MINOT – Two candidates are in the race for a vacant council seat left vacant after former council member Tom Ross was elected mayor in June. The council voted to temporarily fill the seat in July with former state legislator Roscoe Streyle. They also voted to have the race be decided on the November ballot, with whomever is elected to finish Ross’ term.
With Streyle running for the position, Scott Burlingame, executive director of Independence Inc, has also joined the race. The election is Tuesday, November 8.
The Dakotan invited both candidates to answer a series of questions.
The Dakotan – Why should people elect Roscoe Streyle to Minot’s City Council?
Streyle – The short time I’ve been on there I’ve proven I can get things done. We reduced the budget, reduced the mill levy, therefore reducing taxes below the preliminary budget, so I think that’s a big success for Minot and the taxpayers.
The city’s got an accelerated flood protection plan, which would finish it quite a few years before the original plan. I think I could be well-suited to help work with the governor, work with the legislature in trying to get that plan approved next session which would benefit the taxpayers of Minot and the state $50 million or more, just because we’d complete the project quicker, of course with inflation. Another big benefit to that is the flood insurance piece to this. The quicker we can get that funded and consequently built, the shorter window they’ll need for flood insurance. The new flood map is not going to be favorable to Minot when it comes out. It’s going to cause all kinds of havoc. The quicker we can build this the better.
With those two things and my conservative budgeting and business experience, I just think we have to cut the red tape in Minot, we have to accelerate projects, we’ve got to put our foot on the gas for economic development. The only way to bend the property tax curve to be more competitive, is to grow the economy, get more people to move to town, and businesses, grow the tax base. That’s really the only long-term solution, economic growth.
I was successful in cutting property taxes back. Grant it, I didn’t get a full whack at it because obviously the budget was well underway when I got appointed in July, so didn’t get a full chance at it, but look forward to help craft the budget in the 2024 year with a lot of time to look at the benefit structure, the base structure, the cost in general, the departments, the staffing levels.
The Dakotan – How are you different from your opponent?
Streyle – I’m conservative, and with my business experience, budgeting experience through the state, and the state’s budget is substantially bigger and more complex than the city’s, so I just think that gives me an advantage of being able to hit the ground running, and I’ve already done it in the 2023 budget when I was able to make some changes to that.
Scott’s a smart, good guy. I just think the legislative piece, connections with the legislature, relationship with the governor is going to be very important if we want to accelerate the flood protection plan which would save the taxpayers of Minot tens of millions of dollars, and the state taxpayer too, because it’s a joint project of course.
The Dakotan – What are your main issues and goals if you get elected?
Streyle – The top priority, not in any order, would be securing the funding to get that job done quicker than it otherwise would get done.
Economic growth and business friendly climate. I don’t think we’re doing the best job we could in either of those. The MACEDC has got a new leader right now, strengthening that partnership between the city and the chamber. We’re competing against other cities, other states, other municipalities for business and I think we need to be very aggressive in doing so.
Affordable housing, and what I mean by that is everything. The tax policy that goes with that, the lot pricing, the home pricing. It’s expensive to live in Minot, and we need to make more land available for development. Right now if you were going to build a house, there’s not a lot of land available to be able to do that. We need large tracts of land, we need to encourage developers to develop them. If we don’t have places for people to live, how the
heck are we going to grow the tax base or the sales tax revenue, which would then take the pressure off of property taxes for every political subdivision, not just the city.
The way to reduce property taxes I think is through economic growth, and we have to have affordable places for people to live in the city. We have to develop the land that’s readily available with infrastructure in the ground. I’m not advocating that the city go out and run a bunch of new infrastructure. The city’s got to encourage and sell itself on the fact that we’re a good place to put your money. I think it’s the city’s obligation to put packets together to encourage investment, not the other way around. I think we’re moving that way, we just need to do it quicker and better.
Look at all the workforce problems we have. You can’t find people to fill the jobs. Well, we’ve got to bring people into this community, but we can’t without affordable housing or housing in general. There’s plenty of jobs.
I’m super passionate that the city needs to be run more like a business, and it needs to be more nimble, it needs to be more aggressive in its pursuit of business, its pursuit of developers. Less red tape, let’s get stuff done attitude.
The Dakotan – Would it require taxes for the city to invest in more growth?
Steyle – I’m not advocating for any of that. I’m just saying if there is land available, which there is around town, we need to encourage developers to come and develop it. We need to use every tool we can, whether it’s tax incentives, property tax abatements, any tool that the state allows, we should be using those for housing. There are not that many houses on the market. The ones that are generally are selling quickly, even in a high inflation, high interest rate environment. The city’s got to be an
aggressive partner with whatever developer it is, if it’s an out-of-state, if it’s a local, if it’s a regional one. We just need some housing going.
I think sales tax is a fair tax. Property taxes in a lot of cases are not fair taxes the way they’re implemented. So to me, shifting our economy in Minot to more of a sales tax driven economy. I will not vote for mill increases. We actually cut the mills for the 2023 budget. Now, property valuations went up, but the cuts that we did were close to half of the total increase. It wasn’t quite 50% but it was close.
We’re not on an interstate like Bismarck, Fargo or Grand Forks, so we’re at a disadvantage there, but I think our advantage is we’ve got an Air Force base, we’ve got a great college, we’ve got great people, and it’s a good place to live, a safe place to live. That’s another priority. We have to have a safe community, and I think we do but we can always do better.
The Dakotan – Why should people elect Scott Burlingame to the Minot city council?
Burlingame – There’s three primary reasons why I’ve decided to run for city council.
First and foremost, I believe we have a childcare crisis in Minot, and it’s keeping people out of the workforce, so I believe we can leverage some economic development dollars to increase the availability and affordability of child care.
Second thing, I want to see our city grow in a smart way, in a way that doesn’t overly burden the taxpayers with bad decisions.
The third thing, I want to be able to build a sustainable budget that is level and relies less and less on property taxes in order to pay for essential services.
The Dakotan – What makes you different from your opponent?
Burlingame – I’m an outsider. I don’t come from the inside of a political system by any stretch. I’m new to politics, but I’m an established community member. I’ve been working within this community of Minot to make our community stronger, to make Minot a place that people want to live in. That’s my background. It’s all about making Minot a better community. That kind of stuff is missing on our city council right now, really, that outsider perspective and that community builder perspective.
I have experience. I’ve been involved with numerous councils, boards and commissions on a local level, on a statewide level, and on a national level. I understand how to work with people, and how to bring people together, and how to work with people who aren’t exactly like you, and how to engage folks. I have the skillset to do that, but I want to bring that as an outsider perspective to city council.
The Dakotan – What are your main issues and goals if you get elected?
Burlingame – I mentioned my three points there, but a couple other things, workforce is so far the number one issue that I hear about when I talk to people. It doesn't really matter who I’m talking to. I could be talking to somebody that works in the restaurant field or I can be talking to someone who works in a manufacturing field, or in a medical field, or the schools. Workforce is just continuously the issue. I really want to focus our economic
development efforts on bringing people to our community. We need people. We need people in our workforce. So the more that we can do to build our workforce, the better it can be.
I think that really starts a lot with developing a relationship with our local schools, both college and high schools, to really engage youths on a much more intentional level so that we can teach them about the advantages of Minot and make they stay in this community.
The Dakotan – Property taxes are a big issue for people. Do you have a plan on keeping them from increasing?
Burlingame – There’s two primary ways I think we can address property taxes. First off is growing the size of our economy. If we can increase our economy, we can increase sales tax, and we can use those dollars rather than property taxes to pay for essential services. That’s why, again going back to my plan to bring workforce in. Each individual person that we create jobs for become their own economic engine, bring money into our community, which will help keep the price of property tax lower.
The second thing is smart growth. Taking better advantage of our existing infrastructure. It’s extraordinarily expensive when we grow into green space on the outsides of our community, because every time we do that we have to bring new water, and sewer, and roads, and fire coverage, and police coverage and all of that. When we can grow in our existing space, and make better use of our existing infrastructure, it’s a wiser decision and doesn’t burn the taxpayers unnecessarily. So therefore we don’t have to pay for more of all of those things that do cost money and are essential.
I recognize the fact that people have the right to build where they want to build, but we can incentivize and encourage the right decisions for the taxpayers.
The Dakotan – What would you do to incentivize people and businesses to move here?
Burlingame – I think we have to use every tool in the toolbox. We can talk about Tax Incentive Financing, we can talk about continued and expanded use of renaissance zones, we can talk about making better use of the Magic Fund that the city has. I think there’s a few different things like that.
But just to reiterate again, I’d love to have the next big box store, and I’d love to have some new restaurants in town, and I’d really love to see new and aspiring entrepreneurs starting up their own businesses in Minot, which I really think is the backbone of our future. But all that being said, we really have to deal with the workforce issue, because if these new restaurants and new businesses come into town, who’s going to work there? So we have to focus on that first.
The other thing I’ll just say is, I really would like to see more participation in our local government. I’d love to see more young people involved. I’ve been hearing about how Watford City has a Youth Ambassadors Committee that is actively engaged in making that community more family friendly, and recognizing that this is the cool place to live. I’d really like to see more youth involved. I’d like to see more small business owners, stay at home parents, just different people engaged, because I just think that more representative groups can make us a stronger community. If we can get our youth excited about our community, they will be not only more likely to stay themselves but they’ll be more likely to attract new people.