EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of profiles on the five candidates for the Yankton City Commission. The election, which was originally scheduled in April, will be held June 2.
NAME: Ben Brunick
• Why are you running?
Communities are stronger when we all get involved. As a parent of three young boys (Rylend, Conner and Brycen) in the school system, an entrepreneur of a small woodworking business, and a commercial property owner, I feel that I can bring a valuable perspective for the City Commission. My wife, Lori and I were born and raised here in Yankton and are proud to be raising our boys here. We love the fact that we can call Yankton our home and we want to work with everyone to make it the best city it can be for our family and yours.
• Going forward in the coming year, the city will be recovering from dual disasters — the 2019 floods and 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. What do you feel needs to be done for recovery and how do you prioritize the needs of each recovery?
We are living in unprecedented and challenging times. None of us have experienced anything like COVID-19. With the pandemic ongoing it is impossible to say what our recovery efforts should be without knowing the extent of the damage. We do know however that the damage will be extensive so we will need to budget conservatively.
The extent of the 2019 flood damage is known. However, possible FEMA dollars to aid in the recovery are not. We must continue to press for relief aid and plan for our recovery. Neither situation will be solved with short term fixes. No matter how much aid comes from Washington, the truth is that we are facing some difficult years during which city government and all of our citizens may be facing tough choices.
• What non-disaster related infrastructure projects do you feel should be pursued over the next few years? Why?
We’ve taken on three large projects in the last five years, with the water treatment facility, aquatics center and, although not a city project, the school opt-out.
There is a time to be aggressive and a time to stand pat. Everyone is waiting to see the effects of the previous projects on their tax bills — and also waiting to see the real costs of the pandemic on the city and their own economic well-being — so now is a time to hold back on new endeavors and strive to maintain the wonderful town we have.
I have faith that Yankton will bounce back strongly. Hopefully in the near future we can once again look for new ways to make this an even better community to work, raise family and enjoy the good life in.
• What do you think is the biggest issue at the city level and what are your plans to address it?
The COVID-19 pandemic is our biggest challenge, both for the city and for all of our families, businesses and organizations.
Continued tough decision lie ahead as we navigate the crisis. I feel the only way forward is through open and transparent dialogue, and collaborations between our businesses, healthcare, all levels of government and the entire community.
An openness to listen and learn from all sides, flexibility and willingness to compromise will be paramount.
Our business community is especially important, both for the jobs and economic activity but also for the tax and charitable dollars that businesses provide. City government needs to be as supportive as possible to the small business sector. The city obviously cannot afford to financially assist individual businesses, but hopefully we can continue to foster a pro-business environment that doesn’t overburden struggling small companies with regulation or high taxation.
• What will some of the biggest budgetary concerns be for 2021?
The city depends heavily on sales taxes, and there’s little doubt that we are going to experience some difficulties. Also, the Bed, Board and Booze Tax will see a sharp decline this spring and summer. City commissioners will face tough decisions on what we can afford and what we cannot. Families and small businesses are facing similar financial downfalls, so we certainly can’t expect more of property taxpayers. This won’t be the most enjoyable time to be a city commissioner, but it will be an important time in our city history.
• Additional thoughts?
My goal is to be a city commissioner who embraces collaborations. I saw how well that has worked for the Mead Museum when everyone in our city and county pitched together to accomplish something good. Yankton has a history of that — with the city/school partnership that resulted in the Summit Center, with the landfill project that we embraced with Vermillion and the city/county Safety Center project for law enforcement. In these times of lean budgets, the only way we can make real progress is when we partner with others to achieve shared goals. I will do all I can to push for even more collaborations. It requires good listening. It means you need to put yourself in the others’ shoes so you can understand their needs and perspectives. It’s not easy, but it’s the best way to accomplish things today.