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City Council candidates debate in Chamber forum

Woodbury City Council candidates, from left, include incumbent Julie Ohs, challenger Bill Braun and incumbent Christopher Burns. (Staff photo by Riham Feshir)

Woodbury City Council incumbents squared off against one of the challengers for the first time at a Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce event last week.

Incumbents Julie Ohs and Christopher Burns touted economic growth and successful planning during their time on the City Council, while challenger Bill Braun spoke about his plans to improve public safety response time and dedicate more funds to emergency services.

Ohs, who’s running for a third term, praised the city’s past planning that resulted in an additional $10 million in commercial reinvestment this year and mentioned new construction projects like Cabela’s and Bielenberg Sports Center that have brought jobs to the city.

She referenced survey results that give the city high ratings and said “these accolades are not random” and that they come from “planning, dedication, vision and hard work.”

About 25 Chamber members attended the 45-minute forum at Eagle Valley Golf Course Tuesday, Oct. 7.

Questions for City Council candidates sought their thoughts on the most pressing issues the city is facing and what the candidates thought about compromising as opposed to standing their ground on individual principles.

Braun, a part-time firefighter/emergency medical technician, said his long-term goals for the city include making sure there are places to work, live and get a good education.

But his immediate plans focus on the 911 response time and that residents should never have to wait for an idled ambulance.

His claims for longer response times were disputed by Burns, who said statistics show that at least five firefighters are on the scene in less than nine minutes, 96 percent of the time.

But Braun said he still sees a problem with the way the fire department operates noting that “there is a lot about just operating smarter.”

Braun came across as a “one-issue candidate” as one forum attendee said in a question, asking him what else he brings to the table.

“The city of Woodbury runs like silos,” Braun said, explaining that he would take a look at the budget and share resources among the various departments instead of doubling up on expenses.

Meanwhile, Ohs said maintaining growth and planning for the future while keeping taxes low is one of the most pressing issues the city is facing.

Burns, chairman of the roadway rehabilitation task force, said roads are a top priority for him in addition to keeping a balanced budget with minimal tax increases.

The candidates were all asked about deteriorating roads in Woodbury, a widespread problem caused by a faulty blacktop mix used in the 1990s, and whether they’d be for or against raising taxes to fix the problem.

Burns said the task force put together a few recommendations that propose using $5 million in reserves in combination with other sources to fund the problem. The City Council is expected to review those recommendations over the next few weeks.

Braun said all services in Woodbury have to be paid for somehow and explained that the fund balance isn’t as big as it seems because much of it is dedicated to specific purposes.

“We have to pay for everything we get,” he said. “It comes out of somebody’s pocket somewhere.”

The Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce forum invited challenger Emmanuel Obikwelu, who’s also running for one of the two open seats on the Woodbury City Council, but he did not participate.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.