Bemrich talks about growth, opportunities

Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich, who is running unopposed for his second term, has been in city government since 2005 when he was elected to an at-large seat on the City Council.

He became mayor in 2009. The position pays $15,000 a year.

While on the council Bemrich was chairman of the council streets committee and played a leading role in developing the streets policy. He was a key figure in the development of the storm water utility fee system.

A native of Fort Dodge and an electrician with Bemrich Electric and Telephone, Bemrich, 40, graduated from St. Edmond High School in 1992 and is a founding member of Fort Dodge Young Professionals.

Bemrich talked with The Messenger about his goals for the future of Fort Dodge, and answered specific questions about the crosstown connector, the plan to reorganize the Public Works Department, new housing in Fort Dodge, and how to ensure the current economic upswing continues.

What is your position on the crosstown connector?

“I’ve been a strong advocate of the crosstown connector,” Bemrich said. “I believe it’s a catalyst project, very similar to our Fifth Avenue South project, that will create opportunity in our downtown for redevelopment, both by the private sector and by the public sector.”

Infrastructure improvements would create new opportunities for business to invest, he said.

“The crosstown connector is a game-changing project for our downtown, and our downtown is in need of a game-changing event.”

The crosstown connector project would turn First Avenue South into a two-way street all the way through Fort Dodge and join First and Second avenues south between Fifth and Sixth streets. After that link was completed, part of Second Avenue South east of Fifth Street would be removed to create space for future development.

The plan was adopted by the City Council in 2008. However, a new council majority elected in November 2011 made what it called a “crosstown connector slowdown” a priority.

What should local government do to foster the creation of new housing in Fort Dodge?

The city has already taken steps to address this, Bemrich said.

“The staff at our business affairs office, working with the city manager, have put together a really nice outline of different incentives, whether they be tax abatements or some use of TIF for certain utility costs that are outside the normal cost of normal development,” he said.

“I think that is a great start to letting developers know that we’re on board trying to help bring opportunity to our housing market.”

City officials have stated that Fort Dodge needs new housing as expanding businesses bring new jobs to the area.

Approximately one-third of the homes in Fort Dodge were built before 1950.

What is your opinion on the proposal to reorganize the Public Works Department?

Bemrich said the details of this are up to city staff, not the mayor or the council.

“If we look at the city charter, the day-to-day operations and management of our employees and how they function on a day to day is the job of our city manager, and he delegates that down,” Bemrich said.

“If they believe they can do something more efficiently, to the benefit of our taxpayers, to provide better service or reduce costs to the taxpayers, I think we should at least explore those opportunities, if not implement them.”

A reorganization of the Fort Dodge Public Works Department has been under discussion which would reduce the department from six divisions down to three, among other changes.

The plan was initially introduced to the council in June 2013, but the council and Bemrich told administrators to spend more time talking to employees about the plan. Since then a new position has been created, but further action is still pending.

What should local government do to ensure the economic upswing continues?

“Probably one of the biggest things our community needs is a sense of continuity,” Bemrich said.

“So that we have some cooperation and coordination with both the mayor, the council and our staff, to let possible prospects or possible industry that would be looking at our community know that we’re here to work with them, and that we can do that in a very professional manner.”

In April, The Messenger reported that the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance has estimated 365 new jobs will be created in Webster County by 2014. Many of those jobs are being created by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc., Cargill and CJ Bio America. New businesses have been opening along Fifth Avenue South in the Corridor of Commerce.

What are your goals, or your priorities, for the city for the next four years?

“The 10-year anniversary of Envision 2030 will occur in the next four years. I think that gives us an opportunity to really take a step back and say, what were our successes in the first 10 years?” Bemrich said. “And then take that back to our community and say, what do you feel were the successes? What do you think we could do better? Do we need to change direction on some of those long-range goals?”

The city can then break those long-range goals into five-year strategic plans in order to keep moving forward, he said.

“I think most of the success we’ve seen over the last eight years is a direct result of what started with Envision 2030 and then was broken down into more concise planning. If we can continue that pattern of planning for our future and breaking it down to look for opportunities for success, we’ll see that success continue.

“I’m real excited, of course, about the opportunities at the Iowa Crossroads of Global Innovation,” he said, referring to the ag-industrial park west of Fort Dodge. “I think there’s going to be opportunity that we have yet to even realize out there.”

Two other areas are important to him: The city needs to continue working on quality-of-life improvements for new employees and their families that will move into Fort Dodge, he said, and he hopes so see the local workforce built back up.

“We’ve had a number of closings over the last decade or so in our area,” Bemrich said, “and getting those employees the opportunity to get back and work, with a group like Iowa Central (Community College), to get the skills to get some of the jobs that we’re hoping to bring to Fort Dodge, I think that’s another major goal.”

The Envision 2030 plan was prepared in 2007 to guide the city’s development. The City Council hired The Slater Group of Woodstock, Ga., to prepare the plan.

The top priority of that plan is to provide utilities and infrastructure that encourages and supports growth. It also calls for enhancing recreation opportunities in town and revitalizing the downtown area. Envision 2030 is listed under Departments on the city’s website,