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Commissioner candidates discuss views

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HARTINGTON — County Board of Commissioners candidates discussed their views on a wide variety of topics during a forum here Thursday.

About 25 people attended the event at the Hartington Public Library.

Contested races in District 1 (northern section of the county) has current Commissioner Chris Tramp, Crofton, facing challenger Dick Donner of Aten; and in District 3 (the mideastern section of the county) current Commissioner David McGregor, Hartington, facing challenger Kelly Hammer, Coleridge. Due to re-districting,

Due to re-districting, Coleridge voters are now represented by District 3.

The county commission race is the only contested county race on the primary ballot May 10.

Forum topics ranged from rural economic development and renewable energy to spending and property taxes.

McGregor said the county keeps the budget as tight as possible, but it’s a challenge because prices are so volatile right now.

“There’s need and want and need is first,” he said. “If you want to cut the budget any tighter than it is right now, then we will have to cut services. No one wants to see that happen. I think we do a fair job of keeping costs in line.”

Unfortunately, when the board formulated the budget last year, no one foresaw the jump in prices for gas, gravel, trucks and equipment, McGregor said.

Donner said he understands the county must have reliable equipment and sometimes it's difficult knowing when to replace and when to repair.

“My theory is, it’s a lot easier to keep up than catch up,” he said. “If you get an opportunity to upgrade something for the long term you almost have to do it.”

Hammer said he thinks there are areas in the county budget that can be scrutinized more closely and ways to save. He recognized he’s new to budgeting but having a fresh set of eyes may benefit the county, keeping in mind the duty to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

“I’ve worked hard for everything,” he said after Thursday night’s forum. “A lot of people work hard for what they have and we have to try to respect that.”

Spending and budgets directly impact property taxes, however, the county’s asking amounts to about only 20 percent of a property owner’s tax bill, with school support making up the majority.

The county board has recently been tasked with decisions on spending an additional $1.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, the federal government’s COVID-19 stimulus to government entities. When first released, the money was limited in what it could be used for and in only recent weeks has opened in scope, Tramp said.

“There were some counties who made the decision - not us - to give all the employees a lump sum and spent the money,” he said.

The county board recently decided to spend some of the money on upgrading radios for law enforcement and first responders. The current radios are nearly 20 years old and replacement parts are no longer available.

“It really seemed like a smart idea. It’s something we need and helps everybody out,” Tramp said. “We don’t just hand out the money. . . . It is a lot of money but there’s also a lot of things that are needed throughout the county and we have to make a smart choice.”

Along with keeping the budget in check, Tramp said attracting good employees will be a long-term challenge.

Tramp is in his first term as commissioner and noted his accomplishments including dealing with flooding and expanding the Menominee shop to cut down on gravel transportation costs. “I’ve got a good group of

“I’ve got a good group of guys that have helped me look good,” he said, adding he’s enjoyed working with his fellow commissioners as well as courthouse staff. “It’s been a learning experience for me. Every meeting is something different.”

Donner has previous experience as a commissioner - from 1999 to 2007 - and said if elected he’d hit the ground running. He also has budget experience having owned his own dirt business. He currently drives truck for Christensen Well and can operate the county’s heavy machinery as a commissioner if elected.

“I get the chore, I’ll hit it like I did the last time,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge and I’m betting there’s a few up there.”

Hammer has worked for Cedar County for the last three years, serves as Laurel-Concord-Coleridge’s golf team coach and owns a custom stain and finish business. He also serves on the Coleridge Village Board and the ParkView Haven Board.

He recognizes his face and name may be new to some in the area. He wants people to know that he prides himself on being resourceful and coming up with creative solutions to problems.

McGregor has served as a county commissioner for the last 16 years - eight of those years as board chairman, and also serves on the Area Agency on Aging board and the health board.

“Serving the people is why I chose this 16 years ago and continuing that is what I want to do,” he said.