The Milton City Council will add at least one new face after Tuesday’s election.
City council member Jeremy Zajac chose not to seek re-election in a race with three seats up for grabs.
Incumbents Larry Laehn and Theresa Rusch are running for their seats alongside write-in candidates Devin Elliott and William Wilson.
Elliott and Wilson said they had aspirations to run for council in the past but chose to run this year after learning of Zajac’s open seat.
The Gazette asked the candidates these questions:
Q: What would your priorities be as a Milton City Council member?
Elliott: His priorities include finding solutions for the dilapidated fire station, supporting first responders, supporting small businesses and preserving the city’s history.
Laehn: His primary responsibility is to be fiscally responsible to the citizens and paying down long-term debt, he said. Maintaining roads, updating infrastructure and improving the partnership between the Milton and Janesville fire departments are also top priorities.
Rusch: Her goals include continuing to support industrial, tourism and residential growth, and working with other fire commission members to decide facility solutions.
Wilson: The city has been well-managed, but he believes officials should focus more on updating the fire station, supporting retail growth and attracting affordable housing developers so employees in the city’s industrial park and other businesses can live and work in the community. He believes the city needs a mix of single and multifamily residential units.
Q: The Milton fire station is considered dilapidated and does not meet the fire department’s needs. What do you think is the best solution for fire department facilities?
Elliott: The city has room for a bigger and better fire facility, he said, but he does not know what the best solution is. He believes the community needs to determine a solution soon to help first responders.
Laehn: The existing station is not in an ideal location, and improving it would be expensive. The city and town of Milton need to focus on finding a location for a station that is best suited for decreasing response times.
Rusch: She encourages public input on fire facilities because the fire commission is reviewing several options and needs guidance on which options it should explore. The hiring of a new fire chief, shared with the Janesville Fire Department, will influence the decision.
Wilson: He is “intrigued” by the idea of sharing a station with the Janesville department on the north side of Janesville and near the south side of Milton, but he thinks Milton also needs a facility to serve the northern half of the department’s response area. He does not know which option is the most affordable, but he recognizes money will be a big factor in the decision.
Q: Residential growth in Milton is expected to increase steadily in coming years. Do you think this is good for the community? What, if anything, should the city do to accommodate more residents?
Elliott: Growth is “amazing” for the community. More residents lead to more tax income for the city, which can fund additional services. The public works department needs to be ready for more residents, and the city should focus on more attractions , such as the splash pad, to attract families.
Laehn: Growth is good. The city has laid the groundwork to make itself inviting for residents. However, the speed of growth has to remain on pace with the growth in services.
Rusch: She supports growth but believes the city must be wise about where residential growth happens and needs to be prepared to expand services.
Wilson: He supports reasonable, rational growth. To accommodate it, the city needs to focus on offering a mix of single- and multifamily housing. The state allows municipalities to increase taxes only if there is new construction, so “if you don’t grow, you die.”
Q: Milton has one of the lowest tax rates in the region but has struggled to balance its budget with state-imposed levy limits. What do you think is the best solution for keeping a balanced budget?
Elliott: We need to look at the differences between needs and wants to keep a low tax rate and accommodate growth, he said.
Laehn: City staff and the council have been conscious of “trying to do more with less,” he said. Residents need to understand how city government works and is funded and know where their tax dollars go. State lawmakers need to understand levy limits and other limits don’t work and are punishing municipalities and forcing service cuts.
Rusch: The city has had to be creative to save money and balance the budget. If cuts have to be made, city officials need to hear from residents on what they think should or should not be cut. As Miltons grow, some relief will come from a broader tax base, she said.
Wilson: He supports changing state laws governing shared revenue and levy limits, which make it difficult for municipalities to provide services. Milton also needs to be aggressive in building its tax base, he said. TIF districts help the city in the long term, but residential growth can help the city more immediately.