City council candidates identify challenges, strategies for Spring Grove

There are two Spring Grove council positions open, and two filed for election, including Chad Rohland and current council member Scott Solberg.

Though there are only two names on the ballot and two positions, it’s still important for readers to know where their council members stand on issues for the city.

The candidates responded to written questions from the Spring Grove Herald. Their written answers follow.

1.) Why are you are running for office?

Solberg: Spring Grove is a great town. I am proud of the work I have done over the past four years as a city council person. However, there is still work to do. I look forward to keeping an open mind and helping move the city forward.

Rohland: I am running for one of the open seats on the city council because I want to continue to help make Spring Grove a great place to work, live, go to school and raise a family. I believe Spring Grove is a phenomenal town that continues to thrive when many other small towns are crumbling. My goal is to listen to all of the ideas, concerns and opportunities of all the residents and to ultimately work with the other council members to make the decisions that will lead to the most positive outcome for everyone involved.

2.) What, if any, areas of the city needs improvement? Which steps are needed and where would you look for funding to accomplish those steps?

Solberg: An over looked aspect to the city that I feel needs improvement is city hall. The building is not handicap accessible and is difficult for many people to use. The building design does not lend itself to having a private conversation with any city staff members and the restroom facilities are sub-par. While I am not excited to spend money on a renovation I believe there are some grants available that might help lower the cost to making a city hall usable to all citizens.

Rohland: I believe we need to continue to look at new ways to bring more families and business to town. In order to bring more families we need to have affordable housing, along with potential places of employment and if they already have good jobs out of town, look into options of ride sharing or other options where the burden of a long commute may hold them back from moving to Spring Grove. I also believe we need to continue to try and lure businesses into the open EDA lots. I would continue to work with CEDA, the county and state on grant options but also look into community support to see if any private citizens or groups are looking to donate time or funding to help improve the city.

3.) Community discussions have centered on the need for more lodging and recreation in town. What would you do to help the council accomplish that goal? Why is it important for Spring Grove to have that?

Solberg: This is a difficult question. Yes, having lodging in town is very important; however I feel it should be run by a private citizen(s), not the city itself. I would listen to any proposals that are brought to the council that might help these businesses thrive in town, but do not feel that the city should be in the business of providing lodging.

Rohland: Adding lodging in town is, I believe, an important step. The Fest Building allows us to hold large events such as weddings and the Festival of Trees. Other events, including Syttende Mai, Musikk Fest, Spring Grove Auction Company, have the potential to bring a large amount of visitors to town but we do not offer anything for lodging for overnight out of town visitors. If we can’t bring lodging, maybe we work with a Decorah hotel to offer a deal and then line up a shuttle with an area bus company. Giving people an option to stay in the city or area instead of having to worry about going back home will most likely encourage people to stay in town longer, potentially spending more at our local businesses. Maybe work with someone who does have excess land and approach them about turning that into a campground. A well placed campground close to but not in town could have a very positive impact on Spring Grove.

4.) Spring Grove has many promotional items to attract people to live and work here. What can the city do to keep people living here? What challenges does the city face when trying to gain more population?

Solberg: We need to keep the city a Pretty. Neat. Small Town. This means keeping our community pride and providing public services that we are proud of. One of the challenges we face is a lack of housing. Many people who grew up in Spring Grove and want to return to the area to raise families, are looking for larger houses (3-5 bedroom, 2-3 car garage). Many of our lots are too small to accommodate this style of house. We need to look at how we can meet these needs in our community.

Rohland: I believe we need to work on finding ways to improve options for those that have to commute to work, whether to La Crosse, Rochester, Decorah or other surrounding cities. The easier and more affordable we make it for those to travel to work outside of Spring Grove, if we don’t have enough jobs in Spring Grove, is going to make it an easier decision for them to want to move and bring their families to Spring Grove. We need to continue to offer fun and engaging activities for not only young people and families but also for those of working and retirement age. We have a great pool, great school and movie theatre but we don’t have any leagues or sporting activities for the young adults. Maybe Spring Grove is the town that brings back a softball league in the summer and starts a beanbag league in the fest building during the winter months. Both leagues would potentially bring people to town on a weekly basis, who would potentially stop at local stores and gas stations and spend their money here in town, while also giving another reason to potentially move to this town because there are things to do. 

5.) Many people would like to see a performing arts space in Spring Grove. Is arts and culture important to you? How is it possible for Spring Grove to have that space?

Solberg: Our family is very active in the Ye Olde Opera House, so yes, arts and culture are very important to us. I think one of the challenges is defining what this “space” should be, and who takes ownership of it. There is little doubt that the school could use such a space, as could community groups. Often in situations like this the devil can be in the details. If a clear plan and sharing agreement could be worked out, I think this would be a great asset to our town and school.

Rohland: I believe for the size of town of Spring Grove, we do a fantastic job with what we have while holding popular plays at the Old Barn, The Ye Old Opera House and hosting Music in the Park in the summer. I do think some improvements could be made. I went to the “A Tuna Christmas” last year at the Old Opera house; it was my first time watching a show there and it was some of the best money I have ever spent on entertainment. The best part is was all local. Local talent, local building, offering local Spring Grove Soda. Knowing we have the talent and space in town to put on plays a few times a year that have the potential to bring hundreds of visitors and hundreds if not thousands of dollars to the area should be something we want to expand on. How we do that best is going to take insight from a lot of our residents young and old. Not only telling the people that know the business what shows to put on, but also where a performing arts space makes the most sense. A better band shell that could also serve as a place to put on a play in the summer.

6.) Are you satisfied with the number and variety of businesses in Spring Grove? Do you think Spring Grove could support more restaurants, storefronts and other businesses?

Solberg: You don’t have to travel too far and look at other down town areas to realize how fortunate we are to have a great group of businesses in Spring Grove! Thriving businesses provide essentials for those who live here, and employ a large group of people from the area. We need to retain the businesses we have and support any new business ideas that are out there. I am very happy with the work our EDA and CEDA has done to support business ventures in Spring Grove.

Rohland: I believe we need to continue to support the businesses we have, while also helping them improve in areas they need help. Maybe that’s helping them improve their curb and store front appeal, maybe that’s helping them with marketing to attract more customers. By helping the current businesses and potentially bringing more new businesses to any open downtown storefronts that will only help our town attract more people that want to visit and potentially move to town. We currently have three taverns that on some weekends are very empty, two restaurants that at times can’t stay open enough due to not having enough staff to stay open. Can we find a way to help them attract more staff that will allow them to serve the community during the hours the community sees the need for them to be open? If we can support those we currently have, then absolutely let’s try and bring in additional new businesses that will lure more people to town.

7.) List some biographical information about yourself, such as age, spouse, occupation, location and length of residence, and groups or organizations you are involved in.

Solberg: My wife, Jennifer, and I are both employed by Spring Grove Public School. We were both raised in Spring Grove, moved away after college, but returned to Spring Grove to raise our 4 children. I am involved as a board member of the Ye Olde Opera House, direct the choir at Trinity Lutheran Church and have been on the Parks Committee for the past 4 years.

Rohland: A little bit about me, I’m 34 but will be 35 by the time election night rolls around, I am married to Kelly Rohland who grew up here in Spring Grove, I have two boys Liam (8) and Bently (7) who are in the Spring Grove School. I am a Volunteer Fireman on the Spring Grove Fire Department, I work full time as a Client Success Manager at Kaplan Professional in La Crosse. Kelly and I have lived here in town since 2008. As of 2017 I am part of the Syttende Mai Committee, and I also help with Musikk Fest and have helped with Uffda Fest.