Letter: Solutions for holding the line

Published 8:36 pm Tuesday, September 25, 2018

While serving as Freeborn County District 2 commissioner, I haven’t been afraid to ask tough questions, supporting the needs of county taxpayers over the wants of administration and staff. I am disappointed that the opinions and ideas of a majority of taxpayers in my district have been ridiculed and disregarded by some members of the board and staff, even when my research has borne out facts.   

For the past two years I chaired a 10-county Joint Powers Workforce Board, observing other counties’ economies growing and prospering, while in Albert Lea and Freeborn County our economy is taking a hit. In recent years, we have lost jobs from business closings: Fountain Industries, Bridon Cordage, Herberger’s, Sterling Drug, Fleet Farm Supply, Dairy Queen south, Kibble John Deere and Holiday Lanes. There were also layoffs at Streater and Albert Lea Mayo Clinic Health System’s Naeve Hospital. Current agricultural prices are at a nine-year low while ag expenses are higher than ever.

Local jobs with good wages are with Freeborn County, Shell Rock River Watershed District, city of Albert Lea and area public schools, with wages funded by taxes. According to recent articles in the Albert Lea Tribune, the county and Watershed District want to raise the wages of staff, administration, and, in some cases, board members. In my opinion, it is not fair to raise taxes to pay more wages on the backs of taxpayers, who must make cuts to their budgets just to stay even.

Will raising those wages bring in more industry? Will the roads farmers need to market their products be better if those wages are raised? Will residents of our area be healthier or safer because those wages are higher?   

I have the following ideas for Freeborn County to save money and not raise taxes if we have the will and discipline to implement them: Freeborn county and the city of Albert Lea share emergency management director, no out-of-state travel, crack fill or seal coat tar roads and use class 2 gravel to preserve county roads, close mental health center and use Mayo Clinic Center of Excellence, do Stables area sewage collection differently, use existing public transportation for Human Services clients instead of buying a bus, eliminate part of Public Works director position, merge Human Services and Public Health to cut one position, cut 1 percent  from all county departments and cut $10,000 from non-mandated services. (See details in my May 2, 2018, letter to the editor.) Do not do a wage study or raise wages, use the $900,000 Administrator Thomas Jensen said he has cut. Those combined actions would save over $2 million in one year to replenish county reserves (funds set aside for future or emergency use) and pay for paving 2 miles of County Road 49 left unpaved without board vote.

As commissioner, I will persist in asking questions, supporting taxpayers and looking for ways to save money in Freeborn County and continue to be your voice on the county board. 

Dan Belshan