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On Tuesday, April 17, voters in District Three (Fillmore, Bloomfield, Forestville, Beaver and York Townships and Ward I Spring Valley) will elect a new county commissioner to fill the vacancy created with the resignation of Commissioner Gary Peterson. The two candidates are Harry Root and Mike Zimmer. The Journal sent each candidate a questionnaire to find out where they stand on various issues.
Journal: Why do you want to be Third District Commissioner?
Root: I feel I’m qualified for the position. I’m a life long resident of Fillmore County. I have a strong farming background and a good understanding of issues that are being faced by agriculture today. My understanding of business and all aspects of running a business will be very helpful if I am elected. I have a vision for Fillmore County to move forward into the future and to address issues that citizens and our local businesses face. I’ve always had interest in being a county commissioner, and I have been fortunate enough to personally know many of the commissioners that have served before me. I understand the position is not always easy, but I am committed to doing the very best I can to help fulfill the needs of Fillmore County.
Zimmer: I have enjoyed my elected positions to the Spring Valley City Council and the Kingsland School Board. In these positions I’ve gained knowledge about things like finance, facilities, labor negotiations, looking at the total picture and consideration of the residents views. Recently the make-up of the County Commissioners has experienced a change. This change will bring fresh ideas and a new outlook on the future of Fillmore County. Exciting opportunities like the creation of a County EDA that can be used to promote new businesses and job growth. During this time of change, I feel my past experience will be an asset to the residents of Fillmore County and the County Commissioners.
Journal: The Fillmore County Planning Commission is presently discussing possible changes to the zoning ordinance which would, in certain circumstances, change the one non-farm home per 1/4 1/4 (40 acres) section rule to allow for increased development in the Ag District. What are your thoughts about this issue and zoning in general?
Zimmer: Before I answer this question, lets look at why the regulation exists at all. Basically, it is an attempt to avoid sprawling development in the County. I think we can all agree that sprawl needs to be contained. Now the question is, is the one homestead per 40 acres the best way to handle this? One complaint I often hear is that feedlots are unable to expand because they need to remain a certain distance away from an existing homestead property. If we allow one home every 40 acres and let people go out and build their countryside castles, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot in terms of economic development. Knowing we are an agricultural county, is it wise to allow so much housing that agricultural operations cannot expand and thus create new tax base and new agricultural jobs? Perhaps we could address this issue in the following manner:
1. Maintain the one homestead per 40-acre provision, but reducing the distance restriction on agricultural operations. This way, people will think twice before building a home out in the country and agriculturally based businesses will not be prevented from growing. Or.....
2. Increase the restriction on homesteads to one in every 160 acres. This will prevent all but the most determined from gobbling up our agricultural land for housing. Of course, if we did this, the distance provision on agricultural operations would not be reduced.
Concentrated housing developments are best left to cities where the infrastructure is in place to service them. I have heard the argument that allowing more housing in the country would increase the tax base of the county. While this may be true, it would be a poor exercise in land use planning and really be a "quick fix" to increase the tax base. Imagine our township roads dotted with houses. How many more tons of dust control will we need? How many requests for new blacktop will we receive? The cost to service these new country residents could be quite high. And we have to ask ourselves, are we slowly moving agriculture out of Fillmore County? I, for one, certainly hope that is not the case. The County’s zoning laws should work to preserve our agricultural identity while allowing common sense development.
Root: I understand that an Ag District Review Committee has been formed, under direction of the Fillmore County Planning Commission, to look into the options of an updated rating system to review Fillmore County’s current zoning ordinance in regard to allowing for more “non-farm” housing options for certain areas of the county. These areas that are being looked at are primarily non-agricultural areas and would promote future development and future students in our county’s school districts. I feel it’s very important to protect our rural areas and our farm land. Fillmore County is an agricultural county. Any future zoning changes to current ordinances need to be put in place for the best interest of preserving Fillmore County and the best interest of the citizens of Fillmore County.
Journal: The county is presently reviewing proposals that would privatize operations at the Resource Recovery Center; this would include doing away with the compost line. What are your thoughts on how the county should handle solid waste in the future?
Root: I recently toured the Resource Recovery Center. I walked through the entire facility to see how the operation was set up to operate and function. It is my understanding that there is very little, if any, composting being done at the facility. I understand Fillmore County is exploring options of basically exporting all solid waste to out-of-state facilities through private operators. In my opinion, from visiting the facility, there are a lot of assets sitting idle. I feel Fillmore County has to address this issue and provide leadership in what direction needs to be taken into the future.
Zimmer: Whenever an issue is brought before me as a boardmember of the Kingsland School District, the first question I ask myself is, "is this something the school board should be looking at, or is this something that should be handled in some other way?" The same applies to solid waste at the County level. The State requires that we develop a plan for managing our waste. The law does not require that we build an inefficient facility that is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Having said that, I believe that the move away from composting is a good one. The costs of conducting that operation were astronomical while providing very little environmental benefit. In fact, much of the waste brought to that facility was making its way to the landfills anyway, in the form of sifted material or as daily cover. Privatizing the activities of solid waste removal in this County is a wise move. It will run more efficiently while saving significant taxpayer dollars. While we must have a solid waste plan, do we really need to be in the solid waste business? I believe the answer is "no". The County should only involve itself in the business of government and private business should be left to the private sector
Journal: Should the county build a new courthouse or remodel the existing one?
Zimmer: I believe that the construction of a new common campus near the new office building as opposed to remodeling the existing Courthouse is a viable option. It will improve the security of operations between the Sheriff’s Office and the Courthouse. However, we need to be visionary and plan the building to serve the needs of the future. This building, once comp