Mayoral challenger, 2011 UWRF grad, hopes to improve students’ housing

Posted March 28, 2018

Aaron Taylor remembers UW-River Falls upperclassmen rushing around town, checking house listings and trying to set up tours of potential rental properties. They have to find enough people to fill the requirements of the lease, needing to know almost nine months in advance who you will be living with for an entire year.

With the university making up a large percentage of the population in River Falls, both candidates for mayor see the issue of housing as central to the growth and stability of River Falls. Taylor, a 2011 UWRF graduate and now one of the mayoral candidates, said  that the older generations didn’t have as many problems with college debt and looking for housing.

“It’s impossible to responsibly buy a house that isn’t a dump,” Taylor said. “It’s about making River Falls be affordable and understanding that higher property taxes make it harder to enjoy life.”

The relationship with student housing and landlords is also important, according to Taylor. Without the university, he said the town couldn’t possibly be what it is today, but when city, county or school district taxes rise, so do students’ rents.

Students at UWRF can show their support for incumbent Mayor Dan Toland or Taylor by voting at the upcoming state election on Tuesday. All UWRF students are encouraged to vote in this election, and they can register at the polls, simply by bringing their student I.D. with them to the University Center if they live on campus or if they live off campus, to their nearest polling place.

Both mayoral candidates see the need for increased housing projects and say they will push the city toward the future in the next two years.

Toland has lived for more than 40 years in River Falls, where he has gone to school, owned a business and held the office of mayor for the last six years. Toland didn’t have any experience in city government before being elected but knew that he wanted to get involved.

By contrast, Taylor already has served as a member of the City Council from 2014 to 2016. He works for 3M and made a bid for state office in the Wisconsin State Assembly as an independent candidate in 2016. Taylor is pushing to bring in a young philosophy to the office of mayor.

“Our parent’s generation has run this city for a while,” Taylor said. “If we want to continue to have this city be good for us, we need to get involved.”

When Taylor says we, he specifically means the younger generation of ages about 18-35. He said there needs to be more people involved with the decision-making in the city in general, and he hopes that he can bring a younger perspective to the council and lead it into the future.

“We’re a more socially conscious generation,” Taylor said. “It’s not just about me, it’s about us. We grasp it better than some of the older people on the council and in town in general.”

With the possibility of being the chief executive of the city, Taylor said it’s time for the up-and-coming citizens who are going to keep living in River Falls and show a new love for the city.

“I am the future – and by I, I mean this new generation,” Taylor said. “It’s time for us to take the reigns and guide our future and our children’s future. I have a younger way of thinking and a new generation view of things.”

While it might seem like it could make for a politically contentious race, Taylor said that isn’t the case in River Falls.

“There’s no slandering of opponents,” Taylor said. “I like Dan (Toland), and we’re friends. It’s not all woe to River Falls if one doesn’t get their way.”

Toland has been elected mayor in three consecutive elections. Now seeking his fourth two-year term, he said he initially became involved so he could do something else than just complain.

“I thought I would like to run for office, and I came and talked to the city clerk,” Toland said. “She suggested I try to get on a board first, but I decided I think I’m going to start at the top. Enough people liked me and voted me on, and it’s been a great experience so far.”

The role of being the chief executive of the city includes being the public face of the city, working with the city administrator and presiding over the city council. The mayor can only vote if there is a tie, but they also have the ultimate responsibility for signing ordinances and using veto power. The job usually is about a 15-20 hour commitment each week and pays $1,000 a month, according to Toland.

Toland said that like anything in government, it takes forever for things to be accomplished. However, he’s been excited to finally be getting to works on the parks, river and interchange to bring more people to town.

“It’s all the little things we do and keeping the city going and providing great services for citizens,” Toland said. “Sometimes it’s stuff that people aren’t interested in, like infrastructure – but that’s what’s important and the expensive stuff, and it’s about making sure we have money in the budget for that.”

Toland also stressed making sure that they’re looking toward the future in all of the decisions that they make at the city level.

“Getting two new business parks since I’ve been mayor has been a big thing,” Toland said. “They’re one of the biggest parts of the city, and they bring in good businesses where there’s a wide range of jobs available. The more industry we bring into town, the more people that move here and put money into the businesses.”

Toland said that voters should support him if they like the way the city is moving forward and how things are getting done.

“Every decision we make at the city, it’s for making our city better and for the citizens,” Toland said. “Every decision we make affects the people in this city and all 15,000 people, not just a neighborhood. I try to make every decision we do that is financially in their best interest.”

Beyond his desire to fix the upcoming issues of how to expand much-needed housing in the city and creating new spaces for emergency services in River Falls, Toland was pleased with the progress in the Kinni corridor proposal.

“We had to come up with something that’s going to work for everybody,” Toland said, who served on the committee. “The whole idea was to come up with something that will work for the city. Now if we can just hold their interest going forward and see people involved. There’s a long way to go for the rest of it because it’s the whole corridor and just the dams; I’m confident we will get that done.”

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