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Afton Mayor seeks to protect city's rural character

After his first full term as Afton's Mayor, Richard Bend is seeking to retain his office on Nov. 8.

Much like his previous campaign, Bend said he plans to continue his work on preserving the city's rural character as addressing the need for costly construction projects to city streets and the city's Old Village will be areas he plans to continue to address.

Bend was appointed as mayor in 2014 when then Mayor Pat Snyder unexpectedly resigned. He ran for his first elected term that same year.

Since he is running unopposed, Bend said he hasn't put much focus on campaigning. "Instead, I'm just trying to do a good job," he said.

In the next two years, he said he plans to continue efforts to preserve Afton's rural character as well as oversee a downtown sewer project and work on the levee along the St. Croix River.

The city approved a $12.5 million sewer project this summer that would create a municipal sewer system for the city's downtown area. At the same time, the city is also facing a potential $6.5 million project to maintain and repair roads.

Bend said the issues will likely have a sizable impact on the city and its residents in the coming years.

City officials recently approved a preliminary tax levy increase of more than 9 percent. The preliminary levy could be lowered when the city council votes on a finalized levy and budget in December.

Prior to becoming mayor, Bend served seven years on the Afton Planning Commission, as well as on the committee that drafted the city's comprehensive plan.

Bend's roots go deep in the river valley, and the 68-year-old former lawyer said preserving Afton's rural aesthetics are among the top reasons he decided to run again in this year's election.

As a fourth-generation resident of the valley, he said how past leaders made careful zoning and planning decisions to preserve the city's rural atmosphere. "I tend to want to do the same thing," he said.

Bend added that he believes preserving the city's rural feel also comes to a benefit of Afton's visitors from across the Twin Cities. He pointed to the Belwin Conservancy, which for the past 45 years has educated St. Paul Public Schools students on outdoor sciences, as an area that could be heavily affected by development.

"We had people reacting to that fear — frankly overblown fear — that the (Metropolitan Council) will come in and force development," he said. "We work very hard to keep it this way, but it takes hard work. It takes very careful zoning and very careful attention to finance."

Despite past and present city officials' hesitance to support large areas of commercial and housing development, Bend said he still wishes the city could do more in terms of providing low-income housing but is thankful neighboring cities are able to fill the need.

Also appearing on this year's ballot will be Ward 4 council member Randy Nelson, who is running unopposed. Ward 1 incumbent Bill Palmquist is seeking another term against challenger Simon Wirth.