Election Guide: Tony Bennett for District 4 County Commissioner

Published 10:54 am Friday, October 29, 2010

Tony Bennett is the challenging candidate for District 4 county commissioner

Q. When facing budget deficits, county board members often have to choose between increasing taxes and reducing services to the public. How would you find a balance between the two?
A. As a small business owner, this is what I do every day.  There is always a new piece of equipment, new software or a more efficient building that could make us more profitable or efficient, while overspending could bankrupt us.  You have to be willing to reconsider purchases that, although legitimate and gratifying, may not be prudent.  You must also be aware of the legitimate functions of your business or the government and avoid those that are not.

Q. After the state of Minnesota reduced funding to the Sentenced to Serve Program, the county began funding it. Do you think the county should continue to do so?
A. As I understand it, this program saves the county money as the inmates are given an early release for working.  As long as the savings continue, I would support the program.

Q. The county board will soon have to determine the future location of the Health and Human Services office. The board could renew the lease at Oak Park Mall, renovate space at the Mower County Government center or build a new home for the offices on the “Robbins Block.” Which options would you support and why?

A. We currently spend $144,747.96 leasing space at the mall.  With building maintenance, utilities and insurance you can ramp the number up to $246,497.25.  Keep in mind some or all of these additional costs would be incurred at any location.  The most popular option seems to be a re-model of the LEC at a cost of $4-6 million.  Assuming we spend $5 million, and could borrow money at 4.5 percent for 20 years, our yearly payment would equal $379,589.64.  Assuming utilities and maintenance run a fraction of what they currently do, this puts us at $426,463.28 per year for the re-model. This would equal an increase in spending of 73 percent or $180,000 more per year.
However, if we could hold costs of the move down to $3,000,000 — (keep in mind we just remodeled portions of this building not that long ago), our payment would be $227,753.76 per year.  Pretty close to what we’re paying now. I’m not opposed to a move if the costs are similar to those of a long-term lease.

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Q. The county board is looking into the possibility of joining forces with Steele and Rice counties to regionally house Mower County’s dispatch services. Would you support this, and why?
A. The question may be a bit premature as there are no firm numbers to work with.  There is a study going on, partially funded by a grant from the Chamber of Commerce, with the joint LEC committee covering the other half.  Emotional politics aside, the technology is where it needs to be in order to safely dispatch from outside the county, so it’s going to come down to finance.  A reasonable debate should occur regarding the costs we would incur during a move versus possible staff savings.

Q. What skills do you have that you think are unique and make you stand out as a candidate?
A. I am a fan of numbers and make use of financial tools, rather than rely on the information being provided.  I double check my data with people both inside and outside of government.
I make use of all current forms of communication.  This might not seem like a big deal, but in an entire of summer of running for office, only one person has called me.  Instead they have contacted me via my web site, e-mail and text messaging. Second only to door-to-door campaigning, the highest percentage of voter contact (including retirees) has come from Facebook, with over 100 voters from my district participating.  If you are going to communicate with the public, it helps to do it on their terms.

Q. What other issue or issues are important to you as a candidate, and what policies do you favor in these areas?

A. What is most important to me is that people understand the decision-making process.  Most decisions aren’t so complex; the numbers aren’t so complicated, that given a decent explanation most people can comprehend them.  But this means that all of the information has to be presented as a whole, much as I presented the information regarding human services above.  In order to present the information, I ran an amortization schedule, a loan calculator tool and figured the percentage increase.  Easy enough to do, but unless someone cares enough to present it to the tax payer this way, it never gets done.  Why?
I also believe in full financial disclosure regarding county projects. The total cost of a project shouldn’t be reported as the amount borrowed, but as total dollars spent.