Ankeny, Felten say key issues include budget, economy

Published 7:29 am Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A week from the special election, Austin residents received a chance Tuesday to ask the remaining two candidates vying to fill vacant 5th District seat of the Mower County Board of Commissioners questions.

More than 15 people attended the second candidate forum hosted by the LWV — formerly the Austin Area League of Women Voters — and held at 5 p.m. in the Austin City Council Chambers.

The forum included two candidates, who’ve called Austin home for much of their lives: business owner Mike Ankeny and former fire marshal and real estate agent Ron Felten.

When asked about the biggest issues facing the county, both Ankeny and Felten responded that the budget and the economy were the key issues facing the county.

Felten said it’s important to work with the city and other government groups to make the most of the county’s resources.

“It’s popular to do more with less, but eventually that may run out, and we’ll need to do less with less,” Felten said.

Ankeny also said partnerships with other cities and counties will be important in the future, and he said he hopes the state will work with counties to ease the burden of mandates.

“I think it’s important to be as fiscally responsible as possible,” Ankeny said.

In order to cut the budget, Ankeny said it would be important for the commissioners to look at all the services offered in the county.

Likewise, Felten said the county will need to review the budget, but it’s difficult to cut programs and services that depend on funding.

Along with budget concerns, the county board will make a decision this year on what to do with Mower County Human Services and Public Health once the lease expires at the mall.

While Ankeny said he’d like to see health and human services back downtown, he said the county would need to know more about the possibility of the state regionalizing such services before spending the money on a new building or renovations to the Mower County Jail and Justice Center.

While Felten didn’t say if he preferred remodeling the government center or building a new location, he said moving health and human services downtown would be more efficient. Felten said investing in the county’s own building — whether old or new — is a better way to spend money than on renting space and paying utilities at the mall.

Both candidates were asked how they would improve public safety in the community.

Ankeny said the key to strong public safety is having reliable people in leadership roles in the sheriff’s office and other entities, which the county has now. He also said public safety isn’t limited to policemen or firemen, and he cited two new warning lights to be installed at railroad crossings in the county.

According to Felten, the November bus accident would have been a positive opportunity for communication between emergency response groups like the Mower County Sheriff’s Department and the Minnesota State Patrol to see what the groups did right and what they could have done better.

Ankeny and Felten both said they’d be open to discussions about naming a portion of the new jail and justice center after David Tollefson, whose seat the two men are vying to fill. Tollefson advocated that the jail remain downtown, and both men said they’d be willing to discuss a way to acknowledge his contribution.

Both candidates bring a unique set of skills and experience to the board.

Ankeny brings business skills to the board as he’s been a business owner in the community for more than 30 years. Ankeny has also served on the Cedar River Watershed Rules Committee.

“I’m up for the calling,” Ankeny said. “I’m in it for the long haul; it’s not just going to be a short thing. I plan on being around for a long, long time.”

Felten brings experience in public safety because he served as the city fire marshal for about 15 years. Felten has served on the Austin Utilities Board for about eight years.

“As I look at what’s ahead for the county, I think I’d be a good voice for the 5th District,” Felten said. “I don’t think there’s anything we cannot achieve if we’re willing to compromise and find common ground, whatever the issue is.”

The forum will be rebroadcast on Austin Cable Government Channel 16, Saturday, Feb. 6 at 2 and 5 p.m. and Sunday Feb. 7 at 2 and 5 p.m.

The special election is Feb. 10. The polling places are Southgate Elementary School and Austin High School.