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Nisswa City Council candidates talk about how to handle growth

Three candidates are vying for two council seats in November

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Nisswa City Council candidates participated in a candidates forum Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, at the Nisswa Community Center. From left are Cameron Dorion, Mark Froehle, John Ryan, Jesse Zahn and Joe Hall.
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NISSWA — Managing Nisswa’s growth to keep the city’s smalltown charm was a common theme at a Nisswa City Council candidate forum held Thursday, Sept. 15, at the Nisswa Community Center.

View the forum on the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce Facebook page where it was livestreamed.

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Illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Three city council candidates will vie for two seats in the Nov. 8 general election: Cameron Dorion, Mark Froehle and Jesse Zahn.

Froehle, appointed in February 2021, and Zahn, appointed in March 2022, currently serve on the council.

Also part of the candidate forum were Mayor John Ryan, who is running unopposed for a second two-year term, and Joe Hall, who is running unopposed for a two-year council seat.

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Candidates shared opening statements and addressed the first question: Why are you running and what will be your top priority if elected?

  • Dorion: He’s lived in Nisswa for 23 years, has a family, is a Nisswa business owner and Lions club member and volunteers.

His reason for running is simply to help the city as it grows. He wants to make sure emergency services have what they need to succeed; he advocates fiscal responsibility and transparency; and he wants to be part of the decisions regarding a long-term plan to keep Nisswa growing properly.

  • Froehle: He graduated from Brainerd High School in 1982 and from Brainerd Technical College in 1991. He’s retired and is a naval and Minnesota National Guard veteran who lived in Bemidji for 25 years but spent weekends in Nisswa before moving here in 2016.

His reason for running is to see through the council’s long-term capital planning campaign and to see that growth happens reasonably and Nisswa is not turned into a strip mall city.
His top priority as liaison to the city’s parks and recreation department is to continue work on a master plan for parks. He foresees growth and more families with younger kids in Nisswa, and parks are big and attract people to the area.

  • Zahn: He is a lifelong Nisswa resident who graduated from college in 2015 and is part of a family business, National Conductor.

He wanted to return to his roots to serve those who once served him and sees this as an incredible opportunity he does not take lightly.
Before being appointed to the council he served on the planning and zoning commission since November 2021.

The city has a large amount of work to achieve the growth that’s coming and will face significant challenges as it progresses. The city must accommodate infrastructure growth as a priority. He’d continue to work for a thorough plan to benefit residents in Nisswa today and tomorrow, and for residents and those here for a bite to eat.

  • Ryan: He wants to continue the city’s long-term planning efforts so future councils, departments and citizens understand the costs to maintain services they already have before adding more

Top priorities are to continue long-term planning, a downtown business comprehensive plan, and planning and zoning upgrades.
It’s important to have, maintain and improve lines of communication and to make sure citizens are able to and encouraged to engage with the city so the city understands both what citizens want and what they don’t want to be able to put together a package that truly delivers for the city in the long run.

  • Hall: He’s a lifetime Nisswa citizen who grew up in Lake Edward Township, attended Nisswa Elementary School, Pequot Lakes High School and college in Bemidji. He lives in the city limits, owns businesses in Nisswa and has been with the Nisswa Fire Department for 18 years where he’s currently assistant chief.

He enjoys serving and looks forward to helping to make decisions that will continue to make this town the place everybody loves and enjoys.
He’s running to have a voice for business owners in the community, as well as the fire and police departments and other entities to make sure everything is well supported across the city.

He wants to ensure the city handles growth appropriately and has adequate housing for employees for businesses.

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What is your philosophy on managing taxes, fees and assessments?

  • Dorion: It’s the taxpayers’ money so he’d get their input and do what is best for the taxpayers. He doesn’t want to see money spent on pet projects or something that won’t help the city.
  • Froehle: After seeing the budget and needs, the hard part is to figure out what to say yes to and what to say no to because the council has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. Nisswa is growing but the city has to set a lower cap and live within its means.
  • Zahn: The council owes it to the tax base to be responsible with every dollar spent, whether it be tax levy dollars or federal government dollars. Infrastructure upgrades are needed, but the main root for infrastructure needs is those who live here.
  • Ryan: The city needs to be responsible and to live within its means. That may mean being creative; taxpayers and city staff have to come together; and there has to be an understanding there is a bottom to the well.

In today’s time of inflation, it’s hard to manage needs without increasing the levy; however, it has to be done in a responsible manner.

  • Hall: Everyone has to pay their fair share. He’s a proponent of not overspending. When spending taxpayer dollars, advocate for items that benefit the whole and not a small sector. He’d like to see money spent to benefit everybody.

As Nisswa continues to grow with new homes and businesses, what should the city focus on for current residents?

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A Nisswa City Council candidates forum took place Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, at the Nisswa Community Center.
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  • Dorion: People who live here love the small-town Nisswa feel. He thinks the city shouldn’t get too big, too fast. With limited space, make sure the people who live here now are taken care of, have good roads, etc., before getting carried away building out.
  • Froehle: Look at keeping downtown as unique as it is. Have a separation of incoming businesses from those downtown businesses that have been here. Determine how to expand services needed with growth and infrastructure needed with development, housing, etc.
  • Zahn: The current citizenry has been here for some time, but the city has an influx of individuals with potential homes and businesses. Infrastructure has to follow growth. There’s a need for city water. Be diligent and considerate with growth and have a plan to do so.
  • Ryan: Maintain the value of what they have into their homes and properties. Consider how best to build workforce housing and consider what utilities might be needed for businesses.
  • Hall: Expand with new homes. Evaluate what space is available in the city and how to let that happen. Space is limited as far as expansion for new developments and new houses.

Regarding relocating the recycling center from downtown Nisswa, candidates agreed the current site isn’t suitable.

  • Dorion: It’s outgrowing its spot now. Where it will go is up in the air. It needs to be moved. It’s a matter of finding the right spot to move it.
  • Froehle: It does have to be moved for safety reasons and for expansion. The city is looking at other areas.
  • Zahn: Many citizens said in a survey they don’t want it moved. The city is working to find other options. The current location behind the fire hall could be a hindrance to public services. 
  • Ryan: Because of traffic and usage, it needs to be moved. No one wants it in their backyard, but he believes there is a way to move it safely.
  • Hall: It can’t stay where it is, but he questions if the city is trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. He asked if the city could get rid of a recycling site and go to curbside recycling with a company. 

Other questions addressed leadership styles (no candidate advocated micromanagement), communication with the public, voting on controversial issues, addressing city staff morale and supporting the volunteer fire department.
Nancy Vogt, editor, may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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