Shawano mayoral candidates square off at forum

Leader photo by Amy Weaver

Mayor Russ Schmidt, right, fields a question during a mayoral candidate forum for members of the Shawano Area Chamber of Commerce Friday as his challengers JP Drengler, left, and John Granchay, center, look on. The three will meet again for a public debate at the end of the month.

By Amy Weaver

Leader Reporter

A trio of mayoral candidates for the city of Shawano presented their views on a variety of issues at a forum Friday.

JP Drengler, John Granchay, and Mayor Russ Schmidt spoke at a session for Shawano Area Chamber of Commerce members at the Daily Grind.

Drengler, a local businessman who serves as a Shawano County Supervisor, said as mayor, he could bring to the city of Shawano needed fiscal responsibility. He said he demonstrated that most recently in a petition to bring the county courthouse/sheriff's department expansion project to a referendum.

Granchay, a member of the Shawano-Gresham School Board, said his vision of Shawano includes an emphasis on city resources such as Shawano Medical Center and Shawano Community High School and keeping taxes low as a way to encourage people to reside in Shawano.

"I'm hoping to bring people into the city to stay," he said.

Schmidt, who is seeking re-election for a third term, said much has happened in the last two years and he doesn't plan on missing the next two.

Within his second term as mayor, the city has accomplished much, Schmidt said, including the establishment of the revolving loan fund for businesses, the fiber optic loop that connects all city buildings, moving into a new city hall, joint law enforcement dispatch and joint 911. Plans for this year include implementation of the downtown design plan, improvement of the Highway 47/55 bridge, expansion of Huckleberry Harbor and completion of the Mountain Bay Bike Trail, he said.

"Things look very bright for Shawano and I want to be a part of it," Schmidt said.

Although Shawano has its share of attractions, all the candidates felt as if the city could do more in the future to emphasis its strengths, like encouraging people to not just visit, but live in Shawano and for businesses to put up shop here, especially downtown.

"I'm very much concerned about downtown," Drengler said. "We need to revitalize it to help the city, the county and the state as well."

Granchay said the city shouldn't buy property downtown, but work with the Main Street program to bring businesses in to buy the property.

Schmidt was also opposed to the city buying property downtown, with the exception of some land near a park. He, however, was all for the redevelopment and the possible establishment of a TIFF district.

The candidates were also asked to describe the best use of motel room tax receipts.

Granchay said he wants to see the money spent on bringing businesses to town, including the industrial park.

"I want to see that money used as it was intended," Drengler said. "We need to bring people here and show why Shawano should be a vacation destination."

Although Schmidt was in favor of utilizing the revenue, he emphasized that the purpose of the tax is for tourist-related projects, not tourism promotion. "It's bricks and mortar," he said.

Drengler said the city needs to be more accountable to avoid problems over attorney fees and lawsuits against the city.

Without a full-time attorney, Schmidt said the city had to look elsewhere for legal assistance in the disciplinary hearings. There are several lawsuits pending against the city, but he noted that two of them Police Chief Norm Jahn's lawsuit and officer Dan Mauel's appeal are out of the city's hands.

Although people may think the city's conflicts with the police department will go away once Jahn leaves, Schmidt said there is "enough fault to go around." There are problems and the city has worked hard to make things better and they slowly are getting that way, he stressed.

With city residents facing a large tax hike this year, Granchay said the city needs to work harder to keep the taxes down. By doing a needs survey, he said they can determine what people want and what they are willing to pay for.

By doing that, the city will draw people into the area and essentially "make Shawano a place people want to go," he said.

Schmidt said taxes are not high in Shawano, as the city has been in the lower third of taxes in the state for many years. Taxes could have decreased this year, but the city thought it best in the long run to borrow less and pay off their debt faster.

"We are in a tremendous position," he said. "It can only get better."

The relationship between the city and the county could also improve, although it has never been better, Schmidt said. The two have successful worked together for joint dispatch, joint 911, and a dive team.

"I look forward to working together with them," he said. "There are a lot of things we can do together."

Reducing duplication of efforts, like joint dispatch, is a ideal example of how well the two groups can work together and save tax payers money, Granchay said. The city administrator and county administrative coordinator can also be utilized in future joint efforts.

"What's good for the city is going to be good for the county," he said.

As a supervisor, Drengler said he has seen the lines of communication between the city and county fade. He believes he can help both sides, as he is running for re-election to the board and for mayor.

"I am running for both, so the lines of communication can increase and I can be a better advocate for the city," he said.

The trio will meet again before the Feb. 15 primary election for a public debate, which has not yet been scheduled.

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