Mayor faces challenge in city election Tuesday, Nov. 5
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 5:39 AM
After 16 years in city government, Mayor Don Arendt has learned Decorah is a diverse community with many special interests.
City elections are Tuesday, Nov. 5, in Decorah, and polls are open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. in polling locations throughout the city. (A ballot and polling locations were published in the Thursday, Oct. 24 Journal).
"I've learned that people have a passion for keeping our community amenities here, which is certainly something we need to do, along with protecting our natural resources," Arendt said.
"I've also learned there are more than 110 volunteers serving our community on boards and commissions, volunteer firefighters. People are willing to serve because they care about our community and recognize we have a unique area."
Arendt is seeking his third, four-year term as mayor. He previously served 10 years as the Fifth Ward Decorah City Council representative. He is being challenged by Jim McIntosh.
During his tenure as mayor, Arendt was emergency operations center co-director during the 2008 and 2013 flood, and helped obtain more than $800,000 in federal disaster assistance for flood mitigation in 2008 and an estimated $80,000 this year.
A 34-year resident of Decorah, Arendt also was involved in the establishment of the Decorah Historic Preservation Commission and the Decorah Human Rights Commission.
Arendt retired in May of 2001 after a 40-year career working for Iowa State University Extension. He was county extension director in Howard County for 22 years, one year in Mahaska County and four years in Allamakee County.
He is a peacetime veteran, having served in the U.S. Army for two years.
Projects to complete
Arendt said he would like to see several projects through completion, such as the establishment of a community recreation center. He'd also like to see the city hire a building inspector and complete the certification process for the city's flood control levee.
The mayor said the city should also consider stronger ordinances on where construction can take place in the community.
If re-elected, Arendt would like to see the city complete its annexation plan for land east of the city to the business park.
"Financing is going to be a real hassle and will probably require bonding, but we will have the opportunity to have city lots up there," Arendt commented.
"We cannot maintain our tax base without having additional housing, industry, etc. We can't sustain the city by the status quo. Everybody expects an increase in salary every year. The only way we can increase our tax asking is an increase in valuations. If the value of houses doesn't go up, we need additional houses or businesses."
The mayor said the property tax rate on commercial properties is going down, which will have a negative impact on the city in the short run, but eventually could lead to more businesses.
Housing needs in the city should be addressed, Arendt said, and with little land available for development, the only option may be to "build up."
Arendt has been married to his wife, Phyllis, for 48 years. They have two grown children, Susan and Bruce, and four grandchildren.
McIntosh, who moved to Decorah earlier this year, retired in 2002 after a 39-year career in education in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
McIntosh and his wife, Patricia, have been coming to Decorah for years to visit Patricia's sister, Julie Fischer, and her husband, Rob.
He said he's learned a lot while campaigning.
"It's confirmed what I thought of Decorah before I moved," said McIntosh, who said he's knocked on about 1,100 doors so far.
"People have been very cordial and very accepting ... conservation and sustainability have been on the minds of a good many of the people that I've met."
In reading old Council minutes and going through the city's comprehensive land-use plan and study on sustainability, McIntosh said he believes Decorah is facing issues it hasn't in the past. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the city's population has dropped about 100 people, McIntosh said. The segment of the population that is growing the fastest is the mid-50s age group.
"A lot of people are coming back to Decorah who are near or at retirement age. We are going to be looking at an increase in the type of service we provide to a particular age group," he said.
Health, safety and assisted living facilities are all areas that will need to be addressed, McIntosh said.
"That group of people is also very interested in the types of activities that the environment provides here, like camping and hiking," he said.
"The real challenge becomes keeping Decorah viable both in the economy and in the things people look for and need to keep Decorah everybody's hometown, at the same time incorporating and accounting for changes in society around us," McIntosh said.
Completing the construction of utilities to the Decorah Business Park will help insure economic viability to the city, according to the candidate. After that, he said the city should put on a "full court press" to attract small and medium-size businesses to town.
"When you have a variety of businesses, you're better able to handle any changes in the overall economics of the country ... at the same time, if we emphasize the business park, we need to keep downtown a vigorous place as well," McIntosh said.
Another issue for McIntosh is taking care of dilapidated structures.
"Some buildings in much need of repair are close to very nice buildings," McIntosh said.
Hiring a building inspector to enforce building codes would be "good move," he added.
McIntosh was a chemistry and biology teacher, assistant high school principal and an assistant school superintendent. He also taught courses in science for elementary teachers for Purdue University Extension.
The last 14 years of his career, McIntosh was a school finance consultant for the Department of Public Instruction in Wisconsin, including two years as director of school finance for the state.
McIntosh and his wife have a combined six children, 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.