Kastens, Kittel vie for open City Council seat
Spring Election 2017
In a contested race that will pit incumbent alderman Craig Kittel against challenger Mike Kastens, City of New Richmond voters will decide between two individuals who have lifelong roots in the area and care about its future.
Both were clear about their visions of the future for the city and both appear ready to accept the future challenges that will come with the job.
It will be up to the electorate to make the choice as to the best candidate to help the city move forward in a positive direction.
The New Richmond News sat down with both candidates and talked about their candidacy, why they are running and the issues they would like to attack if elected.
Mike Kastens has been a resident of New Richmond for 33 years, and has been married to his wife, Susan, for that many years, as well. He has two children — Joseph, a police officer with the New Richmond Police Department, and a daughter, Stephanie, a high school physical science teacher with the DePere Unified School District.
Kastens enlisted in 1975 and went on active duty right after graduating high school in 1976. Following his service he was honorably discharged.
He served on the New Richmond Police Department from 1990-2005; he also served as an emergency medical technician with the New Richmond Ambulance Service until 2007; he continues to serve as a traffic safety instructor with Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College-New Richmond.
Though Kastens has no previous political experience, he said the decision to seek office was made without the encouragement of others.
"This is an era of change and I feel it's another way to give back to the community. I felt very honored to serve with the police department here and I wanted to try another avenue to give back to the community," he said about his decision to run for office.
As for some of the issues he would like to address, Kastens, first and foremost, pointed to finances.
"The number one thing to address would be trying to keep taxes as low as possible. When the city takes on long-term projects, we should look at the most efficient way of doing that. There's going to come a time when we should look at public and private financing on some of these projects. Just because the times are good right now does not mean there are always going to be good times. It's going to be a cycle."
Kastens continued in that vein: "I don't think the city should be saying our finances are really rosy ... we have to have some equal spending, we need to watch our long-term debt — it's come way down and I give the mayor and the current council credit for that. But I also don't think we should be running that debt up any more than we truly have to. The taxpayers expect to have good roads, they expect to have adequate, if not better police, fire and emergency medical services protection and we have to look at how we can allocate the funds to properly fund those agencies.
"One of the things we have to be ready for is when the [St. Croix Crossing] bridge comes in. Another thing ... when we look to buy equipment, what's the possibility of doing a group buying, say from the county, for street department equipment? Would that work for us? Group buying with three or four other municipalities, as an example.
"The fire department and ambulance services are cost-shared with the towns and villages. We should be looking to work with them to make sure everybody gets the best effect for the dollar they are spending."
With those issues in mind, Kastens turned to the issue of downtown New Richmond.
"I think the downtown is an area where you could look at public and private financing. I really think that we can, depending on the comprehensive plan ... have a group like that to see what we can do to better market the downtown to entice more businesses and more shopping downtown. I know right now ... the development has been pushed toward the south, but you can't let our downtown just die. We've also got the north side that is going to have some development there once the bridge is open but we have to start planning for that. The current system on how we plan ... planning is the big thing ... and once a plan is in place we have to get it to the taxpayers so they know what's going on."
As the election is just a week away, Kastens addressed the "why vote for me?" question.
"I think this is a time of change. If you look at the last presidential election, we saw how change went. The current council member has been on the council for six, going on seven years ... he's been involved, but there is a time for change. Plus there is no true representation from the north side of the city. If you look at how the lines are laid out, everybody (on the council) is just north of First Street or they are all south of First Street, which is kind of the dividing area of the community.
"I have the background ... and the tools to do the job ... I have the ability to communicate and talk to people. Being a member of the Reserves, I do a lot of communicating with service members and their families. I think my desire to give back to the community is something that I felt would be natural for me."
In addition, Kastens was very clear on how he thinks the role of the council fits into the picture.
"I think the city should be run like a business ... it's a $16 million business with the council as a board of directors, the department heads as reporting supervisors ... not that we should look at everything as a profit/loss, but we should look at how we spend those tax dollars and make sure that they are used as efficiently as possible. We have great employees and I think we need to ensure we keep those employees to the best of our ability."
Craig Kittel has been an alderman on the City Council since he was appointed to the body in 2010.
His first election was in 2012, and he has served two full terms. With this election he seeks his third term. This is the first election Kittel has faced opposition.
Why is Kittel seeking a third term? We'll let him explain ...
"Some things just aren't done and there are things left to do," he said.
"It's an important time over the next 10 years ... it's a time where we are going to shape how we look in 100 years. I think it's vitally important that we get this right. I think the delivery of a plan ... a picture ... is really important. How is this whole thing going to look? I want to be involved in the completion of that. I don't think I'm done yet on things I think need to be done."
As for the important issues of the day, Kittel is convinced that there are tasks on the horizon that are going to put the city in a better place for future development.
Kittel said that one of the pieces to the puzzle with be the comprehensive plan.
"Definitely the comprehensive plan — that is our picture for the future ... I think that's a vitally important document."
In addition, another project of importance in the immediate future is the building of a new library.
"I'd love to see the library done. It's definitely something that we need to do. I think very soon we'll have a location and will be able to have the library board tear into it and start fundraising.
"I would also like to see Freedom Park get developed. I wish we had someone come up and say they just won the lottery — and offer to do Freedom Park; or an organization that would say that we need to finish Freedom Park. That's not right in front of us. Maybe just picking away at it is the only way we can go. That park is something I see unfinished. To do what we've done so far with that park ... is commendable to both the council and the park board, but it's going to take a lot of time without that one 'big' check."
Kittel also described what he feels are the skills that make him successful on the council and the reasons why electors should consider at the ballot box.
"I really like working with people ... I really like working with different organizations; I like what we've done with the school, with the Centre; I like what we've done when things have looked bleak ... I like being able to sit down and work through things instead of just throwing rocks at the situation. To me, I'm a high school-educated guy with a lot of common sense. I like to peel things back and take a look and see what works best. I think I'm really good at that."
So, why should the elector vote for Kittel?
"I work with people and get things done. I like to sit down and figure things out. I think that's a strength of mine. I wished it was the strength of the country's.
"We've done a great job of getting the debt down. When I came on the council it was at about $26.5 million and by 2015 it was $17.3 million. I think we've done a great job of paying our bills, getting the debt down and keeping our taxes in line."
Kittel also pointed to the idea of equipment-sharing.
"I would like us to get another year out of our equipment and trying not to borrow for things. I would like to see more county involvement as far as shared pieces of equipment ... I would like to see us give the county more money for the county to buy the equipment and then rent it out. For a city and town not to have to pay for a piece of equipment that would be used only a couple of times a year — that would be good."
However, there is one thing that Kittel wants voters to learn — it's something he told the council members when he was being considered for appointment back in 2010: "I'll tell you what I think, but I will never tell you what you should think."