Archived Story

Commissioner candidates debate budget, roads, services

Published 9:02pm Wednesday, March 9, 2011

While Mike Lee and Tony Pestorious have shown similar views on several issues during their campaign for Freeborn County 5th District commissioner, they agree there’s one major difference between them.

“I’m a conservative and Mike is a liberal,” Pestorious said during a forum between the two candidates Wednesday night.

Lee added that while both want to keep property taxes in check, he worries about people with disabilities, keeping senior citizens in their homes and making sure kids get the social services they need.

Pestorious and Lee are the final two candidates in the race for county commissioner. Wednesday’s forum was hosted by the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.

Mike Lee

About 15 people attended the forum at Albert Lea City Hall. None of the Freeborn County commissioners attended the event.

Like a similar event hosted by the chamber in January, people from the general public submitted their questions in writing to the candidates. Each candidate answered about 25 questions. Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom moderated.

Lee and Pestorious agreed that taking care of the county’s senior population is important. Lee’s approach to helping seniors was to talk with elected officials in St. Paul while Pestorious suggested also looking into grant money and freezing the property taxes of senior citizens to stay at the same amount as when they retired.

The candidates agreed that coordinating Freeborn County Public Health services with other counties would be one way to help save tax dollars, though Lee pointed out this doesn’t need to be considered unless the county population falls below 30,000 people. Pestorious said it would be worth looking into sharing a public health director with Mower County and splitting the costs.

Both support the Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract and want continued meetings between city and county officials to seek shared services.

Sharing additional services with townships and surrounding counties was also discussed. Lee suggested that the county sharing road plowing with townships might be another area to explore. Pestorious said while he doesn’t know the exact state and federal mandates of the Freeborn County Department of Human Services, it might be worth looking into setting up a system with three or four counties combined to share child service-type positions.

Tony Pestorious

Pestorious said taxes and spending are the most important issues facing the county at this time, while Lee said it was jobs.

When asked how he would create jobs, Lee said he would work closely with the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency and talk to state legislators about a new type of JOBZ program to help attract and retain younger people.

Pestorious said one of the major problems in Freeborn County and the entire state is the amount of red tape it takes to get businesses up and running.

“We need a step-by-step guide so people know what’s expected of them and once those requirements are met, they cannot be changed,” he said.

While the candidates realize some of the things they’ve campaigned for will take time and the cooperation of the other county commissioners, both gave a couple of campaign promises they said they could keep.

“I will listen to every person that calls and talks to me,” said Lee. “I don’t have an agenda. I will keep representing you.”

Seeing the Shell Rock River dam through to its completion is another campaign promise Lee made to his voters.

Pestorious said he would go through the budget line by line. He would look at trying to extend the time between the purchase of new equipment in the Freeborn County Highway Department, or between painting new lines on the highways.

About the roads, Lee said he would fight to keep rumble strips at blind intersections and deer signs in areas that are heavily populated with deer.

Lee said he would look at how much money could be saved by going to four 10-hour days in the county offices and suggest an energy audit on the courthouse.

Lee said he’s prepared to step into the role of commissioner because he has attended regular Freeborn County Board of Commissioner meetings for the past three years, as well as the joint meetings between the county and the Albert Lea City Council, meetings of the Shell Rock Watershed District Board and several others. He said if elected he will vote on issues based on what the people of the district want, even if that’s not how he would otherwise vote.

Pestorious said his work experience with the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given him experience and leadership in dealing with managers and government leaders, both in the government and the private sector. If elected commissioner, he will work to make sound decisions for the community down the road.

Lee and Pestorious have shown their interest in the 5th District seat in the past, as both ran for the position in 2008. In that election, former Commissioner Linda Tuttle defeated Lee in the general election on a vote of 1,752 to 1,548.

Tuttle then vacated the seat on Aug. 1, 2010, facing theft and racketeering charges stemming from her business.

The 5th District comprises Pickerel Lake Township plus Albert Lea’s 3rd and 6th wards. Voters in the 5th District can choose the next commissioner during the general election on Tuesday.