Election Preview: District 1 Commissioner candidates working to reach votersPublished 7:28pm Friday, November 2, 2012
The candidates vying for the District 1 seat of the Mower County Board are taking their campaigns to the voters.
Both incumbent Tim Gabrielson and challenger Paul Fischer have been out in the community, looking to connect one-on-one to constituents. Gabrielson, who is seeking his second term, said he’s looked to voters for fresh ideas and suggestions. Taxes and spending have been key issues, as the board recently set its max 2013 tax increase at 11.5 percent; however, the board still aims to lower that increase.
For the most part, Gabrielson said people have been understanding that state and federal requirements often tie county officials’ hands.
“Of course, they want their taxes to not go up, but they realize that a lot of our costs are out of our control,” Gabrielson said.
Fischer, on the other hand, has gone door-to-door in neighborhoods in the district passing along a simple message: Do you like how things are, or do you want a change?
“If you would like a change, then I would like your vote,” he said.
And Fischer thinks people are ready for something new.
A lifelong Mower County resident, Fischer said he’d look to curb spending and taxes, and noted he feared new businesses won’t come to town because of the increasing tax burden.
“We’re not going to grow if we don’t change a few things,” he said.
After gradual tax increases in recent years, Fischer said the effect is adding up, and he hopes the board will be more cognizant of and aware of the increases.
“To me, it’s kind of like they’re going and purchasing a new vehicle and then wondering how we’re going to pay for it instead of looking at it first,” he said.
Gabrielson sees it differently. He compared state requirements on counties to employers setting expectations for workers but only funding part of the work.
“You wouldn’t want to pay out of pocket,” he said, adding that’s what counties are forced to do now.
Gabrielson said the board has been open to trying new things, like merging Environmental Services and the Highway Department into Public Works, as well as merging Health and Human Services.
“I think we’ve made a lot of headway in the last four years, especially with how the economy is,” he said.
Now, Gabrielson is hoping the continuing work to merge and share work in the Human Services departments of four counties will provide efficiencies and eventually cost savings, while keeping jobs here in Mower County.
“The thing that I’m really excited about is trying to get this redesign program going,” he said.
However, Fischer questioned the merit of the merger since board members have admitted the four-county model comes with greatly diminished financial savings compared to the original 12-county model after many counties opted out.
“To me, it’s just a big question-mark,” he said.
But there are still benefits, Gabrielson said, as the merger is expected to make the department more efficient, which could eventually lead to savings. Plus, Gabrielson noted the state could eventually force underperforming counties to join if they didn’t merge now.
“I don’t want to be on board a big ship and not have control of where it’s going,” Gabrielson said.
Fischer is an independent auto broker working in Rochester and living in Brownsdale. He hopes his background as a salesman will help him connect with voters.
“That’s a big thing in sales, you’ve got to get a person’s trust,” he said, adding that he’s enjoyed talking with voters and hearing their opinions.
Fischer has experience on boards, as he is finishing out his first term as Brownsdale City Council member, which he compared to a commissioner’s duty.
“You’re dealing with everything a commissioner would deal with on a little smaller basis,” he said.
But, Fischer said he’d like to bring a new perspective, more discussion and even disagreement to the county board, citing a high number of unanimous votes.
“We need someone who’s a stand-up person who can stand up for the constituents and say no,” he said.
Gabrielson noted he doesn’t always agree but does it’s best to cooperate.
“We don’t agree on everything, but in the end we pull together to make things work,” he said.
Gabrielson, who takes pride in a “common sense approach,” said he’s used his 29 years of experience as an insurance agent to help explain controversial issues to voters, comparing it to how he handles complex insurance claims.
“I’m a problem solver, and I have to communicate with people all the time,” he said.
Gabrielson said he always tries to tell his constituents and insurance customers the truth about what’s going on, even if the answers are not always positive.
“When people get the whole picture, they may not like it, but they can understand why they are the way they are,” he said.
Gabrielson said the board is often bound by state and federal regulations, and the changes must come from those levels.
“Do I like them all? No,” he said of the regulations. “Do I think we need some changes? Yes.”
Gabrielson said campaigning is different than when he ran four years ago, noting the voters are more aware of the issues now.
“The hard times have made people sit up and take notice,” he said.
He applauded people for getting involved.
“They know that their vote is probably more important now than it has been for a long time,” Gabrielson said.