Hubbard County Dist. 3 commissioner candidates ask for your vote
The two candidates for Hubbard County District 3 – incumbent Tom Krueger and challenger Teresa Walsh – answered voter questions for 43 minutes on Wednesday, Sept. 28.
The two candidates for Hubbard County District 3 – incumbent Tom Krueger and challenger Teresa Walsh – answered voter questions for 43 minutes on Wednesday.
They participated in the third and final candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters Park Rapids Area (LWV).
Wednesday’s forum was led by LuAnn Hurd-Lof, a trained LWV moderator.
District 3 encompasses White Oak, Straight River, Hubbard, Crow Wing Lake and Badoura townships, along with a portion of Park Rapids west of Hwy. 71.
Broad range of skills
Elected in 2018, Krueger seeks a second four-year term as county commissioner.
In his opening statement, Krueger said, “I have a broad range of skills and life experiences that have given me the capability to bring fresh, creative ideas to the table.”
He served four years in the Navy. With a degree in forest technology, he was a forest research specialist for 13 years for the International Paper Company.
“Following my dreams of one day returning to the place of my roots, which is Minnesota,” Krueger and his wife left their jobs and moved to the area in 1989. One year later, they purchased Sunny Point Resort on 2nd Crow Wing Lake, successfully running it for more than 20 years. When they converted it into a residential planned unit of development, Krueger became a licensed realtor.
Beginning in 1989, Krueger served on the Hubbard County Planning Commission/Board of Adjustment for 18 years.
Krueger said he’s motivated to run for the seat because “there’s a lot going on in the county right now,” such as the development of Deep Lake Park at the former Val Chatel ski resort. Krueger said the park has received a high rating for regional park status.
Difficult decisions must be made about the Heritage Living campus, which has suffered financial losses due to the pandemic. “I, personally, want to see it open,” he said.
A public servant
Teresa Walsh retired a year ago, having been a Hubbard County public servant for more than 36 years.
“My background, finance and accounting really, to me, are my strong suit,” she said in her opening remarks.
She has a bachelor’s degree in public administration, with minors in accounting and economics from St. Cloud State University.
During her tenure with the county, she worked as a clerk in the social services department (five years), a licensed assessor (two years), financial director at the Heritage Living Center (21 years) and as county coordinator’s assistant, human resources assistant, and finally, human resources specialist (8 years).
“The No. 1 issue that I decided to run for county commissioner is basically finance. I love digging into financials. I love to know where the funding resources are coming from, who is responsible for those taxes,” she said.
In competitive funding situations, Walsh wants Hubbard County to be awarded the resources rather than neighboring counties to alleviate local property taxes.
She’s also concerned about recruiting and retaining good, quality county employees.
Nursing home issues
A number of questions revolved around the county-owned Heritage Living campus.
If sold, the candidates were asked if they would prefer a nonprofit or for-profit owner.
Both agreed that nonprofit would be preferable.
Krueger said he’d also like to have a chance to review the company’s history of success.
Walsh said nonprofit owners would invest more dollars on quality staff and “be less worried about a profit margin for the new owners.”
As for ways to make Heritage self-sustaining, Walsh replied that the facility diversified its services in the late 1990s to sustain the skilled nursing facility, but “ran into a brick wall with COVID.”
“Nursing homes are not designed to make a profit, and that’s intentional by the state of Minnesota,” she said. “Medicaid is notorious for under-reimbursing nursing homes for their care, and so nursing homes are very creative in how to make a bottom line by offering other services.”
She said they are very dedicated, hard-working people.
At the moment, Krueger said conditions are not very good for selling the facility. “It would sell better if it was at least break even and showed potential of doing even better.”
It may be necessary for the county to keep the campus longer, he said.
Next, they were asked if they would consider holding an operating referendum to gauge community support for the facility.
“I think it's important that our county residents do have a voice in that,” Walsh said. “I would be in support of a referendum and that would help guide the commissioners rather than what the squeaky wheel thinks.”
Krueger said, “That's a difficult one. I'm not in favor of a referendum on it unless people are well educated in all details of operating Heritage.” There would need to be a lot of public education first, he said.
Sheriff’s budget and county jail
They were asked about the priorities in the sheriff’s and county jail’s 2023 budgets.
Saying he’s “strong on law enforcement,” Krueger wants to make sure they are adequately funded. “I think priority would be to make sure repeat offenders pay the consequences for what they do,” but rehabilitation programs should be considered, too, he said.
Walsh also “backs the blue.” As the county arrests more lawbreakers, she said they need jailers to take care of them.
She said the problem is bigger than law enforcement, citing the breakdown of the family.
One voter asked what it will take to stabilize property taxes and how the county might lobby the state legislature.
Krueger noted his own property valuation rose 44%, “so I feel your pain,” but the property tax won’t increase by that amount. “What can we do about it? It’s based on sales,” he said. He thinks more tax relief through a state refund would be a good idea.
Having been an assessor, Walsh said, “You have to apply values as the market is setting them. Unfortunately, it hit the residential side more than commercial.”
She doesn’t favor refunds as she’d rather see the money at the front end rather than returned.
Walsh suggested lobbying to increase the homestead inclusion to a value higher than $76,000.
Misinformation about elections
Another voter pointed out that Hubbard County has had good election turnouts and rarely found any contested votes. The question was: How will you support the auditor and her staff during elections from all misinformation about elections?
Krueger said he sat on canvassing board in the last election. “I personally saw from the results that they fell in line with how polling was going, so I definitely supported how things turned out there.
Walsh said she’s witnessed firsthand the testing of the voting machines. “I know the people that do the testing. They're trustworthy, honorable people.” She praised Chief Deputy Auditor Sandy Rittgers and Auditor Kay Rave for their trustworthiness and supports them in their “monumental task.”
Inflation is the greatest challenge facing Hubbard County, according to Krueger. He noted that the rising price of gas deeply affects the county budget.
Walsh said jobs and affordable housing are the main challenges, particularly for young people.
Her vision for the county would be that it is a place to live, raise a family and retire. That means, she said, law enforcement, a just public prosecutor and strong health care system.
Krueger described himself as “a law and order commissioner” desiring a safe county and good quality of life through recreational opportunities.
Their strategy to stay informed in order to solve problems is similar.
Walsh said, “I like to ask the tough questions. Basically, I want to know what the purpose and benefit would be for Hubbard County.”
Krueger said his strengths are asking questions and listening.
Both would draw on the knowledge of county department heads.
When asked how they deal with conflict, Walsh said she is a middle child. “I make compromises all the time,” she explained. The middle child is known as the peacemaker. “ I like to have a good, healthy discussion,” while remaining respectful, she said.
Krueger said he has been persuaded to change viewpoints. “I’ve got an open mind. I hope I'm not set in my ways,” he said, joking that his wife might disagree.
In order to protect water quality, both support the One Watershed, One Plans for the county’s three major watersheds.
Both would continue the county’s local transit sales tax as well to fund road improvements.
Other county seats
Due to redistricting, based on the 2020 U.S. Census, four of the five Hubbard County commissioners are up for reelection this year.
David De La Hunt (District 1), Char Christenson (District 2) and Ted Van Kempen (District 5) are running unopposed.