Belgard, Buhmann seek District 1 seat
FAIRMONT — Incumbent Elliot Belgard and challenger Brad Buhmann gave their thoughts on issues concerning Martin County at a public forum Thursday evening. The pair are seeking the District 1 commissioner seat.
Asked how to limit taxes for Martin County residents, Buhmann believes the issue can be managed by being careful with county spending.
“We’re going to have to look a little closer at some things the county is doing, [such as] the courthouse,” he said. “It’s very nice that we’re getting that done, but we need to be a little more careful. If you get a bid for $1.7 million, you can probably figure in 10 percent over for that project. But you can’t, a month later, have a $4 million bill.
“We have to be more careful and maybe put a freeze on some things for a while.”
Belgard noted that the budget is the No. 1 issue faced by a county commissioner.
“When I got on board in 2012, we had something like a 16 percent increase and we were using $1 million out of our reserves,” he said. “It was a terrible thing.
“This year, we’re using some COVID money to make some purchases and cover some costs, and the department heads work hard on it. We’ve got to spend the money wisely. We know the levy can’t be high, and we’re after the department heads all the time about that.”
In a similar vein, the candidates were asked about the best way to control the budget.
“I understand that there are some mandates from the state that the county doesn’t have control over, such as certain rules and regulations dealing with Human Services and the jail,” Buhmann said. “But we just have to sit down with all the department heads and either start saving money or find out what their plan is, what they can do without for a few years. Times are tough, but we can’t just keep raising the taxes.”
“It’s one thing to say you can cut things to save money,” Belgard said. “It’s a whole other thing to do it. It’s a reality that people have expectations for the services they’re going to get. They want their snow plowed; they want their roads patrolled by police officers.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time and we work hard at it. We start out with a big budget and we whittle it away. We look at what can be put off, and every time an employee resigns or quits we don’t rehire that position until we go over it again.”
Another matter raised was improving rural internet service. Belgard said the issue is a thorny one.
“I’ve been involved with that just about as long as I’ve been on the board,” he said. “We applied for and received a state broadband grant that we worked together on with Frontier Communications.
“Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked as well as we’d hoped because Frontier was losing all their landlines and their source of income. They spent that money, but we haven’t seen much better internet. There’s no doubt it’s an issue.”
“It is a huge issue,” Buhmann agreed. “There’s lines out there, but there’s no service provider that will hook them up to individual houses.
“At the last commissioners meeting, Richard Koons thought that maybe some of the money from the CARES Act could be used to help supplement these families that may have to go back to online schooling. Something has to happen.”
Belgard said the CARES Act issue did come up at the meeting, and noted there were some funds budgeted specifically for students. Buhmann replied that the budgeted funds were good, but wondered how it would help students who cannot get internet service.”
Turning to other matters, both candidates agreed that a new law enforcement center is needed, but is simply not affordable at this time. They also agreed that they are satisfied with the work done on county roads, noting that the roads are in good shape compared to nearby counties.