LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) -- Eight of La Crosse's 11 mayoral candidates participated in a forum Monday on the city's south side.
Chris Olson, who currently represents La Crosse's third district on the city council, said his top priority if elected would be public safety.
"The police department has lost six officers over the past three years and it's caused us some problems,"Olson said. "When you look at the heroin issue that's come into this city, it's a critical time for public safety right now."
Candidate Richard Smith, Jr., a city wastewater utility worker, said a key to ensuring public safety is a harsher set of consequences on those who commit drug-related crimes.
"We should have a notification criteria set up with the police, the city attorney, the district attorney and probation agents," Smith said. "Criminals should be put into that criteria and then when they step outside the lines, major sanctions would set it and they get sent away."
"We need to send the message that you can't sell drugs in this city and get away with it," Smith said.
Craig Nestor, a longtime City Hall watchdog, marketed himself as a fiscal hawk seeking to reform the city's bookkeeping system.
"We should be able to take an expense or labor cost and debit that to a project or program," Nestor said. "That way we know how much that costs us and we can weigh the cost effectiveness of our tax dollars."
Other candidates said one of their top goals would be to reach out to La Crosse's business community.
"Economic development and working with our businesses to create new jobs is very important," said Tim Kabat, who's currently the Executive Director of La Crosse's Downtown MainStreet Inc.
"As Mayor you can really set the right tone, work with those businesses and build those relationships,"Kabat said.
"I want to represent all small businesses because I think La Crosse isn't friendly enough to them," said Michael Brown, President of the Tavern League. "People think of the big companies like Trane Co. and Kwik Trip but those all started as small operations that grew."
"If we treat all businesses like they're special and we expect them to grow into something big, that's going to make the city great," Brown said.
Candidate Dae Miles is a champion of improving public transportation.
"Right now public transportation in La Crosse it's a slow zig-zag," Miles said. "Instead, it should be direct so you can get most of the way across town quickly and then use a community van or a bike you can rent. That would reduce traffic."
Miles also cited data from the county saying that each dollar invested in public transportation saves approximately $4.00 in road maintenance costs.
Meanwhile candidates Jon Olson and Robbie Young said they would bring a new way of thinking to City Hall.
"I think rather than seeing a problem and viewing it as a problem, we should look at problems in our community as opportunities to do something differently," Young said.
"I just want to make LaCrosse a friendlier place to work," Jon Olson said. "Putting a smile on city hall -- I think when you visit there it should be a really nice place to visit."
Candidates Randy Magno, Doug Farmer, and Bill Feehan did not participate in the forum.
The primary election is February19.