City Commission Candidate Q&A: Eric Hinebauch
Name: Eric Hinebauch
Occupation: Owner of Hinebauch Agency (a Farmers Union Insurance Agency)
Q: Why are you running for City Commission/mayor?
A: I am running because I will bring a fresh perspective to the city commission. There is great value in having someone on the city commission who has started and is growing a business in this community. I am fully invested in Great Falls, and I am well prepared to be able to help move our city forward.
Q: If elected, what are your top three priorities and goals for the city (that fall within the jurisdiction of the city)?
A: If elected, my top three priorities would be housing, economic development, and public safety. Housing is a top priority for me, because without it, you cannot accomplish the next two goals with regard to economic development and public safety. To attract large scale employers, we need to have sufficient housing inventory for the employees. If we want to bolster our public safety budget, we need to broaden the tax base through economic development. These three goals are all tied together and we must have a comprehensive and responsible strategy to address them.
Q: How would you work to better engage the public and promote a better-informed electorate?
A: This issue begins with communication. The city has improved but needs to be continually working at new ways of communicating with the public. Society is evolving in how we consume information, and the city needs to keep pace with that evolvement.
Q: What do you believe are the core services the city should provide?
A: The core services the city should provide are public safety, public infrastructure, and enforcing city rules and codes as they pertain to development. There are other city services that are also obviously important like safe public recreation opportunities (ex: parks, trails, pools, etc.), economic development, housing, and emergency services to name a few.
Q: If elected, what would you do to improve public safety? Please provide two to three specific examples.
A: There are several ways we can do this. We need to first make sure our police department and fire department have adequate support. We need to come together as a community and develop a responsible strategy on how to address our homeless situation. This cannot only be solved by city government alone; it must be addressed by the community as a whole. The city must be the conduit for this discussion. If we do not address this issue, then it will spiral out of control and become an unmanageable situation.
Q: Given the limited resources available, which of these would you identify as your top priority: funding mental health and addiction treatment programs, hiring more police officers and/or more firefighters, or improving community relations with the existing police force?
A: I believe each one of these priorities are important, but we must first make sure our police department and fire department have the resources they need.
Q: What do you think the role of the city commission should be in economic development? What are your thoughts on whether a more active role would create conflicts of interest when it comes to annexation, zoning or tax incentives votes that would require commission approval?
A: I believe the city can and should play a more active role in economic development. I understand there are concerns about conflict of interest, but if done properly and with transparency these conflicts can be avoided.
Q: How would you weigh annexation and economic development projects with city services and resources?
A: I believe the city should be active in the process and if city services are required for a project, then the infrastructure demands should be worked out with the developer in a fair and transparent process.
Q: Do you think the city should impose impact fees on new developments to help fund the cost of specific needs such as a new fire station, or general public safety needs?
A: This is a tough question. We want to incentivize new business and development in the city, so whatever strategy the city decides upon should be fair to the taxpayers. At the same time, we also want to make sure we are growing the tax base.
Q: If elected, how will you stay up to date on city issues, to include city departments and advisory boards? How will you work to determine what issues are most relevant to the public?
A: Public input is important, and I would encourage citizens to engage. Public participation in community decisions is paramount to moving Great Falls forward. Being a city commissioner requires being out in the public, engaging with and listening to citizens, and doing the work to make sure I am informed on every decision that comes before the commission.
Q: The city employs staff who are highly trained in their areas of expertise, how would you treat their recommendations?
A: I would strongly consider their recommendations and do everything I can to make sure I am well informed on issues that come before the commission. If elected, I may not agree with all of their recommendations, but I very much respect their knowledge and expertise and have every intention of forming a good working relationship with city staff.
Q: What is your view on privatization of services currently provided by the city?
A: It depends on the service that is being provided. Hiring a private company to manage the municipal golf courses in Great Falls has proven to be a success. I would not look to hire out management of our public works department or any of the core services provided by the city. The golf courses provide a great example of how it can work, but ultimately it depends on each area of the city.
Q: How would you approach the budget process annually?
A: This is one example of an area where the knowledge and expertise of city staff would be invaluable. There are areas I would like to see the city take a more active role in like economic development, but before we can allocate any funds to those issues, we must make sure the basics are taken care of.