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Ness vs. Batesole

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Taxes, transportation, growth and future challenges - all four topics and more popped up at an Alexandria mayor candidate forum Monday.

Speaking before a packed crowd at the Kiwanis noon luncheon at Broadway Ballroom, incumbent Mayor Dan Ness and challenger Virgil Batesole took turns fielding five questions during a 45-minute exchange.

Although the candidates did not directly debate each other, they had a difference of opinion over a few issues, including city spending.

Batesole said that city expenses have gone up "tremendously" under Ness' watch - 81 percent, which, he said, has driven up taxes.

Later, in response to another question, Ness stated that the city is spending more money to make up for cuts in state aid and keep up with growth by providing streets, water and other infrastructure. He added that compared to 19 other cities of similar size, Alexandria ranks second lowest in property taxes.

Both candidates opened the forum by giving their backgrounds and qualifications.

Batesole, raised in Alexandria, highlighted his 34-year career with Rockwell International in California where he worked on the Minuteman and Space Shuttle programs.

He also owned the Vacationer Inn resort on Lake Cowdry and currently operates the Alexson and Belmont apartment buildings and five rental homes in Alexandria.

Ness traced his graduation from the Alexandria District 206 school system and the University of Minnesota where he attained a degree in business administration.

He worked for a national CPA firm in the Twin Cities before moving back to the area with his wife in 1965. He was a CPA with Ness, Waller, Pearson and Company, became a partner with Alexandria Extrusion and when the company grew, he was named chief financial officer and vice president of administration.

After retiring in 2000, Ness filed for mayor, a post he's held for two terms.

When asked what he viewed as the biggest problem facing Alexandria, Ness listed providing livable wages and more affordable housing.

Batesole also mentioned the economy as his top concern. He said that while out campaigning, he talked to one man who was in tears over the possibility of losing his house.

Batesole said the city should show it's serious about reducing expenses by retracting the 3 percent raise it recently approved for council members.

When asked to rate Alexandria on a scale of 1 to 10 for planning for growth, attracting businesses and keeping taxes in line, Batesole said the city isn't doing enough long-range planning.

He said that the city is shaped liked a peninsula and its future growth is limited by barriers - the freeway, lakes and the airport. He said the city should be planning up to 30 years down the road.

Ness rated the city a "10" in all those areas. He said that the city's economic development has been tremendous in recent years, earning it recognition as one of the top 10 fastest growing cities in the nation for those under 50,000 in population.

Since he's been mayor, the city has issued more than $500 million worth of building permits, Ness noted.

Ness said the city has many accomplishments to be proud of - new industries, new schools and an orderly annexation agreement with Alexandria Township that is resulting in planned growth.

On the topic of transportation, Ness noted that the city updates its comprehensive plan every five years. He said the city plans to extend 18th Avenue off Broadway to connect to Jefferson Street. It may also consider extending 12th Avenue East so it connects with the new road to the new elementary school, 10th Avenue East.

Ness said that traffic counts reflect Alexandria's growth - 18,600 vehicles travel North Nokomis on a daily basis. He said the city may have to look at adding more lanes.

Right now, the city is having a tough time keeping up with costs of maintaining streets, Ness said. The city should be putting aside $300,000 a year but because of budget constraints, it had to adopt a "Band-Aid approach" of setting aside just $100,000, he said.

Batesole said that transportation is a real challenge for the city. He noted that there are only two routes going through the east side of the city, three routes to the west and just one, the freeway, to the south. He said that future growth will bring transportation bottlenecks.

The city needs to look 30 years out in planning transportation projects, Batesole said. He added that the city does a good job in keeping streets in good shape but that long-range planning is the challenge.

The forum wrapped up by posing a simple question to the candidates: Why should people vote for them?

Batesole said that by running for mayor his intention wasn't to knock Alexandria. He said it's a well-managed town. By voting for him, Batesole said residents would build a future.

He said that his experience as an executive with Rockwell International with controlling costs, scheduling and long-range planning give him the credentials to serve as mayor.

"We need to look at the future more than we have," Batesole said. "It's a matter of making Alexandria better."

Batesole said the city is like a multi-million dollar corporation with the council and mayor serving as executives.

Ness said he agreed with Batesole about Alexandria's many attributes. He said that his eight years as mayor provide the kind of experience the city needs to take it through challenging times - such as what happened last year when the state Legislature made unexpected cuts in local government aid.

Ness said that his CPA background has given him a full understanding of the city's complex financial workings.

Ness said his goal is to engage the people of Alexandria in a consensus-style government that is supported by excellent staff who help plan the city's future.