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District 4 County Commissioner

Fri, Oct 18th, 2002
Posted in Features

Editors note: Duane Bakke and Sandy Benson are running for a newly aligned District Four County Commissioner seat. District Four encompasses the cities of Fountain, Lanesboro, and Preston and the townships of Bristol, Carimona, Carrolton, Fountain, and Preston.

The Journal asked the two candidates to respond to an Election Questionnaire. Here are their responses in their own words.

Journal: Inform the readers as to your qualifications and motivation for running for County Commissioner.

Benson: My husband and I have lived in Preston for 30 years. We have two children, Rebekah and Matthew and three grandchildren. Prior to moving to Preston, I worked as a Registered Nurse. After receiving my degree in Science and Math Education, I taught in several schools in the county. I have been working for the county as either the Solid Waste Administrator or that of the County Recycling Education Coordinator for the last 12 years.

Serving two terms on the Preston-Fountain (now Fillmore Central) school board and my experience at the county have given me the opportunity to gain experience in serving on negotiation committees, developing annual budgets and coordinating county and state programs.

I have also been involved in lobbying the Association of Minnesota Counties and State Legislators on various issues of concern for the county. The cooperation necessary to develop the household hazardous waste, waste pesticide and recycling programs has been instrumental in the success of these programs.

I would like to represent the residents of District Four because I have a commitment to do what I can to keep Fillmore County a great place to live. I want to see a county government that is responsive to the needs and wishes of both the city and rural residents. Continuous communication between a representative of county government and those of the cities and townships is essential. I also believe that county government not only needs to be efficient and fiscally responsible, it also needs to have a clear vision of the countys future.

Bakke: I was elected county commissioner just four years ago. Prior to that I was on the planning committee, and was involved in a lot of local, state and national agricultural organizations and task forces. I have taken the time to attend meetings connected to my committee assignment. I have been asked to be in a leadership role on many of the joint power boards that we belong to. Two years ago, I was elected vice-chair of the District 9 Region of the Association of Minnesota Counties. I would like to continue to represent the 4th District as we continue forward on several projects that we have started.

Journal: The Zoning Ordin-ance has recently been updated, yet some townships are implementing their own ordinances to address their own specific needs.

Are you satisfied that the "two homes per quarter, quarter section" satisfies the need for development while protecting agricultural interests? How would you like to see the issue of subdivisions addressed?

Bakke: The zoning ordinance is a document that will continue to be updated. We had meetings where there was an attempt to separate the county into zones that were compatible with land use in that area. There was very little consensus among the participants. The result was very few changes, but a lot better awareness by citizens of what was in the present ordinance. There is still a lot of misinformation and individuals need to come into the zoning office and check out their own situation. We increased the dwellings per quarter-quarter section to two. I have always stated that if there is a good area for housing development, there should be increased development in that area. The construction of sub-divisions is currently regulated through the use of a conditional use permit. This allows the local township and/or city, and individuals to submit comments at a public hearing. If a township wants the development it will probably take place. On the other hand, if they state that it would be a hardship on them because of road maintenance, it can be denied.

Additions that need work - Orderly annexation agreements with municipalities should be in place prior to subdivision development in their planned growth area. Dwelling construction restrictions on tillable ground have been in effect for many years. We moved them into the performance category, which means a variance, can now be approved by the board of adjustments. We need clarification and change on soil restrictions as they relate to some parcels. We have an existing agriculture sector, thriving tourism industry, and a desire for additional housing. We need to have policy so all can continue to exist.

Benson: I would not have voted for the last zoning amendment for two reasons. It was not based on an updated comprehensive plan, and it did not respect the needs and wishes of many of the townships and residents that had input into the planning.

Not only does a county board need to be responsive to its constituents, but also needs to have a plan for the future that guides its decisions. The subdivision ordinance also needs to be examined subsequent to an updated comprehensive plan.

Journal: What are Fillmore Countys most valuable resources, and how would you like to see them protected, or in some cases developed? Should the Comprehensive Plan be updated?

Benson: The countys most valuable natural resources are our ground and surface waters, clean air, woodland and agricultural land. All of these resources need protection. They are also available for development to make this a great place to live, and to use for recreation, tourism, farming and business.

Protection is a function of not only federal and state government, but also of our county, cities and townships and individuals. There are regulations protecting these resources that deal with erosion, septic systems, wells, feedlots, municipal treatment plants, illegal dumping and where an industry or house can be located. How many and what types of regulations a county adopts is a result of not only of the state and federal mandates, but also of its own comprehensive plan.

Our plan is outdated. For example because it is based on 1980 data, it lists the values of homes in our cities between $18,000 to $39,000. We need to involve the citizens in developing an updated plan to guide the county in decision making on land-use issues, economic development, housing and protecting and utilizing our natural resources.

Bakke: We have agriculture, tourism, mining, manufacturing and a desire for additional housing. The availability of fertile soil, wooded area, fishing streams, the Root River recreational area, and the people that live here creates a need for balance.

We need to continue to emphasize the conservation and best management practices in our farm sector. Regardless of size, species, or management practices everyone could do a small improvement in their operation accumulating in a large improvement in their local watershed.

The Root River valley has attracted the visitors to our area that has allowed the tourist industry to rapidly develop. We need to preserve the natural aspect of this area in order to continue to attract what has been a success story in towns that were at an economic standstill in the mid 1980s.

We failed in an attempt to get state grant money to help pay for updating the comprehensive plan two years ago. As a result the plan has not been updated since 1994. While it needs to be looked at, Im not for spending several thousand dollars for a 21 page document that only a handful of people has ever read. I would like to try and update it with a combination of county staff and interested citizens rather than spend the money on outside consultants. Any volunteers?

Journal: What are the countys short and long term facility needs? What needs to be done, if anything, with the courthouse, highway shops and other facilities to ensure an efficient delivery of services?

Bakke: We changed our method of solid waste collection to better enhance recycling, saving tax dollars in the process. That will allow the highway department located in Preston to move to the facilities east of town, and out of the congested residential area north of 52. That move should be completed next year.

We made a commitment to continue to use the existing courthouse in Preston. The elevator project is complete and the window project is close to finished. We are in the design phase of an update of courts, remodel of existing building, and a much needed replacement of the heating, ventilation, and electrical system that is still the original equipment installed when the building was constructed in 1957. Low interest rates and favorable construction bidding timelines should allow for an affordable yearly cost on the facility that the people of Fillmore County can be proud of. We will pay off the bond for the Resource Recovery Center this year and Fillmore County will be debt free at the time that we would need to bond for this new project.

Benson: Short term, the county courthouse needs to replace and update its mechanical plant. It is inefficient, energy wasting and prone to break downs. Planning ahead for efficient and safe delivery of services means the county must address not only the courthouse addition and remodeling, but also its jail and highway maintenance shop, both of which have inadequate space.

The state continues to pass laws necessitating county programs, services and sentencing for crimes that we must follow. The increase in the required number of services and the crime rate since the courthouse was built should alert us to the fact that local government is not going to shrink - as much as wed like it to.

The county board has been discussing this for a long time. Now is the time to make decisions on what should be done to meet present and future needs.

Journal: Given an estimated $3 billion state shortfall, the potential loss of Local Government Aid could affect the countys budget. How do you see dealing with a cut in governmental aid?

Benson: With the states projected deficit, counties will also feel the crunch. I do not believe in the county picking up the slack in that funding by increasing our taxes. I know departments in the county can cut costs without cutting services because I have developed a budget for household hazardous waste and recycling that does that. In some cases, user fees charged for various services will have to go up. We simply cannot spend money that is not there. Solutions will demand some creativity and perhaps re-organization.

Bakke: I believe it will be hard for the state to hold local government aid steady in light of the expected increase in the state budget deficit. That is why as chair of the county board, I asked department heads to hold budget projections down for the 2003 year. They did a fine job and we were able to have less than a 1% increase in the county portion of the levy for next year. We have also been using reserves to help balance the last couple years, but we need to have reserves for cash flow purposes, so that balance cant be reduced much more. Federal and state mandates, combined with the publics demand for governmental services, will determine program needs and subsequently drive the budge which effects the amount of local taxes that need to be collected.

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