street wall and city storage building were $30,000 under budget. We know that there are pin holes in the reservoir and we need to be financially prepared when this needs to be replaced.  

Plans have been approved for an emergency evacuation route off the bench, and construction could begin yet this year. What are your thoughts on the route?

I think it is imperative that we have an escape route off the bench. This had been promised to the residents for over 50 years. Over 65 percent of the city’s population lives on the bench, and with the railroad transporting more cargo, there is much more rail traffic in the area. In the event of an emergency, we need to have an escape route off the bench to protect the citizens. Out of all the projects the city has done since I’ve been in office, this project is what is the closest to my heart. If something were to happen, it would be unforgiveable if we—the city—didn’t have an escape route for the residents living on the bench.

The railroad is a hot topic in Marquette, with residents, business owners and visitors raising complaints about noise and trains blocking crossings for extended periods. What, if anything, would you like to see the city do to address these issues?

The city has had meetings with the railroad in regard to these issues. There are more federal regulations than years before, but I do feel we can work together to get this resolved. With the last meeting, the city was informed the railroad is going to have a person in charge of Marquette so we can try to elevate the issues. I believe we as a city need to address the issues by contacting the railroad immediately when something does arise. 

Planning is currently underway for a proposed expansion of the Depot Museum. What are your thoughts on the project?  

I support the expansion of the Depot Museum. It is more than just a railroad museum. The Depot Museum includes the history of the floods, the business that are no longer here and the citizens who made Marquette what it is today. Many people have donated pictures, books, furniture, etc., to the Depot Museum, but unfortunately there is not enough room for the donations to be displayed. So yes, I support the expansion so that visitors and residents can enjoy coming to the Depot Museum.  

Although separate cities, Marquette and McGregor share functions like the police department and chamber of commerce and are often viewed as a big community. Do you think the cities should work more together? What are some ways they could do so?  

The support that McGregor has shown us and how we support McGregor is how it should be with the two communities. McGregor has been kind enough to give the city of Marquette an easement for the escape route. The businesses of Marquette and McGregor support each other, as do the citizens. In the last year and a half, there has been no friction between the two cities, and this is how it should be. The services that we share are the police department, fire department, EMS, chamber of commerce and the library, which saves the residents thousands of dollars per year. City employees also work together when needed. 

Looking into the future, how do you envision Marquette?

Marquette may be small, but we have some much potential. We live in one of the most beautiful areas in the country. I would like to see more families moving to the area and homes being built. The job opportunities have increased; Casey’s General Store has created 22 jobs. Living along the river and the rolling hills, people are drawn here for tourism. The new escape route provides a dual purpose, not only as an escape route but also a walking trail. 

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John Ries

John Ries is a life-long resident of Marquette and owns the Schoolhouse Mall. He’s served several terms on the city council, as well as four terms as mayor.

Why did you choose to run for council?

To continue to help the town where I can.

How do you think the city can or should support economic development and business growth?

Increase our existing business incentive package and support existing businesses however we can.

Looking at the city budget, is there a specific area where you’d like to see spending increased or decreased? Why?

I would like to see additional public boat docking and improved/additional public restroom facilities.

Plans have been approved for an emergency evacuation route off the bench, and construction could begin yet this year. What are your thoughts on the route?

All possible routes were looked at and this was the most feasible. It will also be an awesome walking trail connection with McGregor.

The railroad is a hot topic in Marquette, with residents, business owners and visitors raising complaints about noise and trains blocking crossings for extended periods. What, if anything, would you like to see the city do to address these issues?

This has been a problem for as long as I can remember. There has been increased communications with the railroad lately, and that needs to continue. No one has the perfect answer for this one. We just need to keep working on it.

Planning is currently underway for a proposed expansion of the Depot Museum. What are your thoughts on the project?

It is time for that project to move forward.

Although separate cities, Marquette and McGregor share functions like the police department and chamber of commerce and are often viewed as a big community. Do you think the cities should work more together? What are some ways they could do so?

The two towns currently have a great working relationship and that needs to continue. Any cost sharing/joint projects should always be considered.

Looking into the future, how do you envision Marquette?

We just need to keep moving forward with improvements to our town at a responsible pace, and Marquette will always be a nice town to live in.

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David Schneider

David Schneider is married to Meaghan and has four children and three grandchildren. He worked with Walmart Stores, Inc., for 25 years, before joining Pepsi Cola for the past five years. He’s currently a route sales representative for Frito Lay. Schneider has served as a Boy Scout leader, as president and vice president of the MFL MarMac Booster Club and as a youth leader at St. Mary’s Church. He’s also very active in his church. 

Why did you choose to run for council?

I chose to run for council because I feel that we need somebody who can be consistent with their thought processes and go through determining what’s the most important things, the cost factors, is it a good decision for the taxpayers of Marquette, and is it beneficial to all the residents and not just a few of the residents. I felt like I could use my experience in the past with business and some of my decision-making abilities to help do that.

How do you think the city can or should support economic development and business growth?

We do have economic grants that are available, and I think one of the things that we can do is continue to focus on that and make sure economic development grants are fair and responsible and something that’s going to benefit the city as a whole. I’ve also thought that we should try to get involved with our school district a little bit more and see if there are some types of work study programs available. We have a major employer here in town that’s looking for welders and manufacturing. Maybe there’s some type of program we can discuss with the school district so we can get some internships going for high school seniors who don’t necessarily want to leave the area. Obviously, tourism is the major thing that drives our area. As far as the city, the casino is definitely one of our major supporters financially. I think, by doing events and helping the boat, helping the winery and having other businesses in town seeing increased traffic flow, that will help provide economic growth for our area.

Looking at the city budget, is there a specific area where you’d like to see spending increased or decreased? Why?

The main thing I think we need to look at is we’ve done a lot of projects in the city over the years and we’re kind of to the point where now we need to be really specific about things that we’re going to do in the future. Look at whether it’s going to be a major benefit to the city, or are we just going to waste taxpayers’ dollars. As far as major spending, we need to get our water situation fixed with the wells. One of our wells, up on the bench area, is having problems, it’s deteriorating, and it’s going to need to be fixed. The other well system up on the new subdivision has issues. We need to get it fixed and be done with it. I think that holds people back from moving to that property if there’s a concern about their water quality. Things like that and just general repair and maintaining what we have and being judicious with what we’re spending money on, not running out and buying equipment every other year that we don’t need to spend money on, I think that’s what we need to look at.

Plans have been approved for an emergency evacuation route off the bench, and construction could begin yet this year. What are your thoughts on the route?

Two years ago, I was harping about the fact that we needed an evacuation route. It needed to happen, probably sooner than it has. I’m glad to see it’s moving forward, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the best route. I have concerns it wasn’t totally thought out about what we would do during the whole year, winter included, because an evacuation route needs to be maintained 365 days a year. It’s not like it can be shut off. It’s going to have to be plowed and maintained. Is it the best route available? I feel like it’s a lot of money we’re spending on it. There could have been a more financially reasonable area to do it.

The railroad is a hot topic in Marquette, with residents, business owners and visitors raising complaints about noise and trains blocking crossings for extended periods. What, if anything, would you like to see the city do to address these issues?

I think that the railroad does not feel like they’re able to work with our current council and mayor, that there’s a lot of animosity going on back and forth between all parties. That’s some of the feedback I’m getting. What we need to do, along with the other people I’m running with, is we need to sit down with them and come back to the drawing board and work with them and not at them. Yes, blocking the tracks and the noise at night are not a good situation. Developing an animosity between all parties is not the answer. We need to come to a common solution that we can do to work with them to make it better. We can take that path first. There is also land we can move them up to. We can try to get that done.

Planning is currently underway for a proposed expansion of the Depot Museum. What are your thoughts on the project?

Marquette is a railroad city. It’s embedded in our history. My father-in-law worked at the railroad yard. It’s part of who we are and what we are. Expanding it, I don’t feel there’s a problem with it. We just need to make sure the costs associated with it are bid out and we’re getting the best deal for what we’re looking to do and not just put it out there and get one bid. We need to get numerous bids to get the best cost for what we’re looking to do. By all means, we need to support it and also the Wetlands Centre because they’re both part of the city of Marquette. We need to think of ways to utilize them both and make them better and make people want to come back to the city.

Although separate cities, Marquette and McGregor share functions like the police department and chamber of commerce and are often viewed as a big community. Do you think the cities should work more together? What are some ways they could do so?

I think the two cities need to work together. I’ve said this before to numerous people. Things in the past are in the past. We need to go forward and we need to work between the two cities to help both grow economically and make it good for all the citizens in the area, whether it’s police coverage or whether it’s housing. When we had situations like we had with the tornado, there were residents from Marquette who were going to help, and vice-versa. That’s what you need to have. We’re friends, we’re neighbors. 

Looking into the future, how do you envision Marquette?

Obviously, we need to make it an area where people want to stay and live, whether it’s making the jobs we already have more well-paying or having housing that’s affordable. We have the natural beauty of the Mississippi, so we need to exploit that. We’ve got a good school district, and we need to help promote that. We need to have a city government that’s going to work for its people and listen to them and be open-minded about what we can do to help make it a better community.

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Ryan P. Young

Ryan P. Young was born and raised in Marquette, and other than his time in college, the community has always been his home. Young met his wife working at the casino, where he worked for 11 years. They’ve been married for 10 years and have three wonderful children. He currently works for CJ Moyna & Sons as their technology coordinator.

Why did you choose to run for council?

I feel like I have a lot of good ideas for ways to improve some areas of the city, and would like to work hard toward making positive change for Marquette.  

How do you think the city can or should support economic development and business growth?

I think by soliciting businesses that would be unique to the area, we could possibly bring in something that isn’t currently offered. I also feel that offering incentives to new businesses is a good idea, as long as there are checks and balances for those incentives.  

Looking at the city budget, is there a specific area where you’d like to see spending increased or decreased? Why?

I would like to see more oversight with the city works department. I’m disappointed that we purchased a street sweeper after the last one went unused for so long, and now we’re building a storage building for the new sweeper. If nothing else, I’d like to see that they are utilizing it, since it was desired so much. I’d also like to see some stability brought to the administrative positions in the city. We’ve had a lot of turnover, so I feel that structure may need some attention.  

Plans have been approved for an emergency evacuation route off the bench, and construction could begin yet this year. What are your thoughts on the route?

I feel that we need some form of evacuation route on the bench, but I don’t feel the current location is the most fiscally responsible. I think Thornton Lane would have made more sense and been more economical. I feel the route should be gated and only used for emergency access. I think this would alleviate concerns about people using the route. I don’t necessarily feel it should be used as a walking path, especially without planning any additional parking or other considerations for people who would use this path. I also think a plan for maintenance and snow removal should be developed before the route is built. It will need to be maintained and, during the winter months, it will need to be cleared of snow in case it does need to be used.

The railroad is a hot topic in Marquette, with residents, business owners and visitors raising complaints about noise and trains blocking crossings for extended periods. What, if anything, would you like to see the city do to address these issues?

I’d like to see us work with Canadian Pacific to come to a resolution. Currently, I feel like there is a lot of tension between the city and the railroad, and I’d like to work with them to make some positive changes. Beyond “quiet zones,” there are many other options we could pursue to keep the noise levels down or at least standardize the disruption. As for the crossing times, I think there are some opportunities to help reduce that through open discussion.

Planning is currently underway for a proposed expansion of the Depot Museum. What are your thoughts on the project?

I think it’s great if there’s a demand for it. I know there are currently a lot of items in that small space. I’m sad to say that I had never walked through the museum until four to five years ago. There’s a lot of interesting information in there, not only about the railroad but the town in general. I’d love to see this expanded and possibly become a field trip destination for the local schools in the future.  

Although separate cities, Marquette and McGregor share functions like the police department and chamber of commerce and are often viewed as a big community. Do you think the cities should work more together? What are some ways they could do so?

I do feel like there could be more unity between the two. I think promoting our flea market and art festival together has been a great way to share the increased tourism that the season brings to the area, and would love to see that expanded in the future. I’d love to see a bicycling event or something like the GRRR come back to the area. I think, for civil service needs, we’re as merged as we can get, but there may be opportunities that arise in the future to expand those as well.

Looking into the future, how do you envision Marquette?

I’d like to see Marquette continue to grow casually. We’re not a big town, but we’re a town with a big heart. I don’t want to see major changes pop up overnight, but I’d love to welcome a few more unique small businesses to the downtown area and see our infrastructure maintained at the high level it’s currently at. I’d love to see more done with the Wetlands Centre, but I’m not sure what that would be. It’d be nice to see a walking path or biking path that connected that with downtown in the future, although that would bring about some challenges of its own. I just want to ensure that Marquette stays true to its roots and its residents. 

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