So I’ve written about the West St. Paul mayor, ward 2 and ward 3 city council races, so I might as well explore the ward 1 race and cover all the bases. Incumbent Pat Armon is running for reelection in ward 1 and is facing challenger Bob Pace.
Pat Armon works for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Bob Pace is the owner of Pace’s Tire and Service Center on Robert Street in West St. Paul.
Like other races in the city, I think this one comes down to investment versus low taxes. Pat Armon sees the long-term benefits of investment, that investing in infrastructure will raise property values and bring more business and residents to the city. Bob Pace argues that those investments are costing too much and rising property taxes will drive people away.
But there’s also an added element of experience that Pat Armon brings to the table. Neither of these candidates are career politicians. For a town of 20,000 people, our council members are regular citizens who pitch in. I don’t think we should expect city council candidates to know everything, but being knowledgeable and engaged is a big plus. There are areas where Bob Pace admits he doesn’t have answers yet (which is certainly better than faking it or giving us political jargon), and that’s where I think Pat Armon’s experience and expertise shines through.
You can also see it in Armon’s specific examples and suggestions. Actually very few of the candidates for any office talk with that level of detail.
This one is hard for me since I take my car to Pace’s and trust Bob. But I also disagree with him. I think smart investment, even if it costs more in the short-term, is a much better path in the long term. I think Pat Armon better balances investment and taxes, as well as offering more experience.
So that’s my high-level overview. I’ll give specific examples below and you can make up your own mind. And I definitely encourage everyone to reach out to Bob Pace and Pat Armon and get your own questions answered. We’ve seen Bob Pace take flack for misconstrued comments, so I think it’s important to get the full story.
(All quotes below come from the Dakota County Chamber of Commerce candidate questionnaires).
Pat Armon: “When residents and people from neighboring communities continued to tell me that they simply would not go to businesses along South Robert Street due to road condition, safety and lack of visual appeal; it was time to take action. The streetscape was described in very unflattering terms and safety concerns were personified by the Butler Avenue intersection being one of the 35 worst in the state. Finally, when we learned that ambulance service would not use South Robert Street due to its condition for the safety of its staff and patients, it was simply time to take action.
“This situation was akin to a homeowner having a roof that is leaking. The cost/benefit analysis becomes either fix the roof, or the alternative of continued damage to your home by not fixing it will continue. Cost estimates did increase due to the needs not being fully-known, including those of the underground infrastructure, and were not based on present construction reality. Further delays in action would have added even more costs due to further delays as well as the loss of $7.5 million of federal money for the project.”
Bob Pace: “As a business owner on Robert Street, I may have a different perspective than most. While we definitely needed to upgrade the safety and surface of the street, I feel that at this point the design does not work well. I fear over time this may prove out to be less safe than before. Examples; unsafe U-turns allowed, cars cutting through corner business because left turns are not allowed. I am in the position with my business to talk with many residents within the city and I hear many negative comments. Unfortunately, many say they will avoid Robert Street, even upon completion of the project. In regards to the cost overruns, that is a common issue with many large projects, but this one is astronomical and some of it could have been avoided and a large portion of it should have been known up front. The project should not have moved forward, without the money at the start.”
It’s worth noting the proven safety benefits of adding medians. Residents may not initially like them and it will take some getting used to, but they are much safer than a vast, open center turning lane (often termed a “suicide lane”).
This comes down to what I’ve said before. Robert Street was awful, we had to bite the bullet and fix it. I think it will be a major improvement for the city.
Taxes Too High?
Do you believe the cost of government at the City level is too low, too high, or about right? Please explain your answer.
Pat Armon: “As mentioned previously, we have acted on city resident input to craft budget and revenue plans. One important element in that process was to create budgets that are not dependent on local government aid in order to protect our residents from past problems in having to pay unexpected local taxes when the state cut local government aid.”
Bob Pace: “Too high, Aside from the public safety, and public works departments all budgets could be leaner.”
Careful investment vs. low taxes.
What’s your long-term vision for the community?
Pat Armon: “My goal is that West St. Paul can be a place that we are all proud of. The critical element in this goal is that the council and city alone cannot allow us to reach that. Rather, we need citizens who see what needs to be improved and find like-minded people to get things done.”
Bob Pace: “My long-term vision is that the current redevelopment continues on its path, along with more expansive development. To achieve Robert Street, being completely full and vibrant again. Once that is complete, the commercial tax base will rise, therefore stabilizing or lower residential taxes. I believe, the way to achieve this is to be as pro business, and business friendly to all existing and all future business as we are able to be.”
I think the future of West St. Paul is better served by involving everyone, not just catering to business. Certainly business is important, but we need everyone invested in our future.
How would you characterize the business climate in West St. Paul and how would you improve it?
Pat Armon: “The business climate is improving with more businesses coming to town to fill some of our vacant store fronts. We still need to work on filling some more vacant store fronts and vacant buildings in the light industrial park. One way of doing this would be to have conversations with leaders of our larger and prominent businesses such as Tapemark and Target to see what their ideas are to improve what we can do to assist current businesses and attract others. We need to continue to work with the county to provide fiber optic infrastructure to more areas of the city. Another way is to continue to work with Dakota County’s Open for Business Program that assist people with starting businesses. Finally, we need to better promote our advantage of being ‘close to it all’ to businesses by pointing out our proximity to the MSP and downtown St. Paul airports and both downtowns.
“There has been a residential building boom in downtown St. Paul of market rate and luxury apartments. The boom has brought many new potential customers 3-6 miles from West St. Paul businesses. I would offer to help in any way on a combined marketing effort to attract these residents to town as a new customer base for our businesses.”
Bob Pace: “It has been expressed by many different business owners that there has been a lingering, but slight disconnect between the city and the business owners. It is my goal to aid in changing that disconnect between city officials and businesses.”
Here we see Pat Armon’s specifics.
The Power of Experience
These next three questions highlight areas where Pat Armon demonstrates his knowledge and experience and Bob Pace comes up short. Now that’s not to say a candidate can’t learn once they’re elected and I’m sure Pace will do his research if elected. But that’s on-the-job training, where Armon already knows his stuff.
Many communities and government entities in the Dakota County region collaborate to provide services to their residents in an effort to operate more efficiently and cost effectively. Do you believe there are additional opportunities to deliver public services more efficiently and effectively in a cooperative manner in the region? Please explain?
Pat Armon: “We have evaluated the community every year via on-line methods, phone surveys, and surveys taken at neighborhood meetings. Our budget and levy have corresponded with that public input. As an active participant in lobbying the state to assume a larger proportion of their share for the South Robert Street Project, I am absolutely committed to balancing community needs with the corresponding tax burden.”
Bob Pace: “In this stage of my candidacy, I have not been exposed to, nor provided with enough information to appropriately provide an answer to this question.”
Do you believe there are any services that are not currently provided by the City that should be and, if so, what please describe the services? Are there services provided by the City that should be cut back or eliminated and, if so, please explain?
Pat Armon: “The city provides street maintenance, snow plowing, park and recreation-orientated services, permitting, and police and fire protection. As a follow-up to the previous question, we should be looking at ways to collaborate with other bordering communities and continue to explore and look to other communities on ways to make service delivery more efficient and cost-effective. For example, there seems to be overlapping of recreation programs that could possibly be examined to avoid over- duplication of swim lessons, recreation leagues, etc.
Bob Pace: “If elected, I would research and get more exposure to this issue to further my knowledge and to provide more of a voice to this issue.”
Do you support the proposed Renaissance Plan that is being currently being developed by the City of West St. Paul? Why or why not.
Pat Armon: “The discussion of what parts of the plan will create the best vision for West St. Paul should proceed. To discount the plan entirely is not wise as the status quo at Signal Hills is simply not fulfilling the potential it has. Furthermore, issues of building appearance and encouraging the creation of businesses that complement each other, rather than compete with each other, are in the best interest of everyone to be addressed. Finally, the creation of more market rate housing could provide more local customers for our businesses as market-rate tenants generally have disposable income.
Bob Pace: “At this time, I have not seen enough of the plan to speak on this issue.”
Do Your Research
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Regardless of what you think of my opinion, I implore you to do your own research. Here are some good places to start: