Mayor-elect gets ready for upcoming year
By Robert Williams
Mayor-elect Mark Flemmer is not shy from sharing his opinions as his record on the city council shows. He recently discussed a few topics of concern for Frazee residents in the weeks prior to taking office at the Palace Cafe.
A persistent issue that brought plenty of discussion in 2022 was funding for Wannigan Park. Flemmer is willing to be a positive force in making that come to fruition now, despite being the lone vote against the project in November.
“We had our differences on Wannigan Park, but that’s over now and the council voted. My job as mayor now is to go ahead and support that,” he said. “They have their group of folks that have the dream and I have a group of folks over here going what are we doing? My theory is I want to maintain our taxpayer base and make sure our taxpayers don’t get nailed. The dream is great and let’s go and have that, but my job is to be the realist here. If you look down the road we’ve got a lot of money we’re going to have to shell out like the Town Lake Beach project, that’s a couple million. I get nervous when I start looking at millions for a small town.”
Another big and continuing issue is the liquor store. There have been contentious discussions at city council about the future of the store and if it can ever provide actual funds to the city.
“I spent six years trying to figure out where the money was going over there and why the money wasn’t matching up and our former city administrator Denise (Anderson) and I had many a fight on that,” he said. “They just couldn’t show me and couldn’t tell me even how much money was in the accounts. We were down at one point a couple years ago to $18,000 in the bank account and the bar could have closed. We were that close to losing the whole thing completely. It isn’t just me. We’ve been recommended by the Minnesota Liquor Association; their guidance to us is you need to hire a manager to run the place. You can’t just continue to limp along. Our auditor Colleen (Hoffman), that’s been her comment too. We need somebody who is accountable.”
Flemmer noted that the city has hired a manager two or three times in the recent past, but did not give the manager the space to effectively do the job.
“We’ve hired a manager, but don’t let them manage the place,” he said.
Other options include hiring a part-time manager to avoid the costs of a benefits package while paying a higher wage or selling the liquor store all together.
“I look at Audubon; they had the same issue,” he said. “The bar was run down and the city couldn’t maintain it and run it. They sold it and that was five or six years ago and now it’s doing okay over there. We’ve got some options here and that’s something the council is going to have a good talk about. Right now, we’re maintaining it and I don’t know if maintaining it is good for the future.”
Finding success in the liquor business is the point of having a municipal liquor store and there are plenty of examples around the area where cities are seeing significant cash flow from their munis.
“Vergas, New York Mills, Menahga, all those places —they’ve been able to transfer money,” said Flemmer. “One of the issues I’ve always had with that is it’s been 20 years and we never transferred money. Why is the city in the liquor business if we’re not going to get some benefits from it?”
Flemmer also refuted talk that he wants to shut the store down.
“There are some rumors out there that I’m trying to totally close the bar,” he said. “Not true. I just feel that we need to manage it better or possibly sell it to let somebody else manage it better. That’s something the council is probably going to have to tackle in the first two or three months. We’ve lost money. The actual sales have been decreasing the past five years—a ton of competition out there. I look at Perham, DL, Four Corners, two of them out there now, and I hear a lot of our folks in town that actually go to those places instead of here because they offer first responder discounts, military discounts. We’ve played with that here but it’s never been consistent. A manager would be able to bring that consistency and that might bring our customer base back. I hate hearing that they’re going out of town buying liquor.”
While campaigning, Flemmer got a lot of feedback on town aesthetics and wants to see that improved.
“One of the biggest topics I heard about when I was running was Frazee just looks a little tired,” he said. “We need to clean up a little bit. We need to probably enforce our blight ordinances more firmly. That’s something I’m going to work with our full-time employees on between the police department and public works. What plan can we have to make it better? I want to work with them because they’re the ones that have to be out there every day doing that. Ignoring some of this stuff isn’t necessarily the right answer. How do we make Frazee an attractive place now that people want to come here? Let’s change that reputation. That’s one of my goals.”
The beach area also sticks out as a possibility of how to make Frazee more attractive, especially, given the new trail installed during the Highway 87 project. The Town Lake Beach improvement project remains hung up by the archeological study that needs to be completed before the grant for improvements, that the city has already been approved for, will be awarded. Another study sample will be taken this coming spring keeping the project held up until that work is completed.
“Dark crystal ball, if that doesn’t happen, what do we do?” said Flemmer. “I’m not a real fan of keeping two porta-potties down there. Do we do something on a smaller scale? Do we do it without the grant? That’s just one of those things where we don’t know where we are going. I think that could be a great stopping point. We are pushing all these trails and that plays into what that concept is. I think it’s important that we have a nice bathroom area, and a place where people can rent kayaks or wakeboards. We’ve got a lot of options down there. It’s a beautiful, little lake down there. I’m a huge believer that we need to get that project done.”
Flemmer has also been diving into the city’s comprehensive plan, something he feels has largely been ignored.
“What I’ve done is gone through and pulled all the tasks out and looked at assigning them to different committees,” he said. “That’s the whole point of it—to direct the city where we’re going to go for the next 30 years. Instead of having it sit on the shelf, I want to really energize that. We need to focus on each of those different topics. We talk about housing a lot, parks a lot and local city stuff a lot. It’s just trying to bring all those groups together to work toward that common good. I’ve broken those down and they’ll be assigned and as part of the working group I want to get a report going.”
On the positive side, Flemmer credits the current tax climate in Frazee as a motivating factor for home builders, buyers and businesses to consider moving here.
“One of the advantages Frazee has is we’ve been able to keep our taxes low here; keep our housing low and that’s been attracting people,” he said.