The winner of Tuesday’s Platteville Common Council at-large seat will be a newcomer to elective politics, though not necessarily to city operations.
Darrel Browning, owner of Browning Motors, is making his third consecutive run for an at-large council seat. He lost in the 2014 general election to Ald. Amy Seeboth-Wilson and lost in the 2015 primary for the seat eventually won by Ald. Tom Nall.
“When I ran the first time, I made a big issue that city hall was closed on Friday,” said Browning. “I got defeated, but they opened city hall on Fridays.
“I’ve had employees; I’ve had to make payroll. In my opinion the tough questions haven’t been asked.”
Katherine Burk, a planner/GIS specialist for the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, is making her first run for office, but has been involved in city government, including in the Main Street Program.
“I have experience with local government, and I am a part of our community with different organizations,” said Burk. “I have knowledge of our community, and have the ability to bring ideas to our existing issues. I am dedicated to progress and making a great community.”
Browning said he is running on infrastructure issues, including city buildings. He is willing to consider replacing the Municipal Building with a new building because “it’s cheaper to build a new one” over the long run, should a replacement building cost $100,000 more than proposed renovations. “City hall should be our showplace, or at least be modern,” he said.
Browning, a firefighter, believes the fire station should be expanded to the west, not replaced by a new building, because after recent work “the rest of the building’s in pretty good shape.”
Burk calls a possible referendum to fund Municipal Building and fire station work “a next step for our city buildings.”
Burk and Browning disagree on the effectiveness of economic development efforts.
“The area economic groups are doing a great job with the city’s economic development efforts,” said Burk. “There are numerous projects that are in progress that are highlighting Platteville as a place for future residents and businesses.”
“We have to keep our [city] programs, we have to keep our pool open, we have to sure Little League baseball is still here,” he said. “We have to offer enough services that attract the younger professional, which attracts industry. The primary thing industry looks at is usually transportation, and we’ve got a four-lane highway. Number two is the workforce — is the workforce here? Is the workforce of education here?”
One issue prominent in Browning’s mind is the city’s debt, which he says is at 67 percent of its limit. That, he said, prevents major projects from getting done, including streets, which he said are in “terrible shape.”
“We can’t afford to do another project,” he said. Referring to the former Pioneer Ford property, “if we come up with something for that that is not private, and we have to borrow money for that, we’re going to be dead broke. What happens if the sewer palnt fails, or something happens to one of the water towers? We can’t be that high in our debt limit.”
Browning opposes building sidewalks along Business 151 due to their cost. “If people want to walk down there, there is a trail behind those businesses; there are parking lots connected to parking lots,” he said. He would favor sidewalks at intersections “if it didn’t tax the budget.”
“This has been the state for several years,” said Burk of the city’s street work schedule. “Infrastructure is critical for our city. The first item is to review the street repair plans, and the department’s plans.”
Burk supports the merger of the city bus and taxi services into Platteville Public Transportation.
“The merger is beneficial to the city because the shuttle subsidizes the taxi service,” she said. “Without bus revenues, city taxpayers would need to increase support to the Taxi in the amount of $26,388.71 to continue the same service level. … The potential exists to grow ridership with additional marketing. UW–Platteville pays up to $150,000 per year to the city to cover the required local match for the state/federal bus and taxi grant that the city receives.”
“How do you get on the bus?” asked Browning. “I can see it come down here, and one of them stops and two of them go by.”
“Our city employees need incentives,” said Browning. “When I incentivized my employees, they got a lot more efficient. If a project is supposed to take six weeks, and city employees do it in four, that gives us two extra weeks to get something else accomplished. There are ways to incentivize them without raising our taxes and without just throwing cash at them.”