BELOIT—Residents got their first look at the Beloit City Council candidates during a forum Wednesday night in Beloit.
Present at the debate were incumbents Council President Regina Dunkin and councilor Mark Preuschl, along with challengers physical therapist Brittany Keyes, retired Beloit fire captain Paul Martin and community activist Markese Terrell. Incumbent councilor Kevin Leavy was absent from Wednesday’s event due to a family emergency, according to moderator Ralph Berkley.
Four council seats are open in the April 7 election as councilor Beth Jacobsen decided not to run for reelection.
Councilors answered questions on transit, economic development, affordable housing and promoting diversity and more during the 90-minute forum.
For transit options, Terrell highlighted the need for expanded bus routes in the Gateway Business Park to provide access to current and future jobs in the city’s economic hub.
“They have no way to get to the Gateway,” Terell said. “We need to expand those routes. We also have issues with the cost of living in the City of Beloit that’s affecting those that are single parent families and those on set incomes.”
Preuschl said the city “failed the community” with its realignment of transit options in 2017, and said he wanted to develop a “cross-town express” to expand transit action.
Beloit has seen the steady loss of expanded retail options since 2018. Dunkin said the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation’s plan to draft a new “10 Mile City” study would help promote the city as a whole.
“We have talked about this as a council,” Dunkin said. “This is something that will help our community as a whole.”
With the Interstate 39/90 and Interstate 43 reconstruction, Preuschl said city growth will come with the city’s new configuration.
“Once that gets done, you have a completely different look,” Preuschl said. “There will be opportunities out there.”
Martin said the city should hear from residents before pursuing development plans and business attraction.
Martin added, “You can’t focus everything on the interstate. “You have the whole city you need to think about. What about the West Side residence. I think you have to disperse your development around the whole city.”
In terms of affordable housing, all candidates said there was a need for the city to improve home ownership rates.
Preuschl said the city should continue to work closely with community organizations including Acts Housing to provide in-roads for residents transitioning from renting to home ownership.
Dunkin strongly supported the Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas (NRSA) in the Merrill and Hackett neighborhoods, while Terrell urged the city to expand the NRSA areas to include Ward 10 in Beloit.
Keyes said the city should consider a similar project undertaken in the City of Janesville with the River Flats 92-unit affordable housing development, while Martin said the city needed to provide more opportunities to provide information materials on how to pursue home ownership.
To promote diversity, all candidates said the city needed to break down barriers to employment and affordable housing.
Keyes stressed the city needed to highlight minority-owned small businesses to promote growth. Martin said the city should host quarterly council meetings in various neighborhoods to promote participation in local government.
Terrell said the city needed to pursue further Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to promote opportunities for young people in Beloit.
Wednesday’s forum was hosted by the NAACP Beloit chapter, Rising Professionals of Beloit, the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters.