Winona City Council candidates discussed the issues facing the city and how they plan to solve them during a forum Wednesday night hosted by the League of Women Voters.
Throughout the hour-long forum, 2nd Ward candidates Eileen Moeller and incumbent Gerry Krage — in the only contested city council race this fall — contrasted their qualifications, motivations and perspectives on a wide range of issues.
Moeller ranked housing, transportation along with the transparency and accessibility of government officials as the top issues now facing Winona.
“I think addressing these very basic infrastructure needs is essential,” she said. “I would also say housing is a need in our community. Having housing available for seniors who still want to own but want to downsize, for families that want to buy their first house and for lower-income families looking for reasonable rent.”
Safety, the budget and creating opportunities that make the city an attractive place to live and work were among Krage’s top priorities.
“If you don’t have safe streets, if the taxpayers don’t feel safe, if the neighbors don’t feel safe, all the other things don’t make as much difference,” he said.
Krage said safety remains a challenge as threats evolve.
“You think you have something figured out and a brand new thing pops up,” he said.
Krage also said the city needs to look at what things it can do to make Winona an attractive place for people to settle down.
The two candidates circled back on these topics several times throughout the forum.
On the topic of supporting an aging population, Krage argued the city is already ahead of the curve.
He said the city is working on finding a new location for the Winona Friendship Center to serve the recreational needs and desires of the senior population.
Krage said while the city has done an excellent job of promoting recreation, it hasn’t focused as much time on the less mobile senior population.
“We’re looking at different indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities for the aging population,” he said.
Moeller said housing was the key issue facing the senior population,.
“The city has been considering some wonderful development opportunities,” she said.
Moeller said the city’s housing study showed a need for senior housing, specifically owner-occupied housing.
“I think the city would really benefit from encouraging the development of living spaces that can be owner-occupied by seniors,” she said.
Pivoting to the topic of housing, Krage said the city needs to continue to work with homeowners to revitalize existing homes through state and federal grants.
“We have a lot of older homes,” he said, adding that the city needs to take care of the existing housing stock.
While Krage was in favor of connecting struggling homeowners with grant opportunities, he didn’t express the same support for subsidizing local business endeavors.
“I don’t like the word subsidy,” he said, adding that in most cases where government subsidies are offered they end up going to big companies that need them the least.
Krage said he would support some incentives for area businesses such as tax increment finance districts.
Moeller said while subsidies aren’t inherently bad, they should be considered on a case-by-case basis and shouldn’t be approved until the public has had a chance to weigh in.
“I don’t believe the city should subsidize any development where this is not any community buy-in,” she said.
Council member George Borzyskowski, who is running an uncontested race for the city’s uncontested 4th Ward also participated in the forum. Council member Michelle Alexander, who is also running uncontested for the at-large seat, did not participate.