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Mayoral candidates face off at forum hosted by Chamber

March 17, 2014

More than 50 people filed into the Brookfield Public Safety Building Thursday evening, flanked by advocates and fliers for the two mayoral candidates: incumbent Steve Ponto and former mayor Jeff Speaker.

The Greater Brookfield Chamber of Commerce hosted the forum, which included several questions about business development, but meandered to other topics regarding budgeting and city services.

Moderator Steve Kohlmann, executive director of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin, started off the night by asking the candidates their "number one" goals if elected.

Speaker said he would try to find more ways to get public input in government — a line he has harped on. He mentioned task forces, outreach programs, civic functions and casual chats as ways to involve more residents.

Ponto said he would look for ways to maintain service and tax levels. Pointing to his record, he said his first budget as mayor was $2 million less than the levy limit, and each since then has been lower than any increase on record before he took office. He said he would look for opportunities to share services with other communities and incorporate technology to do more with less.

Attracting business

When asked how he would attract more businesses to Brookfield, Ponto said he thought the city should consider using tax-incremental financing more in the future. The TIF district covering Brookfield Square is the city's third.

"TIF districts are being utilized heavily by Wauwatosa, Menomonee Falls and New Berlin," Ponto said. "So I think we have to look at that as a possibility."

Ponto also said the city should work more with the state government to get tax credits for businesses looking to expand.

Taking a different approach, Speaker said he thought some of the city's rules were too hard on businesses, such as those governing signage.

"We don't want to see sign pollution, but we have to find that medium to make it less onerous on businesses to be successful," Speaker said.

The candidates were also asked about several specific potential development locations.

Both spoke against the idea of an interchange at Interstate 94 and Calhoun Road, saying there isn't a need for it from businesses or residents. But they said other measures were important to lessen the traffic load on Bluemound Road.

Ponto, who took the question first, said extending Wisconsin Avenue to Pilgrim Road would help. Speaker agreed and added that widening Calhoun Road would help redirect more traffic off Bluemound.

Considering the Ruby Farms property, along Calhoun Road between Bluemound Road and Interstate 94, Speaker said he thought it was important to preserve the relics of the Ruby family's homestead but give the developer flexibility in what they build.

"We have to remember our past," he said. But he continued, "I think we're better off not telling them how to develop it."

Ponto did not comment on the old homestead but said he was confident it would be a high-quality development.

"I'm delighted we have such a capable developer in Irgins," Ponto said. "This is the last major piece of commercial real estate we have in Brookfield."

They also discussed the area of 124th Street and Capitol Drive, where Speaker said he would like to work with business owners to make the area "more attractive" and continue to reduce the need for a police presence in the area.

Ponto also said he would work with business owners to redevelop, pointing to the development at Underwood Crossing as a success story.

Garbage collection

Many residents have been concerned about a potential change in garbage collection services, coinciding with the county-wide switch to single-sort recycling. The city is looking at service options from different providers, but Ponto and Speaker both said they would fight to keep up-the-drive pickup.

"Brookfield has a significant number of elderly people," Ponto said. "I know that older people have a real problem with large garbage containers and having to take these containers down to the curb. I'm strongly in favor of continuing to have up-the-drive service."

Ponto said eliminating up-the-drive would save about $12 per household.

Speaker agreed the service should be preserved.

"We don't want to have seniors trying to lug garbage to the street and losing their footing, falling and getting hurt," Speaker said. "I think for public safety, it's a good idea to keep picking up garbage up the drive."

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