A tale of two Fitchburgs continues as the current mayoral candidates shared their ideas to better the city’s economy during a mayoral forum last week.
The forum, hosted by the Fitchburg Chamber of Commerce, allowed both mayoral candidate Jason Gonzalez and incumbent Steve Arnold to address concerns regarding economic development for the city.
Both candidates could agree with the need to attract more businesses to provide more local employment opportunities and combat the city’s 40 percent poverty rate.
“Affordability — perhaps that’s one of the biggest issues facing our city, our county, our state, our country,” said Gonzalez when asked what was the number one priority he wanted to address in the upcoming term. “The average house is $300,000, you’d need to make $70,000 and have a $20,000 down payment to afford to live in Fitchburg.”
That cost of living that is 15 percent higher than the Wisconsin average and 13 percent higher than the national average, according to a 2015 fourth quarter report from the Council for Committee and Economic research.
Both candidates were asked to address the current city income tax rates, which affects the city’s housing affordability.
“In the last two years we’ve seen almost double digit [property tax] increases proposed by our mayor,” said Gonzalez.
According to Arnold, though, these high taxes help fund the city’s many amenities such as snow plows removing snow after only one inch has accumulated, unlike Madison which removes snow after three inches.
“Fitchburg is a high service community. Generally residents demand high services and are willing to pay for them,” said Arnold.
Services that Arnold would like to expand in order to attract more businesses. “Businesses benefit from a high quality of life,” he said.
“Why do you think Epic has to bus its employees from Madison’s east side,? It has the amenities they want from boat rentals, to a skate park, to the Barrymore theater,” said Arnold. “They are not attracted to placeless sprawl like hometown,USA that can be anywhere.”
“We need durable causes for businesses to be here, not temporary incentives,” said Arnold using the 2012 relocation of Spectrum Brands from Madison’s west side to Middleton as an example of failed incentive efforts to attract businesses.
Gonzalez, on the other hand, spoke about investing in businesses like Epic with tax increment district funds, which can offset property tax costs.
“When you give employers an incentive to stay they become apart of the community they invest in the community,” said Gonzalez. “If you bring those types of employers amenities will come as well and more people moving to Fitchburg because they can afford it.”
The mayoral election will take place on April 4.