A civil debate unfolded Tuesday, March 13 as the candidates for Hudson mayor, incumbent Rich O'Connor and current council member John Hoggatt, agreed on many of the night's topics during a forum hosted by the Hudson Chamber of Commerce at The Phipps.

One issue that the candidates said separate them is EMS, and how to best staff and run the service.

Hoggatt said he voted in favor of keeping EMS a public service, and against a sale to HealthPartners. Though the new model that was implemented as an alternative to the sale had issues in the early phases, he said it is on its way to full coverage.

As mayor, Hoggatt said he would commit to a weekly meeting with the EMS chief during the transition.

"I just see it as a hands-on opportunity at this point that someone needs to be watching that," Hoggatt said.

Though the staff at EMS provide high-quality service, O'Connor said the system is broken. While he hopes the new model works, he is searching for other solutions.

"I'm the only one looking at options to fix this," O'Connor said.

Hoggatt said he has also been making those efforts, as has the city's EMS ad hoc committee.

The two also differed slightly on their view of inclusion and diversity in Hudson.

O'Connor said he believes Hudson is a very welcoming community, although it does have people who are bigoted. That, he said, can't be legislated against. Instead O'Connor said people have to work through personal and social interactions to change hearts and minds.

"That may sound simplistic but frankly folks from what I've seen that's the only way it can be done," O'Connor said.

Hoggatt agreed that Hudson is welcoming, but not for everyone.

"We need to do better," he said.

Hoggatt said though the city can't legislate inclusive actions, it can't tolerate bad behavior. He suggested forums where people can express their views in a safe environment, and work to come together.

"We have been seeing a large amount of people showing up at citizen comments looking for a voice," Hoggatt said.

O'Connor said he didn't see much disagreement between him and Hoggatt on this issue. In his own neighborhood, O'Connor said he has seen personal interaction work well.

"There are people out there that have had a different experience but that does not speak to the overwhelming majority of our community," O'Connor said.

With large projects on the horizon, an impending tax levy limit is one concern for Hudson.

Hoggatt said the city has many options to consider, including referendums. Upcoming public safety expenses, like the new fire department and potential funding of EMS, would be a good place to use a referendum, he said.

"I think our community is strongly behind public safety," Hoggatt said.

The 2018 city budget surpassed council-imposed mill rates, and O'Connor said the issue is something the city really needs to consider. In a budget meeting, he worked to bring the new mill rate down from 5.36, to 5.29, closing in on the 5.60 levy limit.

Though referendums sometime works well, O'Connor said they don't always pass.

"We just need to reign this in," O'Connor said. "We need to increase the valuation of our tax base, and once again I go to corporate and business."

Other topics at the debate included public transportation, the downtown business district, annexation of additional land into the city, Lakefront Park, mental health and drug addiction and staff vacancies. For the full debate, see Hudson's River Channel website.

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