Candidates for three positions on the five-person Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners tackled issues and debated those issues during an open forum Thursday evening, Oct. 8, at City Hall in Fergus Falls.
Attendance was limited with people wearing masks and social distancing, but all county residents had the opportunity to see the hour and a half open forum on local TV and hear candidates on local radio stations.
Facing off to replace retiring Doug Huebsch in District 1 are Dan Bucholz of rural Perham and Betsy Roder of New York Mills. The finalists to replace the retiring John Lindquist in Commissioner District 3 are Kurt Mortenson of rural Underwood and Christine “Tina” Tungseth of rural Fergus Falls.
Current Commissioner Lee Rogness of Fergus Falls, who is seeking re-election in Commissioner District 5, is opposed by Angie Brown of Fergus Falls.
Up for reelection in 2022 will be Commissioners Wayne Johnson of Pelican Rapids (District 2) and Betty Murphy of Maine Township (District 4).
The county board, with at least two new members in January 2021, will be making some tough decisions in light of COVID-19 and a loss in state financial assistance.
On Sept. 29, the five-person Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners approved a preliminary net property tax levy of $43.4 million for 2021.
The entire preliminary budget for 2021 is $125 million. The additional needed funding comes from the state and federal governments for budget items such as county road maintenance and county human services.
District 1 candidate Roder said that maintaining county roads is an example of candidates all in agreement on certain issues.
“On all issues, we can listen, learn and at times agree to disagree,” she said.
District 1 candidate Bucholz agreed with Roder, saying that constituents want county commissioners to work together for the betterment of Otter Tail County.
All of the six candidates who spoke at the open forum said it is important that the county board address assistance to small town businesses in the wake of COVID-19, work for more affordable housing, help increase the number of day care facilities, expand broadband, preserve county lakes and rivers, improve infrastructure and attract new
One topic that became controversial at the Oct. 9 candidate open forum is the Pelican Rapids to Perham recreational trail, being done in phases.
Even though much of the money for the multi-million dollar 32-mile-long trail will come from the state of Minnesota, candidates pointed out that matching funds come from county taxpayers.
The consensus appeared to be a go-slow approach in light of what candidates referred to as more pressing issues in light of the economic downturn in the wake of COVID-19.
When completed, the multi-use trail will be 10 feet wide and will run through Maplewood State Park in the middle of the trail.
District 3 candidates Mortenson and Tungseth said that good roads and bridges are a necessity for the well-being of the agricultural community in Otter Tail County.
Candidate Brown in District 5 cited a need to lower property taxes. Incumbent Rogness, in response, said that the county board acts in a bipartisan way to try and use taxpayer dollars as efficiently as possible.
Each of the six candidates pledged, if elected, to work not only for the residents of their particular district but also for the well-being of residents in all five districts which cover the entirety of Otter Tail County.