County candidates state their cases
WORTHINGTON -- Candidates vying for a seat on the Nobles County Board of Commissioners responded to questions ranging from budgets to economic development and partnerships during a forum Tuesday night at the Worthington High School media center.
Sponsored by the governmental affairs committee of the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, the event followed a Worthington City Council candidate's forum. Taking part in the commissioner forum were District 2 incumbent Diane Thier and her challenger, Daryl Behrends, and District 5 incumbent Vern Leistico and his challenger, Lee McAllister.
While the incumbents want to keep their seats on the board, challenger McAllister said he wants to see the county be responsible in budgeting and responsive to peoples' needs. Behrends said it is time for a change and that commissioners must "take a firm hand in managing our county."
The first question posed to each candidate was related to financing, specifically their budgeting philosophy.
Thier said that in a time of levy limits -- a 3.9 percent cap for the next three years -- counties need to band together to tell the state they will not accept mandates without the funding to comply with them.
"There are so many things in our county that we're mandated by the state to do, yet they do not give us the money to do it," she said. "The state has got to be made to know we're tired of being treated like second-class citizens. We're counties, and counties make up the good of the state."
She said Nobles County has to do the best it can with the money it has and not keep raising taxes.
Behrends said he would prioritize what the needs are, "and then we're going to have to work with how to do it and do it carefully."
McAllister said budgeting needs to be a "collaborative, bottom's up kind of process." He said commissioners need to work closely with departments and concerned community members to build a budget that's going to meet the core services.
With a $24 million budget for 2009 in Nobles County, Leistico said it has taken a lot of time by commissioners to go through and develop a budget and make ends meet.
"If we didn't have all the state mandates, it would help our budget tremendously," Leistico said.
All four candidates favored doing more in the arena of economic development.
"I think that the bioscience initiative that's been going on with the city, with the community college and with private enterprise is a really important kind of thing," said McAllister. "I would work as much as I could to try to promote economic development, especially in the bioscience area. Tax dollars are shrinking. We need to find some other tax base to try to replace some of those lost dollars, and bioscience shows a lot of opportunity."
Behrends said he believes there are a lot of possibilities out there for economic development, but they need studying so that the county doesn't make a "foolish move."
"We need and we should pursue economic development," he said. "The county's done a pretty fair job to this date as far as I'm concerned."
Leistico said the county needs to do everything it can to bring new industry to the area, and Thier agreed. She said while businesses may not opt to build in a smaller community, if they build in Worthington it's good for the entire county.
"If you can't get industry in, then be the best bedroom community you can have, because when workers move into your communities they bring their kids, they support your schools," she said.
If the county could find two new ways to partner with cities, Thier said they would be in the areas of law enforcement and highway engineering. She would like to see more cities contract with the sheriff's department for services, and at the same time, pursue the potential to share the county's top public works post, that of highway engineer, with another county to help cut costs.
McAllister also pointed to law enforcement as an area where collaboration may be feasible, while Leistico mentioned a potential partnership for a new library.
Other questions posed to the candidates included whether the sheriff's office is adequately staffed, if the former Central School site is the right location for a mental health center, and if the county is interested in collaborating with the city on development opportunities at the former Campbell Soup property.