Candidates explain positions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 13, 2004

By Jennifer Rogers and Ann Austin, Tribune staff writers

Punches weren’t thrown and blood wasn’t shed at Tuesday night’s city and county forum, but at times a spirited discussion ensued between candidates.

Approximately 100 people showed up for the questioning at Southwest Middle School’s auditorium, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, the Albert Lea Tribune, Power 96 and KATE Radio.

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Throughout the hour and a half-long sessions, candidates calmly answered the community’s questions, with occassional bantering back and forth on topics.

Questions ranged from balancing budgets, to the smoke-free initiative to city and county cooperation.

On balancing the budget, candidates had differing opinions:

&uot;We need to work the city independently of local government aid,&uot; said 3rd Ward incumbent George Marin. He said he believes LGA will disappear completely someday and the city must be prepared for that eventuality

John Severtson, 5th Ward challenger, believes the city needs to increase its tax base so it doesn’t have to cut jobs.

Don Mathison, 3rd Ward challenger, said he would be cautious with anything cut from the budget or combining services when there is a need for them in the city.

Mark Rofshus, Freeborn County’s 5th District challenger, stressed the county needs to work at keeping its taxes down.

&uot;We need to bring some people in from the community and have them help identify things that they think we need to work on,&uot; he said. &uot;I think the unification concepts are very important. We need to look at areas we can cut, not increase. We need to think about the core services that we should be providing.&uot;

Neal Gjersvik, 1st District county commission challenger said the budget will not be amended by piecing departments together.

&uot;I would use something called ‘financial forecasting’ where we plan three to five years ahead,&uot; he said. &uot;We would know what is going to come up and we would have to make a decision for what kinds of things we could do with that money. If we don’t plan ahead, we are going to have a crisis tomorrow.&uot;

Candidates found the smoke-free initiative to be mostly a negative idea for the city and county.

Quincy Borland, mayoral challenger, said it’s best to leave the decision up to individual businesses.

&uot;It’s their right to do it. If they want to smoke, let them,&uot; he said. &uot;There’s worse things that can kill us.&uot;

Mayor Jean Eaton said she will support the smoke-free initiative, but said she expects the state to mandate smoke-free workplaces.

Warren Amundson, Albert Lea 1st Ward incumbent, said businesses may be able to meet health standards while allowing people to continue to smoke.

&uot;I would like to see how that works before we go totally smoke-free,&uot; he said.

Jim Nelson, Freeborn County 3rd District challenger, said he would not support the county-wide smoking ban.

&uot;That is one more right they want to take away from us. Restaurants have the right to choose and I will respect that,&uot; he said.

Mark Behrends, 5th District county commission incumbent, said he is not a smoker, nor is he a fan of smoking, but opposes the ban.

&uot;I would not support the smoking ban,&uot; he said. &uot;I don’t think it is the county’s responsibility to enforce that on any establishment.&uot;

On the topic of city and county cooperation, all the candidates agreed it was important to share services when possible.

Vern Rasmussen Jr., Albert Lea 1st Ward challenger, appreciated what the design team had to offer but said it’s important for the community to focus on positivity. &uot;That whole project was all about dreaming and that’s what it is,&uot; he said. &uot;We need to keep doing that dreaming.&uot;

Glen Mathiason, 1st District county commission incumbent, said the city and county do look at sharing entities.

&uot;Sometimes it doesn’t always fit, however I’m in favor of looking at ways to combine things because it saves money,&uot; he said. &uot;We need to avoid the duplication of services. If something happens, we are going to need our two groups to cooperate. I don’t think anyone would want to see a reduction in (law enforcement or the fire department).&uot;

Another forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters is planned at 7 p.m. Oct. 18,

Oct. 18

at Riverland Community College.