Meet the candidates: Belle Fourche Mayor

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BELLE FOURCHE — Residents head to the polls on Tuesday, April 13 to elect candidates for the Belle Fourche Mayor. The Black Hills Pioneer sent a candidate questionnaire to the individuals vying for one position, which carries a three-year term. The candidates’ answers are published below as received. When necessary, answers were edited slightly for length.


Vern Bills

1.) What is your name and what do you do for a living?                  

My name is Vern Bills. I am in my 45th year as a life insurance agent, as well as owning a small business in Belle Fourche for the last 42 years.

2.) What motivated you to run for this office? If elected, what will be your priorities?

I have been active in this community for my entire business career, and I felt it was time to step forward with the willingness to serve Belle Fourche as mayor. My priorities will include, but not be limited to, neighborhood well-being, beginning with street repairs and maintenance; better access to city services; and future budgets to revolve around our citizens’ needs. We must put Belle Fourche needs first when spending tax revenue.

3.) Why do you think you are qualified for this position?                            

Experience. I have served on a wide variety of boards, serving as chairman in many instances Some examples would include the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development of Belle Fourche, Northern Hills Economic Development Board, CASA board, and Monument Health, formerly Regional Health.

4.) With regards to leadership, what other elected public or nonprofit offices have you held?                                                                                                                         

See question #3 above. In addition, I served on the Belle Fourche City Council.

5.) How many city council meetings have you attended within the last year and during your candidacy?

I have attended 5 Council and committee meetings since announcing my candidacy, and many meetings over the years.

6.) Do you subscribe to Belle Fourche’s legal newspaper, the Black Hills Pioneer? How do you stay up to date with current local news?

Yes, I subscribe to The Pioneer as well as the Rapid City Journal, and I receive the Belle Fourche Beacon free of charge in the mail. I also attend local meetings of various types in the city of Belle Fourche.

7.) What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in your community?                                                                                                                     

See #2 above.

8.) How do you intend to address these issues?    

I will take a close look at the budget and a reprioritizing of funds and projects to fund needed street repairs and maintenance as well as looking at hours of operation for our city services. During budget process I will prioritize the needs of citizens of Belle Fourche.  We must put the needs of Belle Fourche citizens first when spending tax revenue.

9.) What do you believe is working for your community and how will you retain that progression?                                                                                                                   

We have a variety of organizations that are working for our community in a positive manner. These include a revitalized Chamber of Commerce, an active Center of the Nation Business Association, and a newly formed Downtown Business Group. We have a highly organized and committed economic development group. We also have a very active Lion’s Club as well as many dedicated Churches. As Mayor of Belle Fourche, the opportunity to communicate and work with them for success will be my pleasure.

10.) Do you think the Belle Fourche State Street/Downtown district is healthy and successful? Why or why not, and what would you do to change that?                         

I think all Main Streets in small towns in South Dakota deserve the attention of their city.  Belle Fourche is no exception. We have been blessed with loyal customers for our existing businesses and new investors in several stores on State Street in Belle Fourche.   As Mayor, I will endeavor to keep our city’s part of the bargain by taking care of State Street maintenance and enhancements where needed.

11.) What is more important for our city right now: building new homes and commercial spaces or rehabbing/expanding/better utilizing our existing homes and storefronts?

This is not an either/or answer, but rather each of them is important in the development of a thriving Belle Fourche.

12.) The more a local government can provide in the way of transparency, the more it increases trust, honesty, and integrity in the government leaders. Do you believe transparency within the city government could be improved upon? If so, how would you propose increasing transparency?

Yes, I believe transparency within the city government can be improved. It is very important that citizens have access to how the city spends their tax dollars. I plan to have agendas, handouts, and minutes published sooner on our city website and in our legal newspaper as well as our local paper. Citizens will have access to key city personnel through their city cell phones during business hours. I will implement a Mayor’s Advisory Committee and monthly Mayor’s Round Table Discussions for idea sharing for those who are interested in that opportunity.

13.) What would you do to advocate in support of economic development in Belle Fourche, and why?

Our city has invested several million dollars in economic development over the last few years. Having served as the chairman of Belle Fourche Economic Development for over 20 years, I have a great deal of experience I will bring to help better economic development efforts. The city needs to spruce up our industrial park to enhance the sale of lots.

14.) The new housing study released in January again found that Belle Fourche has a significant need for affordable housing. How do you feel the city should respond to the issue?

I have watched the housing growth in our neighboring cities and have been envious. We need to be sure we are not discouraging developers from the opportunity of investing in our town. We need to work to serve those interested with the necessary infrastructure to make housing starts attractive.   

15.) Collaboration in local government involves working across institutional boundaries to engage individuals and entities in an effort to develop better conditions for the entire community. What is your perspective on the best ways to collaborate with other levels of local government to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for the entire area?

The city of Belle Fourche has many opportunities for collaboration with the state’s many programs for cities of our size, both monetary and service-wise. We are the county seat for Butte County, and as such the city and county share the responsibility for services to our citizens. Collaboration among our city, county, and state governments is a must. The best opportunity to collaborate is to communicate the common needs of our citizens.

16.) What is the single most important stance you want to take if elected?                

We need to separate the “needs” from the “wants” in spending our tax dollars.  As Mayor, I will serve all wards of the city. I see so many opportunities in each ward, where the city hasn’t done the job you deserve. I will work diligently with your council representatives to correct the worst issues first.


Randy Schmidt

1.) What is your name and what do you do for a living?

Randy Schmidt, I am the manager for Hills Product Group. I have worked there for 25 years.

2.) What motivated you to run for this office? If elected, what will be your priorities?

I am currently the Fourth Ward Councilman and would like to continue serving the people in Belle Fourche as their Mayor. Just a few of my priorities are infrastructure, Business, Growth, Communication and to continue to improve on new and old relationships.

3.) Why do you think you are qualified for this position?

I will continue to work hard for Belle Fourche. I listen to people and their concerns, ideas and I like to work towards solutions. I have a good understanding of the city finances, our current projects that will help our community grow, as well as what future issues we may be facing.

4.) With regards to leadership, what other elected public or nonprofit offices have you held?

I am a Fourth Ward Councilman. Committees I am on. Legal and Finance 3 years, Chair for the last 2 years. Planning and Zoning for 3 years, Round Up 2 years, safety committee 1 year and Union negotiation team 3 years. Past Committees include Airport, Community Center, and community council for education. My 20 years as a volunteer with the Fire Department, retiring with the rank of Assistant Chief. My experience with my current employment managing a business.

5.) How many city council meetings have you attended within the last year and during your candidacy?

All of them.

6.) Do you subscribe to Belle Fourche’s legal newspaper, the Black Hills Pioneer? How do you stay up to date with current local news?

Personally, I do not. I do have access to both. I use both papers that are listed above, local television stations, and internet.

7.) What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in your community?

Infrastructure, Growth, business,

8.) How do you intend to address these issues?

These issues are already being addressed. I will continue to move forward on these and any future issues.

9.) What do you believe is working for your community and how will you retain that progression?

Last year was a trying year for all communities, but what worked in Belle Fourche was not interfering on how businesses decided to run their operations. We relied on the common sense of the good people of Belle Fourche and the surrounding areas. To see a community, pull together is a great thing. I will work with the council so we can keep moving forward.

10.) Do you think the Belle Fourche State Street/Downtown district is healthy and successful? Why or why not, and what would you do to change that?

We have some great volunteer organization that are working on this.

I would like them to come up with a plan and bring it forward to the city. Working together to solve these issues would be a great start.

11.) What is more important for our city right now: building new homes and commercial spaces or rehabbing/expanding/better utilizing our existing homes and storefronts?

They are both equally important issues. I believe that they both need to be worked on at the same time. I will continue to work hard on these issues.

12.) The more a local government can provide in the way of transparency, the more it increases trust, honesty, and integrity in the government leaders. Do you believe transparency within the city government could be improved upon? If so, how would you propose increasing transparency?

To make our citizens feel welcome at the council meetings so they will be more involved. To help them better understand how city government works.

13.) What would you do to advocate in support of economic development in Belle Fourche, and why?

To continue to work with them. They promote Belle Fourche, in new business, existing business, housing and manufacturing. We have an Industrial Rail Park that they continue to work hard in bringing possible manufactures to locate in Belle Fourche. This will allow are families in our community to have a choice in staying in Belle Fourche. They do an empowers Leadership program that brings local people together from all aspects of Belle Fourche.

This helps to start and build

relationships.

14.) The new housing study released in January again found that Belle Fourche has a significant need for affordable housing. How do you feel the city should respond to the issue?

The City has already started to respond to this issue. We must continue moving forward on this.

15.) Collaboration in local government involves working across institutional boundaries to engage individuals and entities in an effort to develop better conditions for the entire community. What is your perspective on the best ways to collaborate with other levels of local government to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for the entire area?

To build strong relationships and to work together. I believe the more information that is shared helps give other city’s a way to see what is working and how best it would work for our city.

16.) What is the single most important stance you want to take if elected?

To continue to work hard for the betterment of Belle Fourche.


Rebecca Larson

1.) What is your name and what do you do for a living?

My name is Rebecca Larson and I am a Doctor of Chiropractic and a Paralegal.

2.) What motivated you to run for this office? If elected, what will be your priorities?

I am running for Mayor because I love being involved and I want to be a direct advocate for the ideas and concerns that community members have voiced.  My main priority is to listen to the citizens of Belle Fourche and make decisions based upon facts and what is best for the city as a whole.

3.) Why do you think you are qualified for this position?

My strengths that make me qualified for Mayor include my ability to listen and gather facts from multiple sources before making a decision, staying calm under pressure, working well with groups, having a strong drive to lead by setting a positive example, communication skills, and a desire to see Belle Fourche grow in a positive direction for all age groups and businesses. My experience includes managing health businesses and being the President of the Student Senate at my chiropractic university, which included managing assets, going through the process of hiring a president for the university, and overseeing many clubs and groups.

4.) With regards to leadership, what other elected public or nonprofit offices have you held?

I was the President of the Student Senate at Northwestern Health Sciences University and have held group leadership roles in 4-H and church settings.

5.) How many city council meetings have you attended within the last year and during your candidacy?

I have been to or watched about 8-10 meetings at the time of the meeting in this timeframe. On the weeks that I was not able to be at the meetings, I have found it very useful to have the recordings to keep up on what occurred.

6.) Do you subscribe to Belle Fourche’s legal newspaper, the Black Hills Pioneer? How do you stay up to date with current local news?

I myself do not subscribe, but we do subscribe at my place of employment. I stay up to date with local news via the Black Hills Pioneer as well as local news stations, other publications, and social media.

7.) What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in your community?

From talking with the citizens of Belle Fourche, the most important issues that I have heard the most about are getting caught up with the growth that is taking place in the housing and business arenas, having meaningful activities for every age group, keeping up with the condition of our roads, and planning for the future.

8.) How do you intend to address these issues?

Many of these issues are already being looked at by different groups and some have had progress recently made. If elected, the first thing I want to do is listen to where each group is in their planning process and put together a plan for the next 5, 10, 20 years and figure out how we are going to get there. The city needs to work in partnership with public and private entities to determine the necessity, cost, and needs for each of these issues and communicate throughout the entire process with the citizens of Belle Fourche.

9.) What do you believe is working for your community and how will you retain that progression?

I believe that tradition and a sense of community can and need to be held on to while growing the city. This is done by continuing with the events that are currently held in Belle Fourche, possible adding some new ways for the community to connect, and keeping the lines of communication open between the city and its residents. The other aspect that I see working so strongly for the community is the excitement and dedication that individuals and business have for the community. That pride is what fuels positive change and growth, and I believe that we can keep this strong by working together.

10.) Do you think the Belle Fourche State Street/Downtown district is healthy and successful? Why or why not, and what would you do to change that?

I would say that this area of town has been steadily growing healthier and more successful in the recent years. Business owners have been updating the buildings both inside and out, there is a wide variety of businesses for patrons to visit, and the business owners that I have spoken with have a positive outlook with great future ideas.  I would want to support this growth by working to find needed businesses a home in the available buildings and continue to update the existing buildings.  

11.) What is more important for our city right now: building new homes and commercial spaces or rehabbing/expanding/better utilizing our existing homes and storefronts?

For me, one is not more important than the other.  It is a great use of our space when an existing building fits a need and is financially feasible to use; however, if the space that is needed is not available, building something new is still a positive use of space that allows a family or business to become part of Belle Fourche. We need to keep both aspects open to not lose out on positive growth.

12.) The more a local government can provide in the way of transparency, the more it increases trust, honesty, and integrity in the government leaders. Do you believe transparency within the city government could be improved upon? If so, how would you propose increasing transparency?

Communication and transparency are huge for me! There needs to be regular updates made to the community of Belle Fourche through online social media, mailings, and in-person meetings. I want the residents of Belle Fourche to know what is going on in the community and to know that they are being heard. This would include items like notices when utilities will be off for repairs, detailed minutes of meetings, open forums to gather input for community events and improvements, and promoting town events.  Communication must be open and honest to move forward positively. I also believe in detailed responses to questions, concerns and ideas.

13.) What would you do to advocate in support of economic development in Belle Fourche, and why?

My view of economic development has always been positive and I see it as one of the most beneficial partnerships that a city can have. I would advocate for this strong partnership by making sure there is an open line of communication and collaboration on all projects.

14.) The new housing study released in January again found that Belle Fourche has a significant need for affordable housing. How do you feel the city should respond to the issue?

The city needs to be a promoter and supporter for housing as a partner with the appropriate local agencies and development groups. It is important to me to think of housing as a matter of both new builds and fixing and maintaining current structures. The recent creation of the three redevelopment districts on the north end of Belle Fourche is a great step in the right direction of addressing housing concerns and needs to be promoted and supported. In addition, we need to be working with local entities to determine the need of new structure types and the most economically beneficial way to add those to our community. This again needs to be an area the city plans ahead for, rather than playing catch up in.

15.) Collaboration in local government involves working across institutional boundaries to engage individuals and entities in an effort to develop better conditions for the entire community. What is your perspective on the best ways to collaborate with other levels of local government to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for the entire area?

We need to build positive relationships and have open and honest communication.  Once we have identified areas of need, the next step is to identify who could help and reach out to start the conversation. By talking with other groups, we can find out what did or did not work in other local communities, or how we could work with other local communities to fill a need. We must take the initiative to stand up and advocate for our town and our needs.

16.) What is the single most important stance you want to take if elected?

I am a microphone for the voices of the community. I want to hear what the citizens of Belle Fourche have to say, positive or negative, and I want them to know that what they have to say matters and is heard. I will work with the citizens of Belle Fourche to help the city grow to its full potential in the vision that they create.

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