County board candidates square off

Published 7:01 am Sunday, October 9, 2016

The four candidates for two Mower County Board of Commissioner seats agree funding for roads and bridges is one of the key issues facing the county, but they’re not all sure of the best way to address the ongoing issue.

District 2 Commissioner Polly Glynn, challenger Ray Tucker, District 1 Commissioner Tim Gabrielson and challenger James Williams discussed the issues at a candidate forum at The Eagles Club of Austin Thursday.

The incumbents, Glynn and Gabrielson, spoke in strong favor of a local option sales tax to fund specific road and bridge projects.

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The board approved it recently, but instead of approving it starting in 2017, the board opted to enact the sales tax to start Jan. 1, 2018.

“We need to do something to correct our deficiencies in our roads,” Glynn said. “I get calls all the time regarding the bridges and road conditions in the rural area. And it’s one more tool that we would have in order to fund those improvements.”

Gabrielson said the county must quickly address a road repairs need that far outweighs the available funding.

“Our roads are in dire condition,” he said. “And it’s getting to the point where we’re going to have to start shutting roads and bridges down if we don’t do something soon.”

While Williams spoke in favor of the tax, he was happy the board voted to delay it and give residents time to pressure state elected officials about the need for road funding.

Tucker is not in favor of the half-cent sales tax, arguing that once such a tax takes effect, it doesn’t go away and would be used to fund other needs.

“I think the state needs to step up and either increase the gas tax or do something to help the counties out,” he said.

However, Glynn interjected and specified that the half-cent sales tax is project specific and can’t be used for anything other than the designated road projects.

All of the candidates spoke about the need to hold state officials feet to the fire to get them to fund roads and bridge projects.

In terms of promoting economic development, Gabrielson said it starts with safe infrastructure and the need for roads and bridges, along with solid law enforcement.

Williams also said infrastructure is a key priority for the county, but he argued programs like the Austin Housing Initiative — a tax abatement meant to spur housing development — won’t help. Instead, he wants to get out of people’s ways and let them work.

District 2

In the race for District 2, the only Mower commissioner district that doesn’t include any of Austin, Glynn admitted there’s a difference between city and rural interests. As the ag community pays the majority of the taxes, she called for cooperation between city and rural residents as the ag community is concerned with roads and Hormel Foods Corp. needs strong roads.

Tucker agreed rural and city interests are different, but he said the rural-based ag community just want a fair shake.

“We don’t need extra; we just need our fair share of the taxes we are paying,” Tucker said, adding he thinks there’s a disparity there.

In terms of unfunded mandates — functions of county government required but not paid by the state — Tucker spoke of many in health and human services. But he questioned if the county could not pay some and see if the potential fines are a better option than funding the services.

Glynn noted many federal mandates are passed down and not funded or the funding is removed later. But with the majority of these unfunded mandates in health and human services, they’re difficult to just ignore.

“Those are people we are talking about and making sure that the children are taken care of,” she said. “So it’s difficult to say that we’re not going to do the mandates.”

Glynn, who lives in Grand Meadow, is seeking her second term on the board after defeating tucker by less than 70 votes last election. She and her husband have been married 50 years and have three sons and nine grandchildren. She is a retired past president of First State Bank of Minnesota in LeRoy, where she often worked with the ag community.

“Choose a candidate that has the right experience, attitude and temperament to represent you, because it takes good management, the willingness work with all branches of government to bridge our differences,” Glynn said.

She says she put her finance expertise and work with  farmers to good use for the county.

“I’ve enjoyed my time as county commissioner the last four years,” Glynn said.

Glynn said she ran because she wanted to be a commissioner but couldn’t do it as president of the bank; it wasn’t to do with Tucker’s record.

“I feel that I have attempted to make the best decisions with the information that was provided, and I listened to all of the concerns out there, and I take pride in knowing that I do respond to all of the telephone calls and all of the concerns and try to find a solution for them,” Glynn

After losing a reelection bid after 16 years on the board, Tucker is back in the running after some farmers pushed him to run again.

“I just feel that we need to address the transportation a little harder and get the county back on more of an even keel,” he said.

Though Tucker praised Glynn’s work in her first term, he said he feels he’s at an advantage coming from his ag background to provide insight and ask questions about different projects.

Tucker wished farmers a safe fall, adding he’d appreciate any support and said his record speaks for itself

Glynn reminded voters they’ll choose a candidate that affects their daily lives.

“I hope you feel I’ve done a good job and have been a good steward of our tax dollars and made good decisions on your behalf,” Glynn said. “I would appreciate the vote and the chance to represent District 2 for another four years.”

District 1

Williams decided to run for commissioner to address programs he sees as wasteful, like tax abatement and tax increment financing programs.

Williams said he tries to look at things from an alternative perspective and tries to give greater examination to proposals.

“If you elect me, I am going to look at the proposals with greater scrutiny and bring new perspectives on it,” he said.

He also spoke out against many large projects in town, and he argued they are intended to pander to the largest companies while hurting small business owners.

“It’s not ‘The Field of Dreams;’ if we build it, they do not come,” he said.

Williams said people pleased with the state of the county like, they won’t want to support him.

“If you think a lot of these projects and plans are wasteful and they’re squandering our resources for the benefit of a relatively few percentage of our population, then maybe you might want to take a look at my candidacy,” Williams said.

Williams said he tends to look at things from an alternative perspective and promised to give greater examination to issues.

“If you elect me, I will look at proposals with greater scrutiny and bring up greater dialogue for citizens. Sometimes things are passed that aren’t looked at close enough,” he said.

Gabrielson says he’s enjoyed his first eight years as a commissioner, and he praised hi wife for her patience with the work.

“The opportunity to do this has been terrific for me,”

He described himself as a people person and problem solver who gets a lot of good input from people.

Gabrielson brings 40 years of business experience as a retired Farmers Insurance agent, and he said he’d bring a common sense approach and works with people every day.

He asked for another term to be active in seeking solutions and looking forward to solutions.

“I’d like to continue the road I’ve been going down, addressing the issues, talking to people daily,” Gabrielson said.