By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer
ST PETER — In a reserved affair that spanned issues of budgets, the voter ID constitutional amendment and the environment, candidates wishing to earn a spot on the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners answered questions in a public forum debate in St. Peter Tuesday.
The event, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of St. Peter, took place at the St. Peter Community Center. It featured incumbents Marie Dranttel of District 1 and Jim Stenson of District 2, and challengers Terry Genelin and David Johnson.
Right off the bat, moderators asked the candidates to name the most important challenges facing the county. The answers sounded the same, and they all started with budgets.
In a tough fiscal climate, where local governments are having to raise taxes to make up for cuts in state appropriations, each said they’d make it a top priority to pay close attention to spending.
“Moving forward, we need to be conservative,” said Dranttel. She said it’s a delicate balancing act when it comes to personnel and pay. Costs need to be reined in, but wages need to remain competitive to attract and retain good employees.
Johnson decried the “unfunded mandates” from the state, and said budget and property taxes need to be addressed.
Stenson said his top three challenges to the county are the budget, finding a replacement for former county administrator Bob Podhrasky, and protecting the health and welfare of the county’s residents.
Genelin said funding for county government is going to be his top concern.
“We need to keep our county as competitive as we can,” he said. He’s suggesting a redesign of how county government is done to improve outcomes without increasing spending. “Sharing positions, sharing services, outsourcing services,” are among the things he’s hoping to explore.
The proposed constitutional amendment to require a legal identification card to vote brought out some differences among the candidates.
When asked how much would such an amendment cost the county, Stenson said they’ve already had discussions as a county board about the topic and have been told it will cost the county about $100,000 to do this.
“In my experience on the County Board, we’ve had two cases, and county attorney has prosecuted them and the perpetrators were penalized,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a problem.”
Said Johnson, “Voter ID should be passed because, when you go to vote, you need an ID to register.”
If the law is passed, Genelin said that in his estimation, implementing a system to enforce it wouldn’t cost as much as Stenson suggests.
And Dranttel said the law, if passed, will be another unfunded mandate the taxpayers of Nicollet County — or any county — shouldn’t have to pay.
“I don’t want to do it,” she said. “Quite frankly, it sucks.”