Ernst wants the city to focus on core responsibilities
The former Marine, Sebastian Ernst, is looking to bring his passion for the downtown area of Falmouth to its lead political seat of mayor.
“I could have gone anywhere, but I came back home,” said Ernst. He married his childhood sweetheart during his tour with the Marines.
“Growing up, I saw a lot of issues facing our community. I’ve always asked what’s the problem. Why are we not flourishing like all of these other places?”
He used the money he had saved during his time in the Marines to invest with his mother in the Smoking Pig Tavern. He has joined with his brother to purchase the old theater. He also has invested in other downtown buildings with the dream to revitalize the downtown Falmouth area.
During the nine months he was working on the Smoking Pig Tavern, he saw drug deals going on right outside the window.
“It amazed me that we could see this going on in our downtown area. Best way to get rid of those type of individuals is to turn the lights on. Expose them,” he pointed out.
During this time, he has returned to college to work on his Business and Marketing degree.
Ernst was part of city council that removed from office one of the candidates for mayor,
“We overturned the electoral process. That’s a huge deal,” he said. “It wasn’t something taken lightly. It was something we had to do.”
With legal expenses going up from lawsuits against the city and police being asked to engage in activities they were uncomfortable, Gary Lea quitting really unveiled the problem they had in Ernst’s view.
“When he left, it made us really look into the allegations. Before it was a lot of hearsay,” Ernst continued to explain what led to the decision.
“We had no choice,” Ernst said. “At the end of the day, the people are going to decide. If they want her back in, they have that option.”
Future of Falmouth
“The two biggest issues facing Falmouth, and I think the people have agreed, that we have a massive opioid epidemic and the lack of business and job creation,” Ernst commented.
But he saw a change in the way the city operates that will bring businesses into the city. This, he believes, will affect the other issue.
He offered up encouragement of business growth downtown by his own family’s example with Smoking Pig Tavern.
“We’ve proven you can build a business downtown in a flood zone, [the place] where everyone told us it can’t happen. It’s extremely successful,” he said.
He did note the issues with the state limits what they are allowed to do in rebuilding the properties they own.
“The city cannot override the state, but its about working with your state legislators, like Mark Hart and Wil Schroder. It’s about getting with them to create legislation that might grandfather in some of the older buildings,” he said.
“They won’t let us do our own work.”
He also noted that the industrial park is not listed with the Economic Development Committee at the state level, so when a business contacts the state for possible location, Falmouth is not even on the list for consideration.
“You can’t use the utility funds to prop up the other departments. You can only use water utility funds on water. You can only use sewage funds on sewage. If you make $1 million on utility funds, you cannot use any of that on the general fund,” explained Ernst.
With turning over some of the utilities to private entities, Ernst sees growth in wages for residents as a positive.
Addressing issues and providing a situation that is financially feasible for residents is the way Ernst sees to retain residents and attract people to move into Falmouth.
“We want homeowners. We want younger families moving down here. And the best way to get them to do that is to give them amenities. That they are okay with their kid walking down the street to go to the park. When I was younger, you could do that,” he said.
He explained that there are only two ways to increase revenue, “You either increase the rate, or you increase the value of the community.”
Increasing the value of the community is a path that he obviously feels is the best through his personal actions and stances as a council member.
He led the charge to increase the hours of alcohol charges on Friday and Saturday night that has brought extra revenue for businesses and the city. The increases have brought no negative fallout.
“It’s one of those ways we need to get out of the way and let the people create the revenue. We can sit back and collect the taxes.”
“If we were completely managing it ourselves and it paid for itself, and if we were able to offer similar rates, I would not even question why we are in it,” Ernst said.
The self-described Libertarian, he feels that government should focus on what is spent out of the general fund.
“If we were able to just control the General Fund in Falmouth, which is the police and fire department, city hall, mayor, council, and all of that, and it squared away and the drugs were gone, then we could branch out to other things. Unless we can take care of our core responsibilities first, we don’t need to be doing any of them.”
He sees the city as being midllemen with both the trash and the electric. He believes the city needs to get out of both of those businesses in order to save the expenses. He also believes the city could see off the assets in order to fund other projects. Water and sewer are manageable. He explains that the city draws the water from the river, treats it, sends it out to citizens, and then collects and treats the sewage before it is safely returned to the river.
Ernst questions the argument that allowing the city to manage the electrical utilities allows for quicker return to service. “At what cost? Are you willing to pay more for your electricity each month just to have it turned back on an hour or two sooner than a private company could have done?
“Even if we did outsource that, they are not going to take any longer to service than what we currently have, and people would be saving a lot of money per year.”
His main focus is on letting people keep their own money instead of putting others’ money in the city’s coffers.
“People know better than we do on how to spend their own money,” he said while explaining that lower rates from private companies would allow people to keep more money.
While the city is facing a loan to fund the much-needed water and sewage upgrade, he offered selling off the electrical assets as a way to pay for it rather than a loan.
“People who live a block away from the park have told me they cannot let their child go to the park for fear of them finding a needle,” Ernst said. “We have to take our city back somehow, and I think the best way is to get the people involved.
“Our entire police department has been here less than two years. We have to keep them here,” he added while talking about retainment. He hopes to keep the police force so that they can build relationships.
“We are going to have to fight forever. Drugs are drugs, and everyone has this problem. But it’s a fight you are going to have to fight,” he said.
He suggested that the city police department aggressively recruit people in the community, like Heather Jolley, for the police staff.
“I think the police department is doing the best they can with what they have,” he added, but he wishes the community could get a drug dog.
Seized assets from drug busts could go to help fund the police department.
He also raised the issue of slumlords who are purchasing cheap property but are not taking care of it properly.
He discussed a neighborhood watch program, and he said, “This is your home. You shouldn’t be afraid to call the cops. Appeasement does not work for criminals. You see an issue, and you have to call. We have to get the community engaged. Right now, they don’t have faith in us. It’s not the police department’s fault. They are doing their part; we have to do our part.”
Ernst has spent the last several years trying to do his part in the downtown area,and offers that up as an example of what voters can expect with him as mayor.
“I think they would notice what I have been doing privately,” he added, and he listed the projects in which they have been involved. “I know what it is like to start a business down here. If I get elected, in four years people will see a lot more growth downtown. They’ll see us focusing more on the drug issue.”
While his usage of Facebook has led to controversy and public spats between council members, he said that he would continue to use that forum to explain what and why is being done in Falmouth.
“If I win, I am not going to be able to do it myself. I have to have a good, strong council that is willing to make the hard decisions,” he said.
With an eye on the growth downtown, he offered a simple statement.“If people want to see more of that, then they’ll vote for me.”
The complete video interview of Sebastian Ernst is available at www.falmouthoutlook.com as well as a growing list of video interviews with candidates in November 6 General Election.