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Election 2012: Mark Sylvester, Shorewood City Council

This week, Lake Minnetonka Patch will be featuring candidates seeking a variety of elected offices. Check back soon for your comprehensive voter guide, coming soon!

Mark Sylvester is running against Dick Woodruff and Kristine Sundberg for Shorewood City Council (vote for two Nov. 6).

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Share something most people don’t know about you.

I believe I am one of the few people in Minnesota who enjoys winter. Actually, I wish Minnesota received a lot more snow than what it does. Growing up, my family and I were very active outdoors in the winter.  Whether it was snowmobiling, skiing, skating or just observing, we loved winter. Now that my daughter is old enough to enjoy sledding and skating (three years old), I can’t wait to go sledding in the back yard or attempt to flood our rink (again). 

On a different subject, I have been recently honored by accepting the Director of Finance (CFO) position at The Emily Program and also serve on the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District (LMCD).

What sorts of thoughts come to mind when you think of Lake Minnetonka?

My first thought goes to my daughter who requests “a drive by the boats” in Excelsior Bay everyday on our way home. She loves everything about the lake—watching and/or riding on the boats, driving by the lake, feeding the fish, and of course, getting ice cream nearby the lake. 

I think some of the enthusiasm that her mom and I feel about lakes has rubbed off on her. It’s great to see. I also think about how my wife and I use lakes—waterskiing, cruising and fishing, and whether those activities would be threatened by an increase in aquatic invasive species. When thinking about lake use for the next generation, I believe we need to have a thorough conversation about what the AIS treatment methods, or lack thereof, would mean for this generation and the next. 

I want my daughter to be able to enjoy Lake Minnetonka in the same way we do today. To do that, let’s begin a civil, thought provoking, outside-the-box conversation with all the stakeholders involved and come a comprehensive plan for moving forward. 

Are invasive species a local, state or federal issue? Or is it a mix? Describe your views.

I wish it was strictly a local issue, but the truth is, it’s a national issue, other states deal with similar issues everyday. However, much of the financing for, and creation of, comprehensive plans have been developed on a local level. The problem with this scenario is that local stakeholders are creating comprehensive AIS plans in a shroud of uncertainty—uncertainty of whether the DNR or federal government will get involved to a greater extent. 

Because of this, there is significant confusion regarding which party should take the “lead” in organizing comprehensive plans. I believe including the DNR in thoughtful, creative and civil discussions with all the local stakeholders and organizations can create the beginning of a comprehensive plan worth adopting.   

What is the most common issue people talk with you about while campaigning? What do you tell them?

Extending city water service has been the most talked about issue. Since roughly 50 percent of Shorewood operates on well water, this is a common concern/talking point. Historically, extending city water service has been an expensive and time consuming infrastructure project. In many cases, water mains need to be extended under city streets to arrive at residences. 

However, an opportunity is beginning to present itself. Shorewood will soon undergo a multi-year road project in which many of or local roads will be re-built. At this time, we have the ability to strategically extend water mains while the street is opened up. This would save a huge amount of resources compared to the alternative. However, it would still require resources. 

Therefore, it would be my goal to partner with sister-cities on street projects that make sense (roads on city borders) or partner with other governmental organizations to save the City of Shorewood’s resources. Either way, I believe this option needs to be thoroughly vetted to determine whether it makes fiscal sense for the City of Shorewood.

How do you feel about the current property tax levels? What about school district taxes (understanding the city council has no control over them)?

In my opinion, cities need to live within reasonable means, and I believe the current property tax levels for the City of Shorewood are at the upper end of what is reasonable. However, I also believe the city has done an excellent job managing it’s finances and being a steward of our tax dollars. 

Moving into the future with many issues on the horizon that will require financial resources, the city needs to be very creative with it’s funding sources. Whether we partner with sister cities, local government organizations, school districts, private companies or individuals, Shorewood needs to be extremely financially savvy moving into the next four-year term. 

I am comfortable with the Minnetonka School District levy. They are a top 10 ranked school district in Minnesota and beat out local districts such as Wayzata, Edina and Orono on schooldigger.com rankings. 

If the funding were available, what projects—either shovel ready or on the drawing board—would you advocate dedicating it to?

AIS treatment and prevention. I say this not because it is the most pressing issue facing the City of Shorewood, but because it is likely to be the most expensive. Our lakes operate as our economic driver. If aquatic invasive species took away from the lakes enjoyment or functionality, we could see a decline in residential and commercial property values, and could experience a decrease in local economic vitality. 

Keeping the lakes in a usable and enjoyable condition is paramount to our future success and allure. Since so many of the AIS questions are unanswered or unknown, the financing associated with this issue could be significant. Therefore, it would be great to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But in the meantime, we should continue to work with the stakeholders involved to form a well-reasoned management plan.

Are you satisfied with the public safety services being provided to city residents?

I believe the South Lake Police Department and the Excelsior Fire District do a remarkable job keeping our residents safe. Both departments have been a great example of local cities pooling resources to offer exceptional service on a limited budget. 

One area I believe we could improve efficiency on a cost and service standpoint is public utilities. Currently, Excelsior, Shorewood and Tonka Bay have their own public utility departments. I believe we could decrease costs within each city if more utility services were shared across city lines.

I would propose looking into this issue in much more detail with our sister cities during this next term.  

How would you encourage the average citizen to become more engaged in local government?

I would explain to the average citizen that local government has an impact on virtually all important aspects of their life. They influence your kids' schooling through school boards, affect your property values through planning and zoning decisions, impact your enjoyment on lakes or trails by city council decisions, park board discussions or LMCD (Lake Minnetonka Conservation District) resolutions. 

In general, local government is all around you. You just need to know what is important to you then you can find a local branch, leader or election to follow. 

Finally, let your opinion be heard. No individual person has all of the right answers, especially elected leaders.  We rely on your insight. Call, write, email or Facebook us, we look forward to your input.

Open forum. Why should voters cast their ballot for you this November?

I am a creative problem solver who enjoys working with residents of the city, and various organizations on common issues.  Shorewood is a wonderful place to live, and it is my goal to keep it that way for my kids and yours. To do that, we will need to find creative solutions for financing the South Shore Center, extending city water service, building/repairing city sidewalks and trails and battling aquatic invasive species. 

The solutions need to be creative since I believe Shorewood is at the upper end of what reasonable property taxes are.  Thank you for your support in this process and please reach out to me with thoughts or specific questions.

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