County board candidates share views during forum
WILLMAR -- The two candidates seeking a seat on the Kandiyohi County board of commissioners participated in a forum Tuesday night. Incumbent Dean Shuck of Sunburg and challenger Rollie Nissen of Willmar are from the county's third district, which...
WILLMAR - The two candidates seeking a seat on the Kandiyohi County board of commissioners participated in a forum Tuesday night.
Incumbent Dean Shuck of Sunburg and challenger Rollie Nissen of Willmar are from the county’s third district, which includes townships in the northwest quarter of the county and a sliver of Willmar.
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Shuck and Nissen fielded a long list of questions about taxes, zoning, budgets, roads, recycling, the landfill, immigration, restructuring of county departments, collaborating with neighboring government entities, preparing the community for an aging population and dealing with aquatic invasive species.
The candidates agreed on nearly everything.
The main difference between the two was style and verbosity.
Shuck, a farmer and life-long resident of Kandiyohi County - other than the two years he left the county when he was drafted into the Army in the 1970s - makes no secret that he doesn’t like public speaking.
“I’m not a very good politician,” he said during the forum. “But I’m a good public servant.”
Nissen, who worked at Tradehome shoes in Willmar for 30 years and currently works part-time at an insurance agency and drives a school bus, said he was running for office to serve the community that had treated him well over the years.
The art of providing “customer service” that he learned while working in retail would be applied to the county business if he was elected, Nissen said. “I’d bring a fresh perspective.”
When asked about county taxes and budget, Nissen stressed the need to expand economic development to increase the tax base.
The county needs to “turn the EDA lose,” he said, referring to the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar’s Economic Development Commission. “Economic development is the key.”
Nissen also said a zero-based budgeting method should be considered rather than basing a new budget on a past one. He said he would use skills gained doing employee evaluations as a store manager when approaching labor contract negotiations with county union employees.
Shuck said the county has few options for raising revenue other than taxes, which he said will be challenging in the coming years as the once-soaring farmland values start to decline. Shuck said the county has kept a flat budget and most departments have not received increases in recent years.
He said the county has 39 fewer employees than it had four years ago and employees had salary freezes and took mandatory days off without pay during the recession.
Because of mandates and unforeseen circumstances, Shuck said budgeting is a challenge. The high cost of oil and gravel affects highway maintenance, the aging population and costs of nursing homes makes up a growing percentage of the family service budget and one big court case “can blow your whole budget,” he said.
Nissen questioned whether the county’s recent restructuring and mergers will save money. He said the transit merger with Renville County will cost Kandiyohi County more money and that it’s unknown if the merger with Willmar’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority will save money, although it will reduce paperwork.
They both expressed concerns about the zebra mussels found in Green Lake and both hoped the new leachate treatment system at the landfill works as promised.
Regarding single-sort recycling, Shuck said it would be too expensive to implement now and that it could affect the jobs of special needs individuals who currently sort the materials. But he said it may eventually happen.
Nissen said a public-private partnership could allow a private business to provide recycling services and get government out of that business.
In response to a question about how to attract professionals to the county, Shuck said the county’s “quality of life” is a big attraction to professionals, but he said it was also important to “pay them enough.”
Nissen said the EDC should promote and “sell the county” to let people know about the lakes and recreational opportunities available.
The forum was recorded and is available for on-demand viewing online from the Willmar Regional Access Channel.
Commissioner Jim Butterfield, of Willmar, from the county’s first district, is running for re-election unopposed.