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Commissioner candidates face off in forums

Topics included roads, taxes, goals for office

Freeborn County commissioner candidates in two districts took on questions regarding roads, taxes and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other topics, in forums hosted Tuesday night by the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce on KATE Radio.

District 1 candidates Brad Edwin and Ron Jacobsen participated in a 30-minute forum first before a separate 30-minute forum with District 3 candidates John Forum and Steve Kluver.

Road funding

When asked how they would propose to fund the growing gap in bridge and road funding, Jacobsen said the answer would involve lobbying hard at the state level, though the county is like all others in the state.

“Everything is falling apart, and there’s just not enough dollars,” he said.

Jacobsen said the county would also have to look at places to cut and said the county can’t just keep adding taxes because taxes are unbearable for some already.

Edwin said the gap in funding for roads and bridges is hard to close without either looking at increases in taxes or additional state aid funding. He noted the county’s wheelage tax is a good source of revenue for the county.

He said the county would also need to look within its own departments to make sure it is utilizing tax dollars wisely and efficiently.

Forman talked about the importance of using new technology to prolong the life of roads but noted that new construction would likely have to incorporate state-aid funding.

He noted the state might also need to look at possibly increasing the gas tax, particularly as people are not driving as much and use as much gas during the pandemic, and also to consider a user tax for electric cars, which are not affected by the gas tax.

Kluver said he agreed with Forman on the importance of utilizing new technology and also questioned whether some roads might have to be put back to gravel roads if enough funding is not obtained, though he noted. He talked about the importance of putting pressure on state representatives and taking advantage of other available state dollars.

He said the county has 630 miles of county-maintained roads, of which 410 miles are paved.

Taxes

When asked specifically about taxes for the farming community, Edwin said the 1st District is primarily based around agriculture and a lot of its businesses — implement dealers, grain elevators, and even the restaurants and taverns — are based on how well agriculture does in the community.

He said he doesn’t want to see taxes go up anymore than anyone else and said the county needs to figure out what can be done to hold the line on taxes and look at needs versus wants first. If elected, he plans to get out and meet with the county employees to talk about what they’re doing in their departments and why they’re doing it.

He said roads and bridges make up the highest percentage of expenses for the county, followed by public safety and human services.

Jacobsen talked about a redetermination of benefits and said he, too, would support not having to raise taxes on the farming community but would have to do the best he could to hold the line if taxes do go up.

Utilizing the government center during the pandemic

Candidates in both forums were asked if they thought the government center was being as fully utilized as it could be during the pandemic.

Jacobsen said though it may be inconvenient, the government center is available by appointment. He said he would like to see it not as stringent as it has been, but he thinks it is being “pretty fully utilized.”

Edwin commended the county administration and commissioners for what they have done during the pandemic, and said he hopes they can use the experience as a learning opportunity to look at how the county was doing things in the past versus what staff have done during the pandemic, and then discuss any changes that can be made into the future. This may include some cost savings.

Kluver said he has visited the courthouse during the pandemic and that residents can visit any department they need with an appointment either the same or next day.

Forman said he, too, has been at the courthouse with an appointment, but noted he has heard complaints about the license center and court system getting further behind and said something will have to be done to get those areas caught up.

Other items

Edwin said one topic he would like to focus on if he is elected is better communication with the people of the county. He also hopes to get to know county staff.

Jacobsen said he wants to focus on roads.

Forman said he wants to focus on population growth, which will be closely connected to job and housing growth. He said the county is just above 30,000 population and dropping below that number will greatly impact funding. As the largest city in the county, Albert Lea will need to continue to be the engine of growth in the county.

Kluver said he would like to see job growth, as well as new and affordable housing. To attract companies, there needs to be things like a good school system and a reliable and dependable health care system that looks after residents’ interests.

Both Kluver and Forman said they supported the decision of the commissioners to appoint the auditor-treasurer.

A forum for 5th Ward Albert Lea City Council candidates Robert Rasmussen and John Severtson is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday on KATE Radio, and a forum for candidates of the Albert Lea School board is slated for 6 p.m. Thursday. A forum with state legislative candidates will take place next Tuesday.

The forums are recorded and will be shared on the KATE Radio and chamber websites, along with the city’s YouTube channel and other social media outlets.

The public is encouraged to submit questions via email to director@albertlea.org or through the chamber’s Facebook page.