Mequon — District 1 alderman candidates Rob Holtz and Robert Strzelczyk differ on key issues in a race that resembles the April contest in which Strzelczyk ran against then-alderman Dan Abendroth, who won but turned down the seat when he unseated then-Mayor Curt Gielow.
The Sep. 10 special election has the potential to make or break a 4-4 tie on the Common Council between those who have and haven't supported Mayor Abendroth's spring bid for mayor and his conservative approach to development in the city. When the council failed on numerous votes to appoint Holtz or Strzelczyk to the District 1 seat by the required five-vote majority, the repeated 4-3 gridlock fell along those same lines, necessitating the upcoming election.
Prior to the spring election and his ascension to the mayoral post, Abendroth was the fourth on the council to force ties on controversial development proposals, which then-Mayor Gielow could break with his vote. If Holtz, whose campaign Abendroth has endorsed, wins, Abendroth could have similar leverage when it comes to breaking council ties. While both candidates have stressed their willingness to work with the entire council, a win by Strzelczyk would nevertheless put Abendoth's open supporters at a 5-3 disadvantage on the council.
Protecting rural character
Holtz is a 25-year resident, certified public accountant, attorney, married, father of three, and 15-year owner of Mequon Law Offices. He is a former president of the Mequon-Thiensville Chamber of Commerce and is president-elect of the Thiensville-Mequon Rotary Club.
On the two key issues facing Mequon, citywide development and declining enrollment in the Mequon-Thiensville School District, Holtz sides with Mayor Abendroth.
"From day one, I've taken an aproach that's protecting Mequon's values, protecting the rural character and the open spaces we have now," Holtz said. "I'm careful about protecting the values of our residents. When I go door to door they like things the way they are."
Strzelczyk is a third-generation Mequon resident and entrepreneur, a married father of two, and owner of Menomonee Falls-based First Priority Printing. He's a former board member of the Mequon-Thiensville Education Foundation and 19-year member of the Mequon-Thiensville Chamber of Commerce.
While Holtz is embracing the platform and support of Mayor Abendroth, Strzelczyk is distancing himself from former Mayor Curt Gielow and his stance on city issues. Gielow and Strzelczyk were connected via campaign finance in the spring elections, though both maintain their mutual support was less the product of a political connection and more of having Abendroth as a common opponent.
On a scale from Abendroth to Gielow, Strzelczyk said he falls somewhere in the middle.
"I'm running my campaign on the premise of being open minded," Strzelczyk said, "though my thoughts closely resemble the results of the recent city survey."
Development, city finances
When it comes to the hot button issue of development which played a key role in the spring election, Stzelczyk and Holtz see things differently.
Strzelczyk supports single-family housing in the central and east growth areas identified by the city. Though Strzelczyk said each potential development needs individual consideration, he would be willing to see lot sizes go as low as a half an acre, so long as an additional half acre is preserved as open space in a conservation subdivision format for a total density of one acre.
Due to the quality and lot size requirements in the city, Strzelczyk said an appropriate floor price on those single-family houses should fall somewhere between the mid $300,000 to low $400,000 mark.
Strzelczyk said he would focus on completing the city's Town Center project and filling vacant business properties before pursuing further commercial development elsewhere throughout the city.
"We need to fill the retail and businesses we have," Strzelczyk said, "and not leave vacancies in other areas driving down the pricing."
Holtz said that when it comes to any sort of development, it needs to be value-added.
"We don't want to just look at the short-term potential tax increase," Holtz said. "We need to balance that with the costs of city services and the cost any development would bring (in city services)."
Holtz supports single-family housing growth in the city, wants to address any vacant properties, and on specifics like zoning and lot sizes, said each case will be unique.
"As an attorney, I'm used to looking at both sides of an issue and coming to the best decision for everyone," Holtz said, "but keeping my core values and considerations of protecting the values and making sure that Mequon keeps the reasons (residents) moved here in the first place."
A key difference in the spring mayoral election was the candidates' take on how to address the city's self-imposed and the state-mandated levy freeze. Gielow advocated growth in the city tax base to increase overall tax revenue to offset rising operating costs. Abendroth said the city should look to trim costs rather than pursue development.
While Strzelczyk said he would take a conservative look at the city budget, he thinks growth in the business tax base could help with tax revenues and the city's bottom line.
"(Gielow) looked at it incorrectly. He looked at the additional tax revenue, as that in and of itself was a basis for new development," Holtz said. "That was wrong. That's not looking at things in a value-added approach."
The enrollment issue
Holtz and Strzelczyk also have different ideas on how the city should address the issue of declining enrollment in the School District, which has shrunk district revenues over the years and could cause long-term problems if unchecked.
Holtz said single-family housing could help, but it needs to be "done in a way that's not to the detriment of the residents of Mequon."
Holtz said the city needs to stay away from the idea of "cookie-cutter homes" and stick to the quality and standards which make Mequon desirable to families in the first place.
"I want to start with the premise that the residents, when I go door to door, they're happy with Mequon," Holtz said. "They like the rural feel and they're proud of their school system."
The homes Strzelczyk described in his take on development, he said, could be "first family homes" and could help draw young parents to Mequon.
At the same time, Strzelczyk said, the city should emphasize programming in its parks and open spaces to foster recreational activity and draw families in that way.
"It's not just building houses. It's everything from bike-friendly roads to youth activities," Strzelczyk said. "If we have people doing things in the community, they'll buy houses and be comfortable."
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