District 1 commissioner candidates answer questions
Four candidates will run in the primary election Tuesday, Aug. 10 for Hubbard County commission District 1.
Incumbent Don Carlson will be opposed by Nevis school board member Sherman Anderson, radio station owner Ed DeLaHunt and businesswoman Kathy McGrane Grell.
The Enterprise asked each candidate to answer the following questions regarding issues relating to Hubbard County.
As a Hubbard County Commissioner, how would you deal with the jail vacancy rates; the county office space reallocation plan and replacing key personnel upon retirement?
Anderson: This is really three separate questions.
The first one should be why did we end up building too much jail. This is an example of why we need to be more active with the Association of Minnesota Counties, our neighboring counties on a direct basis, and the state so we don't make the same type of mistake again. That being said, I'm sure that in the short term, there may be some outstanding warrants...
As to the office space reallocation, I would suggest we speak with the department heads, agencies and the court to construct a need based plan that fits the long term policy of the county.
Key personnel, by definition, need to be replaced and they should be replaced with the best qualified/quality people we can afford.
Carlson: You know how I feel about the LEC building. It's a beautiful albatross. But it's our albatross given to us by the Department of Corrections. Enough said.
The Sheriff is doing what he can to make it work while incarcerating twenty some inmates in a building made to accommodate sixty some. We just don't have enough inmates to fill the building nor apparently are there enough in the surrounding counties to help fill up the void. Obviously, we're happy we don't have more inmates. We do, however, need to utilize the space we now have and also serve existing needs.
There are several solutions being considered, all of which realize that the second floor of the LEC must be used, not wasted and the expanding needs of both the social services and the local judicial court systems should simultaneously be accommodated. Ultimately, the county will benefit.
DeLaHunt: With regard to the jail vacancy rates: I think it is imperative that we re-visit with our neighboring sheriffs as to why they are transporting to distant locations for jailing. If it is a personality problem that caused the breakdown, we need to find a way to overcome the problem. I would gladly work with our county sheriff and neighboring sheriff to find a solution.
Regarding county office space re-allocation, I find the daily users of the offices probably most knowledgeable of their problems. We need to sit down with them and review the plans while keeping in sight the need for spending restraint.
Grell: I believe the county needs to build relationships with neighboring counties to solve the jail vacancy rates. It is hard to believe we built the jail space without having contracts in place with neighboring counties to fill that space. If we can't contract out our jail space with other counties then we need to find alternative uses for the space. Before the county builds or remodels existing space, I would need to see a plan to solve the jail vacancy rates.
When key personnel leave, the county needs to consider combining duties/departments, which may result in elimination of that position or comparable positions. Businesses that use attrition to reduce personnel costs and the county should strongly consider using that strategy.
The county will likely continue to grapple with budget issues for a number of years. Give us an overview of how you'd like to see Hubbard County move forward. Specifically should the county freeze wages after the union contract expires in 2011; should it combine department duties, should employees bear more of the share of their benefit costs, should the county contract out more services?
Anderson: With the State of Minnesota showing the deficit they are prior to the beginning of the next biennium, all local governing units can expect to have cuts in funding and services. I think a place for the Hubbard County Board to start is to get more involved with the Association of Minnesota Counties. There are opportunities for shared services, and joint ventures as well as the brain storming that happens at these meetings that are invaluable at times like these. Hubbard County already has one such relationship with the Nevis school. The shared fuel station has been very beneficial to both entities.
As to pay freezes and benefits, it's hard to say. I believe we have a negotiations team to discuss those issues at the appropriate time.
Contracting or out-sourcing is an interesting topic. Generally, if that is the solution, there was a fundamental flaw when the program or policy was implemented. I think that, in principle, if the county needs it, they should hire for it and manage it. There are too many opportunities for "plausible deniability" with outsourcing.
Carlson: I agree that the county will continue to grapple with budget issues. It is the nature and issue of all governments and societies past, present and future.
Our economic situation is constantly changing mainly because of the state legislature's constantly changing demands on us through their unallotment, unfunded mandates, etc. There is no crystal ball to foretell the future or their minds which means that we'll have to continue to react to budget problems more than we would like while continuing to be as fiscally conservative and frugal as possible. For now, we just concentrate on keeping our budget tight. We are in excellent shape today because we have done just that in the past.
Should we freeze wages in the future, combine departmental duties, should employees bear more of the benefit costs and should we contract out more services? Probably on some. It's too early to make a firm commitment just now on any of these issues.
DeLaHunt: The most dramatic expense in any government are the key personnel. Upon retirement, I would suggest to fellow commissioners, a long hard look at replacement needs.
With respect to the question on budget issues: I have stated the need for belt tightening at every unit of government with regard to wages, benefit costs and contracting. All areas need to be reviewed. The people that pay for all of these services are the citizens and many have had to dramatically change their lifestyle in order to survive; government should be no different.
Grell: Budgets are an issue every year whether the money is there or not. Government tends to want to spend their entire budget whether it is justified or not and then request more money the next year. I believe the county needs to evaluate how it goes about the business of spending taxpayer's dollars.
Businesses reinvent themselves continually and I think county government should do the same. I think all county processes should be evaluated to see if they are needed or being done in the most efficient way possible. I think the union contract needs to be looked at very closely. Granting wage increases when the county as a whole is struggling doesn't make sense to me. As far as I'm concerned, all options are on the table for the next negotiation. I'm sure the largest benefit item is health insurance. There is a balance that needs to be achieved when setting up a benefit package. If employees have very little out of pocket cost, it is easy to get into the habit of overusing or misusing the benefit. When employee participation level is higher, better choices for using services are generally made. I'm all for contracting services if money can be saved.
What's a decision the county board has made in the past year that you disagree with? Why? What would you have done differently?
Anderson: I will not attack the board as a whole with their past decisions. I hope to be sitting with them soon and helping improve Hubbard County. I think that the voters should be looking at the individual voting records of the individual members. Have those votes been in the best interest of the county as a whole? Have they been in the best interest of the district they are supposed to represent? Have those votes been in the interest of the constituents or in the self-interest of the member or their special interest friends? I think I can represent District One better or I would not be running.
Carlson: Being on the board, I will not disagree with or criticize a decision of the board once it has been made even if I may have questioned the move at the time. That would be very inappropriate.
The board is made up of five different people, who represent five different districts and thereby may have five different opinions on any possible issue. I promise you that each board member tries to honestly come up with a decision that represents their constituency's wishes while still collectively representing the county as a whole. The board is elected by districts but serves the county.
So, in my opinion, a single decision should not be judged adversely if the end result is good or favorable. In most cases our end results have been good.
With the help of a superb courthouse staff, we've cut approximately two million dollars from an approximately thirty million dollar budget. That is success. I can't criticize.
DeLaHunt: I am not going to specifically single out any decision that the county board has made in the past year and disagree with. I have been there before and I know that if you're not on the board, it is sometimes hard to comprehend the factors that weigh in some decisions. If I were to criticize anything, it is the recent, trying to be cute, comments that were hurtful to some of the county personnel. Cute remarks only hurt and achieve nothing.
Grell: I disagreed with the decision to grant across the board pay increases. It sent the message to the public that although county residents were feeling an economic pinch, government employees were doing OK thanks to taxpayers. I also think the county (planning commission, board of adjustments and commissioners) need to know and understand the shore land ordinances so that the county can apply the ordinances fairly and accurately. It appears that the county spends a lot of money and time on lawsuits pertaining to the application of shoreland ordinances.
What should be done about the growing Social Services caseload and the public's need for help?
Anderson: We have an obligation to help those that cannot do it on their own. We are to provide a safety net for that group of our neighbors that truly need it. That being said, a safety net should not turn into a hammock for those that abuse the system. I think that those that are abusing the system are taking away resources from those that truly need it and it should be perpetually monitored.
The true issue is that we need to work harder on economic development and job creation.
Thank you for your time and consideration. Your trust and vote will be appreciated!
Carlson: The growing social services caseload directly mirrors the financial instability of both the federal and state governments. As such, there is little that social services or the county board can do at this time but respond as and when needed. If we could solve this problem here in Hubbard County, I'm sure that both the state and federal legislatures would park in our courthouse lot seeking our advice. But, let's try:
a. Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.
b. Stabilize the family structure.
These may be beyond our ability. In the meantime, we'll do our best to respond to the needs of our people.
DeLaHunt: The Social Services caseload will continue to grow until those in the state of Minnesota and in Washington start to make some reasonable decisions on turning the economy around. Almost, without exception, most Social Service programs are mandated above the rank of county commissioner and often times the commissioner's hands are tied. As a board, we can only ask the director and employees of the Social Service Department to be as frugal as possible.
Grell: First of all, I'm for helping county residents that need help, specifically the elderly, disabled and hardship cases. Social Service is a perfect example for applying outcome-based approach. If we decide the outcome is to decrease usage, the county needs to set goals to impact that outcome. This means looking at economic activity, job opportunities, job training, high school graduation rates, etc. I also like the word NO for chronic users that believe social services is an entitlement program.