Guest Column: Listening to constituent concerns key for incumbent county commissioner

Published 10:28 am Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Guest Column by Mike Lee

Mike Lee is the incumbent 5th District Freeborn County commissioner.

Hello, my name is Mike Lee and I’m running for re-election as your 5th District county commissioner. I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you for allowing me to serve as your commissioner for the past 5 1/2 years. I will always go the extra mile to represent the citizens of District 5 and Freeborn County.

Mike Lee

Mike Lee

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Over the past couple of months you may have noticed me out doorknocking in your neighborhood. It’s always been my belief that the best way to represent you is to go out and talk with you one on one at your doorstep. Listening to your questions and concerns is very important for me. I always want to hear your views on what you feel the county is doing right and what needs to be improved upon for the betterment of the citizens of Freeborn County.

We, as a county board, are always mindful that the citizens of Freeborn County work hard for their money. We’re always looking at ways to hold down property taxes and bring in additional revenue. The ICE and DOC contracts and the Bent Tree Wind Farm are a few examples where the county is bringing in outside revenue to help keep property taxes in check.

The Sheriff’s Office has started up the K-9 program again. This was only possible with the support of the citizens of Freeborn County. Many citizens and groups stepped forward to donate money to support this program. Thank you to everyone who donated to this worthwhile cause. Stalker is already a valuable resource for the Sheriff’s Office.

Sometime in the future you may hear about FirstNet. FirstNet stands for the First Responders Network Authority. This technology will allow police, firefighters, emergency medical staff and other public safety entities to better communicate with each other during an actual emergency. It’s capable of supporting both voice and data, including pictures and video from the scene. In essence, first responders will have a tool to stream live data from the scene of an emergency to other public safety entities. In turn, first responders will be able to receive real time information back to best address the situation and its victims, in the process saving lives.

One of the core services of Freeborn County is the county’s roads and bridges. The cost to care for our transportation infrastructure is high. The cost of total reconstruction of one mile of county road is $1 million. It costs $250,000 to do an overlay of one mile of county road. We’re always looking for ways to prevent big spikes in property taxes to support our roads. Over the past couple years we implemented a wheelage tax and half-cent sales tax to help hold down property taxes. Even with this source of funding for our roads, we’re still about $4.5 million short in money needed for annual projects. I feel we have asked all we can from our citizens. It’s time for the state Legislature and governor to agree on a transportation funding plan that will help counties like Freeborn so we’re better able to fund our county road system.

As a border county, we’re always competing with other states to attract jobs. We have tools like tax abatement, Minnesota Investment Fund and tax increment financing, to use in partnering with ALEDA when opportunities arise for job growth. But there’s a need to look at additional ways to retain and attract jobs. The JOBZ program worked here in Freeborn County. It helped create 907 new jobs. I feel we need to work with our state elected officials to create programs to level the playing field. Then border counties like Freeborn can compete with other states in attracting businesses here.

Our lakes throughout Freeborn County are part of our identity. They add to the quality of life we enjoy. There are lots of opportunities to enjoy our natural resources here:  hunting and fishing on our lakes and wildlife management areas, walking trails around Fountain Lake and our county parks. We also have the Blazing Star Trail and Myre-Big Island State Park.

As cleanup of the Shell Rock River Watershed continues, I feel the best way to fund these projects is through the use of the half-cent sales tax. The watershed has been very successful in bringing in outside dollars to help pay for its projects. With the money the sales tax has brought in to date, the Shell Rock River Watershed District has been able to leverage an additional $26 million to fund projects here.

Thank you to the Albert Lea Tribune for providing me the opportunity to express my views here today. I’m looking forward to visiting with the citizens of District 5. I would be honored to receive your vote on Nov. 8.