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Wisconsin Rapids Tribune | The Daily Tribune

Meet the candidates for Wisconsin Rapids City Council District 1 in the April 4 election

By Jamie Rokus, Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune,

2023-03-14
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Incumbent Ryan Austin will face challenger Keith Hetzel for the District 1 seat on the Wisconsin Rapids City Council in the April 4 election.

Alderpersons serve a two-year term.

To learn more about registering to vote and to find your polling place, visit My Vote Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune asked each of the candidates to address important issues in the district and why they are running for the position.

Ryan Austin

Age: 39

Residence: Wisconsin Rapids

Occupation and education: Senior superintendent at Boldt Construction; studied pre-engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh; graduate of Lincoln High School

Relevant experience: Current Wisconsin Rapids District 1 alderperson, Public Works Committee chairperson, Wastewater Commission member, Planning Commission member, Recovery and Redevelopment Committee member, Historic Preservation Commission member, McMillan Library Board of Trustees member, McMillan Library Personnel Committee member, McMillan Library Building and Grounds Committee member.

Keith Hetzel

Age: 64

Residence: Wisconsin Rapids

Occupation and education: Retired; Bachelor of Science degree

Why are you running for this position?

Austin: Wisconsin Rapids has seen its share of struggles yet remains a desirable home for those who want to make a good life for themselves. Our residents and businesses need representation that ensures our city government always keeps their best interests in mind. My experience as the current District 1 alderperson and as a senior superintendent for Boldt Construction have instilled the teamwork and leadership qualities needed to work effectively with City Council on problem solving and finding common ground.

Hetzel: I want to give back to my hometown. I also want to plan for the future of the city.

What are residents telling you are the most important issues in District 1, and how would you address them?

Austin: Three years ago, residents watched the doors close and paper machines idle at Verso causing a great deal of uncertainty in our community. I’m honored to be the mayor\council appointee to the Recovery and Redevelopment Committee currently working with Vandewalle & Associates to develop a reuse strategy for the mill. Additionally, our community has lost numerous retail stores and continues to sputter in attracting industrial and commercial manufacturers needed to create opportunities that will support our residents. I will continue to work with City Council and staff to ensure we explore all options to address these economic shortcomings.

Hetzel: The train situation is critical. I want to work to find a solution so that the residents of the west side aren't kept from medical attention if needed because there's a 45-minute wait for a lengthy coal train to pass.

What are the top two issues that you believe the council should address?

Austin: 1) Economic development. City Council and staff need more focus on attracting new businesses and improving the local economy. Investing in infrastructure, providing incentives to businesses and streamlining regulations to simplify the process for businesses to obtain permits and licenses are proven ways to enhance economic development. 2) Infrastructure. City road improvements and repairs have been lagging significantly for many years. City Council has the means to ensure the appropriate amount of work is done annually. Unfortunately, road improvements and repairs continue to fall short of sustainable levels.

Hetzel: 1) Jobs that pay a living wage to be able to support a family. 2) More commerce in the community, so residents don't need to shop elsewhere.

The city has been discussing issues with blocked train crossings for years and recently received a “Feasibility Study Report.” How would you like to see the city address this issue.

Austin: Increasing rail traffic continues to impact communities like Wisconsin Rapids by causing significant traffic delays, congestion, noise and safety concerns. Previous rail studies in Wisconsin Rapids have been done resulting in no action. My hope is the upcoming Council can finally be the one to act. I believe the direction on this issue, if any, should come from our residents. An issue of this magnitude affecting many throughout the city should be considered for referendum. Potential changes like quiet zones, predictive mobility, underpass\overpass, or a combination thereof are costly solutions that should be approved by taxpayers.

Hetzel: There has to be a solution to keep residents safe, especially if there is need for medical attention. Perhaps the city needs to look at an overpass/underpass solution or work to relocate the tracks to another area to relieve congestion.

Since the closure of the Verso mill in 2020, residents have been discussing the need for more businesses and manufacturing jobs in the city. How can the City Council play a role in attracting new businesses?

Austin: City Council must work with city staff to create a positive business climate that helps attract new business to the area by implementing more policies and programs that support economic growth. This should include topics like streamlining regulations to obtain permits and licenses, offering incentives like tax breaks or grants to encourage investment in our community, and continued marketing of Wisconsin Rapids to help highlight the city’s strengths and advantages.

Hetzel: I believe the city needs to look at other communities that are attracting commerce and industry into their communities. The city needs to review these plans and take the best of each of these and develop a plan that will satisfy the needs of our city. I also feel that abandoned buildings should be razed to be considered for redevelopment.

Editor Jamie Rokus can be reached at jrokus@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jamie_Rokus.

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