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County contenders face off

October 26, 2012
Kylie Saari , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Four Martin County commissioner candidates fielded questions Thursday night at a community forum at Fairmont City Hall.

District 5 hopefuls Keith Hartmann and Steve Flohrs and district 1 candidates Elliot Belgard and Bob Toland largely agreed with each other in most areas, but varied on the issue of a new jail.

Martin County has gone back and forth for years with the idea of building a new jail due to the current facility's failure to meet state mandates and limited capacity to hold prisoners.

A feasibility study was completed in 2006, costing the county $19,400. Candidates agreed something eventually would have to be done, but their thoughts on how to deal with it in the meantime differed.

Toland suggested the study be updated with current information, using a less expensive source to guide commissioners in their decision making.

"I am not a proponent to immediately build a jail," he said, "but something needs to be done."

His competitor, incumbent Elliot Belgard, admitted the council has not talked about the jail in his eight months of service, but he feels it needs to be looked at despite uncertainty on how a new facility could be paid for.

Flohrs and Hartmann also agreed something will eventually need to be done, but Flohrs said he would like to see the excess prisoners continue to be transported to nearby facilities as long as possible.

In other discussion Thursday, the candidates agreed that supporting agriculture and related industries would be a good economic development policy, with Toland suggesting partnering with adjacent counties to encourage growth.

Budgeting issues and unfunded mandates were also addressed in the forum. Candidates shunned the mandates, while resigning themselves to the possibility of raising taxes in times of crisis.

Toland said if transportation funding to maintain roads in our area were cut, the county's obligation to maintain them would mean an increase in taxes.

Belgard said roads are vital to agriculture business, and the only choices the council would have would be to put it off and take the chance, which could come back to bite them, or raise taxes.

The District 3 seat is also up for election, but incumbent Steve Donnelly is running unopposed.



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