Helping A Small Town & A Small CU
FLOODWOOD, Minn. — Jeff Kletscher hopes he can someday move up the political ranks to help out many small towns in Minnesota.
Kletscher has been working hard for the last eight years to help the small town of Floodwood here as its mayor, improving the city and the lives of its 500-plus residents. But town budget constraints prompted Kletscher recently to run for a seat in this state's House of Representatives, hoping to gain a stronger voice in protecting the budgets of small cities. Kletscher lost in the Democratic Farmer Labor Party primary election to Carly Melin, who is currently running to fill the seat of former state Rep. Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm).
"The goal was to get to the House and work to find solutions to the terrible budget crisis that the state of Minnesota faces," Kletscher told Credit Union Journal. "I won't stop because of the loss. I will continue to look at my options."
Kletscher, who is on the supervisory committee at the $16-million Floodwood Area CU, is also president of the Minnesota Association of Small Cities, which among other things lobbies to protect small cities' state funding. Having been in politics for more than 18 years, including 10 on the Floodwood city council, Kletscher asserted that his toughest times have come during the recession.
"The hardest part of my job is making the numbers work with the budget we face," Kletscher said. "Do we raise taxes, or make even more painful, deeper cuts within the operations of the city?"
The decision was made last year to lower taxes, a move that saved residents $25,000 in total. As Kletscher explained, "A huge chunk of money. We have just kept expenses down and are working with staff so they keep expenses at a minimum."
The Cost-Cutting Challenge
The new challenge, Kletscher added, is the cost-cutting approach can only go so far. "The only cuts left are people, and you don't really have many options there with a staff of just under seven. We have not filled some jobs and we encourage employees to work harder and get the job done without extra support."
The cutbacks will likely be felt years down the road when the city is not prepared for the future, Kletscher conceded. "You're not socking away money for things like a new roof or new furnace you will eventually need."
Included in the city budget was a recent renovation of city hall, along with police headquarters, which took a number of years to plan for and complete. Kletscher said it was one of the biggest projects he has guided during his political career.
Political Lessons Learned
Despite the recent loss in his bid for the House, Kletscher said his run at the state office taught him a great deal about politics. "It was a tremendous learning experience. I learned a lot about myself and how to face the 24/7 rat race of running a campaign. But I also learned some of the inside maneuvers that happen in politics, things that go on behind the scenes that people don't see."
As an example, Kletscher referred to the complicated caucus nomination process, union nomination processes to get endorsements, and the amount of funds needed to make a campaign successful. "And the amount of people you have to have behind you, supporting you and working hard to get you elected. I have run many campaigns on a shoestring budget to be elected on city council and as mayor, but nothing as extensive as what I found was required to run for the House."
Dedication has never been an issue for Kletscher, who sits in on the Floodwood Area CU's supervisory committee, is a full-time real estate broker, and dedicates 12 hours a week to his mayor's duties-which pay $2,400 annually. But Kletscher said he doesn't hold his current office for the salary, politics are simply in his blood. "My father served on city council."
According to Kletscher, the most rewarding aspect of being mayor is seeing hard work come to fruition.
"You see streets paved, waterlines replaced, a new picnic pavilion erected, and a city hall improved. All of these kinds of projects make for a better community, which is what politics is all about."