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Jim Butterfield, from left, Richard Falk, Doug Lindblad, Dean Shuck, Harlan Madsen and John Cunningham are pictured Thursday during a County Board election debate in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

County Board candidates present views

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WILLMAR -- Consolidating services and saving taxpayers money was the theme of listener-generated questions that were posed to the six men running for the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

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The three sitting commissioners and their challengers participated in a two-hour League of Women Voter's forum Thursday in Willmar that was broadcast live on KWLM radio and WRAC 8 TV.

The participants included Commissioner Richard Falk and challenger Jim Butterfield from District 1; Commissioner Dean Shuck and challenger Doug Lindblad from District 3; and Commissioner Harlan Madsen and challenger John Cunningham from District 5.

With questions that ranged from whether the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office and Willmar Police Department should merge, to whether multiple counties should merge together, the candidates expressed little disagreement with each other on the need to explore all options for streamlining government and saving taxpayers' money.

The candidates agreed the best way for the county to save money will require state and federal governments to relax unfunded mandates.

"If they'd just loosen up a little bit and not tell us what to do," Shuck said, adding "no one wants to raise taxes."

"Listening to the voters might help, too," Lindblad said.

If the aid is not forthcoming then the mandates should be removed, Madsen said, adding counties are begging for a simplification of rules and regulation to help offset decreasing state aid.

Counties, cities and school districts are all experiencing the same frustration with increasing mandates and decreasing funds, Cunningham said. Counties need to work together and "learn to take care of ourselves," he said.

Butterfield agreed mandates need to be removed but said he wouldn't plan on the state changing their mind anytime soon. "We've got to get creative and find some solutions."

Falk said the county is making "great strides" in reducing costs to taxpayers by expanding their partnership with the city of Willmar to consolidate services. A recent decision was made to merge the assessors from both entities. That partnership may eventually expand to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority as a way to reduce duplication of services.

Merging the law enforcement agencies of the county and city of Willmar drew mixed reactions, ranging from a definite no to a warning that it would indeed happen sometime in the future.

The current system of having two departments is working, said Butterfield. "If something is working, let's keep it working."

But Falk said the day will eventually come when there will be one law enforcement agency in the county. "It won't happen soon. But it will come."

The county's partnership to provide law enforcement and emergency dispatch services to Big Stone County' is a good example of counties saving money by sharing services with another county, but the candidates were not keen about the idea of counties merging with each other.

Instead of merging counties, the candidates agreed that a continuation of merging services across county lines was preferred.

Sharing services is one thing, but dissolving them "would be a real battle," said Shuck.

"That would be a tough sell," Lindblad agreed.

The candidates were asked to respond to the "perception" that Kandiyohi County is an easy place to get financial assistance and that there's a serious problem with welfare fraud.

It's an issue he hears frequently while campaigning, Butterfield said. "I believe the perception is real," he said. "Theft is theft and it should be prosecuted."

Falk said stealing public funds is a serious issue and needs to be addressed, but said "it's a very small problem" in Kandiyohi County.

The issue of redesigning County Road 9 by Eagle Lake drew some differing opinions.

Cunningham said property owners he's spoken to don't feel they've had a say in the project.

Madsen said the project is just in the proposal stage and the board is considering new options based on comments made by landowners.

A question on whether the sheriff's department should receive special training to assist with the Immigrant and Customs Enforcement received the common response that training would be beneficial, but that wouldn't mean enforcement would be taken at a local level.

Responding to a question about developing wind energy in the county, Shuck admitted he was "divided" on the issue, in part because of the unreliability of wind energy and the turbines.

Lindblad said the big issue with wind energy boils down to the need for more transmission lines.

In opening and closing statements, Butterfield said it's time for a "new set of eyes" to look at the county's challenges and he'd be "both humble and bold" in taking action if elected.

Falk said he'll continue to "work diligently" to implement changes to improve Kandiyohi County and "better utilize your taxpayer dollars."

Lindblad said through his years of public service, improving Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar "have been in my everyday thoughts."

Shuck said he's learned a great deal during his eight years on the board and knows there are financial challenges ahead. "We've got a lot of tough decisions coming up, and I hope I'm around to make them."

As the middle child in a family of 13 children, Cunningham said he's "always been a compromiser" and would bring that skill, as well as the ability to "think outside the box," to the county board table.

Madsen said he cares "passionately" for the citizens of the county and has served with "honesty, transparency and integrity" and will continue to move the county ahead in plans to redesign and streamline government.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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