Mayoral Candidate Responses – 2021

See also the video of our Oshkosh Mayoral Candidate Forum, recorded on March 2.

1. Please provide some personal background information (name, occupation, list any community activities you are involved with).

Kris Larson: Name – Kris Larson
Occupation – Small Business Owner
List any community activities you are involved with – Currently co-chair Downtown Oshkosh Business Improvement District; Immediate past president Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau; Treasurer WI Restaurant Association; Board member Oshkosh Celebration of Lights

Lori Palmeri (incumbent): Name and occupation – Lori Palmeri, MUP. I currently work part time supporting essential health care needs as an on demand Medical Courier. I also provide at large Planning Consultant services to organizations throughout the State of Wisconsin.
Community activities, aside from the many in connection with the Mayoral role, personally I am also engaged in Central City Neighborhood support activities, community gardens, urban beekeeping/and native planting efforts. I am also engaged with regional and state organizations on a variety of issues.

2. Please outline what you consider to be the City of Oshkosh’s 3 – 5 most critical issues.

Kris Larson: 1. Refinement and reinforcement of our Council/Manager for of Government that includes better accountability of Council to the Citizens of Oshkosh and better accountability of City Manager to the Council.

2. Better and more engagement from City Hall with the community, including working to get more folks involved in the governing process from small steps like encouraging voting, to larger steps of increasing inclusiveness on Council, boards and commissions and through greater transparency and discourse in general.

3. Finding a balance between taxation and services. We are nearing a tipping point where these two items relate less and less to one another. The above 2 items will be helpful in the long run to solving this third.

Lori Palmeri: i. Continuing to deliver existing services/ maintaining infrastructure with declining shared revenue/state aid
ii. Affordable housing and transportation for service sector workforce earning less than a living wage
iii. Building resiliency from disruptive events while also advancing equitable policy
iv. advancing green infrastructure proactively and in response to climate change impacts
v. continuing to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within and outside City Hall so that Oshkosh becomes the most welcoming city in the valley.

3. There are a number of geographic locations within the city that can benefit from attention to facilitate economic growth and development.  Please identify and discuss what you consider to be the top two or three economic development priorities that you will champion as a member of the city council?

Kris Larson: As a general principle, I believe that private development often knows better than municipalities what is best for a particular city or location, and that, at times, we may be steering too hard on a particular site or region. I am a firm believer that the ‘but for’ proposition of TIF funding is the most important part.

However, particularly in a post-pandemic time, I realize it is important to consider and encourage as much growth as we possibly can, so I am not specifically opposed to any facilitation of economic growth. I am willing and would champion any viable development brought forth without regard to any specific location at this time.

Lori Palmeri: As a professional geographer, I depend upon relationships, both spatial (the where) and ecological (the living/environment) perspectives to identify and understand people and places. We need both perspectives for communities that share land use, in order to represent fairly and equitably. This provides the frame to problem solve and allocate resources through policy which supports the community.
i. I believe we need to prioritize infill development across the city. I do not limit my view of economic development to a specific geographic location as I believe we should encourage micro-preneurial opportunities and build an entrepreneurial ecosphere (“six Cs”: confidence, courage, capital, capacity, collaboration and critical mass) to support creation of small and scalable business with an eye to economic resiliency. One creative example is reviewing opportunities for home-based business municipal code review.
ii. With that said, some specific areas we should continue to support, with a discerning eye towards equitable access and impacts, include the Sawdust District, downtown North Main Street, and North Jackson corridor.
iii. A gap study of business needs and creation of a “hot list” derived from a gap analysis/leakage study for priority assistance. This could include for example, childcare and green jobs (alternative energy, urban agriculture/food production, building green infrastructure) prioritized assistance to said needs.

4. Previous City Councils have considered proposals to change the policy on how to fund the current street improvement and sidewalk replacement program.  Past proposals included establishing a Transportation Utility Fee Program or a Transportation Assessment Replacement Fee as a means to eliminate special assessments for street reconstruction/improvement projects and the sidewalk replacement program. Do you support this type of a program? If so, what should be the basis to establish a transportation fee? Please discuss your position.

Kris Larson: I do support any and all discussion on ways to improve our street repair and the financial ramifications that come with it to the citizens of Oshkosh. In particular, I also support a fee-based program to replace our current method of assessment. The basis to establish a fee should be the benefit to the municipality and general financial position thereof (of course, whilst operating within state guidelines, which is perpetually the most difficult part of programs as proposed).

To provide a bit of specific fidelity on statement above (without making this far too long to read): I believe the benefits of establishing a flat-rate fee for assessments are greater than the current method not only because they are ultimately less expensive to a majority of property owners, but also because programs like this would provide near instant capital allowing a municipality to not borrow money to repair roads. Having funds in advance of projects removes many expensive pieces that come with current model such as inspecting sidewalks and processing bills for assessments. The efficiency of the method combined with cost savings of a program like this would ultimately, I believe, go a long way toward improving the current budget situation and would allow for better and theoretically more infrastructure repairs going forward.

Lori Palmeri: Currently, there is an opportunity to support the Governor’s budget proposal which includes an item of a local sales tax at municipal level which could be an option. I do support a TUF on the basis of impervious surface area along with consideration of the (currently in process) customized study being done regarding trip generation as a method for possible calculation. We could also look at a hybrid of including a Vehicle Registration Fee in combination. The least desirable is a general levy increase

5. Municipalities across the State are moving to Fee for Service approaches to pay for the delivery municipal services that were otherwise funded by the annual property tax levy. Do you support a funding approach like this? If so, what current city services would be appropriately funded as a Fee for Service? If a new Fee for Service is imposed, should property tax payers receive an equal, proportionate tax levy credit?

Kris Larson: I think I answered a lot of this one above (sorry!… got ahead).

Yes! I do support, in theory, a fee-based approach for services, especially in instances where other benefits in refinement of processes come with them (as above with assessments).  And absolutely yes!, if a new fee for service is imposed where funding currently comes from the levy, especially if there are benefits and cost savings that come with it residually, wherever possible there should be a tax levy credit. I believe that there are already guidelines in place as to which types of services might necessitate a levy credit and which ones might not.

Lori Palmeri: Please be more specific,… EMS services? Water….Garbage….Fire Prevention? which communities and what examples (aside from the Transportation Utility Fee discussed above)

It depends. We have a schedule of fees currently. The idea that additional fees should be credited on tax levy credit is like the conversation that goes “…if we don’t have kids in school we shouldn’t pay school district…”

6. The City established a Storm Water Utility in 2003 for the purposes of managing storm water run-off issues in the community. Residential property owners are assessed for one equivalent runoff unit (ERU). Non-residential property owners are assessed annual fees based on the amount of impervious space (parking lots and roof tops) to determine the amount of ERUs that exists on a parcel. The initial storm water utility fee in 2003 was $19.10 per ERU and has grown to $196.92 per ERU, a 14.7% annual rate increase. Do you believe this increase is reasonable? Please outline your ideas to curtail the growth in storm water utility fees.

Kris Larson: No, the increase in fees in this case is not reasonable.

I do understand the importance of managing runoff, the increasing costs that come with it and are, at least in part, caused by growth (which is great). I am very grateful that, in general, we have less street flooding that Oshkosh had historically. However, I cannot justify an increase as large as this one and feel the subject is in need of further examination.

My hopes, fairly broad stroke, are that we can continue to look at other options (again, as above and I read ahead, one below as well!) for all sorts of expenses, and that savings can be applied to other less equitable categories as well.

Lori Palmeri: First, we need to keep in mind the fact that a Storm Water Utility was not established until 2003 means prior Common Councils delayed critical infrastructure needs. The lesson for today is that the Common Council cannot defer maintenance and leave it to future Councils and taxpayers to address all of our critical needs. Second, I do not think a 14.7% annual rate increase is reasonable. What we need is better forecasting and education, so that rate payers know exactly what kinds of increases to expect over the next ten years, and WHY the rate hikes are necessary. And, finally, we must invest in green infrastructure to get the costs, to this and future generations , reined in as we build out resiliency (adaptive management) in a proactive not just reactive manner to climate change

7. Local governments have asked the Legislature to prohibit the use of physically comparable vacant properties as comparable sales to occupied properties for property tax assessment purposes, known as the “dark store” loophole. The result of this policy would allow tax collectors to more subjectively assess property value and taxes, and make it harder for businesses to challenge their tax bill. Do you support the eliminating the so-called “dark store” loophole to allow municipal assessors to disproportionately assess commercial property owners? Please discuss.

Kris Larson: This question is phrased in an interesting manner! I absolutely support eliminating the so-called ‘dark store’ loophole, as it has, and will continue to totally unnecessarily burden taxpayers with taxes that should be paid by others. The process of comparing a fully operational business to a shuttered one is completely unfair to not only homeowners, but also to business owners who are not greedily looking to pass their tax burden to someone else.

Additionally, the framing of this question in the context of ‘allow(s) tax collectors to more subjectively assess property value and make it harder for businesses to challenge their tax bill’ is untrue and only serves to muddy this already very murky subject. To the question above directly: closing the dark store loophole does not and will not allow municipal assessors to disproportionally do anything. Closing the loophole, however, will prevent large multinational companies from taking advantage of local homeowners.

Lori Palmeri: Yes, I do support closing the dark store loophole as currently residents and small businesses have to cover the reduced taxes paid by the stores roughly 5% statewide – shifting the burden on others. The dark store loophole is a classic and unfortunate example of how the special interest politics dominating our state legislature result in punishing the residential taxpayer at the local level. This could be compared to a homeowner claiming they should pay less tax because vacant foreclosure homes are valued less in the city.

8. The State of Wisconsin currently imposes levy limits on local municipalities, but allows for levy increases based on new development. Do you support the continuation of this? Should there be modifications? Should this be repealed? Please discuss.

Kris Larson: I definitely support levy increases based on net new construction. In general, many municipalities, Oshkosh included, are increasingly hamstrung by reductions in shared revenue and less general transportation aids from the state. I fear that if a cycle persists where municipalities must perpetually not increase or lower spending, as costs continue to increase, that we deter growth in general by not having services that spur new development. It’s sort of putting the cart before the horse. I have faith that Oshkosh government officials can appropriately manage increases in a levy and use those funds in a manner that improves the quality of life for those who live here and spurs new growth.

Lori Palmeri: This is a bigger discussion and a good question. When it comes to the issue of local control, the State Legislature “talks the talk” but does not “walk the walk.” Levy limits is but one of many issues that could or should be modified if we really did have local
control. Minimum wage would be another.

9. Over the past year, the State of Wisconsin has imposed a number of restrictions on businesses and individuals aimed at reducing the spread of Covid-19. As a City Council member, would in support imposing further restrictions on the citizenry of Oshkosh? If so, please outline what those restrictions might be. Please discuss your answer..

Kris Larson: As someone who owns businesses directly affected by restraints placed, my answer to this has not wavered from the very beginning of the pandemic. I am not a doctor but am in an industry governed by science and required to adhere to safety guidelines based in science at all times. I am in favor, and will remain in favor, of any and all regulations aimed toward collectively getting our local economy back to normal as soon as possible.

Lori Palmeri: Ideally, the State of Wisconsin DHS would be respected for their expertise, but in the absence of State or County abilities, yes we should address local needs in any extraordinary crisis. We have a number of ordinances that address health, safety and welfare which have been advised for the benefit of the public. I would support further expectations if reasonably (based on science) proposed. It does not need to be viewed as restrictive, but additional cautionary measures which have proven to reduce disease based on CDC information. While opponents of public health measures are loud, the majority of feedback I get from residents is that they want us to take whatever actions are necessary to enable us to reopen completely as soon as possible in a safe manner. They believe that taking shortcuts on public health will ultimately make it more difficult to get the virus under control, and I agree with them.

10. In the proposed 2021-22 Biennial State Budget, Gov. Evers proposed the creation of a ½-cent municipal sales tax that communities over 30,000 could enact if approved by local referendum. If this proposal were to be retained, would you support the creation of a ½-cent city-wide sales tax? Please discuss.

Kris Larson: One. Million. Percent. Yes! This question is a perfect way to end the survey as it ties in to nearly every single question asked above. Primarily, municipalities, especially ones like Oshkosh that have a flourishing tourism and hospitality business, would benefit greatly from this proposal. Revenues collected in this manner could go a long way toward positively impacting every other question asked here.

Lori Palmeri: I would and do support this for both the city and county. I have lived in municipalities (outside of Wisconsin) that also have a municipal income tax. This is not an option here. However, similar to the discussion above, it would be one of numerous ways in which to address challenged budgets. When the State Legislature refuses to fully fund the Shared Revenue program and places other limits on local ability to raise revenue, it becomes almost impossible to maintain the quality of services that citizens have become accustomed to.