Martin County District 2 candidates debate

FAIRMONT — Four candidates are running to fill the Martin County District 2 seat left vacant by the passing of Tom Mahoney Jr.

Dan Geronsin, Kyle Gustafson, Jamie Bleess and James Forshee had a chance to answer questions Thursday at a public forum conducted by the Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce.

When asked about the need for a new law enforcement center and how to finance such a facility, Bleess and Forshee noted that while there is a need, the funding is simply not available at this point in time. Gustafson said there are safety concerns at the current facility, and he is waiting to see how much money is being spent on taking inmates out of the county before he makes a decision on the issue. Geronsin said he is not up to date on the issue and refrained from comment.

Turning to somewhat of a sore issue for the county, the candidates gave their thoughts on how to improve rural internet services.

“I think one thing that COVID has taught us is that there’s a lot of jobs people have started doing from home,” Gustafson said. “I have a handful of friends that have moved away from the metro to the rural area as of late, and their only choice is to be in town. If we could have that out in the country, that would be more jobs and houses in the county.”

Bleess said the issue needs to be prioritized by the county.

“We need to recruit other companies to come in and do this,” he said. “During COVID-19, there’s been a lot of companies looking to help people build home offices. We might be seeing more companies rise up and want to help.”

Forshee agreed with Bleess’ assessment, noting the county could look for potential grants and alternative suppliers to help.

Geronsin said he is not sure what the answer is at this time.

When asked how they would help limit taxation for county residents, as well as control the budget, Gustafson said it is important to have good relationships with every department head.

“You go over budgets with every [department] head, whether it’s the highway department or Human Services,” he said. “The next couple of years is going to be tough with the state hurting for money, so any way we can [we should] save pennies.”

Geronsin said he would look at the overall budget and see if there are any jobs that could be eliminated to save money.

Bleess said he has heard from residents who were unhappy to see their taxes go up because of recent actions at the County Assessor’s Office.

“I’ve had residents approach me that were pretty unhappy about what went on with the homestead letters that went out,” he said. “Taxes went up in a letter that looked pretty nondescript and went out to people during a busy time of year.

“I think people are concerned about their property taxes going up significantly. We’re in a time when people aren’t making more money. They’re either staying the same or making less, so the priority for me would be to do everything we can to hold taxes low.”

“We need to continue to look at new revenue sources,” Forshee said. “We also need to keep the expenses of the county down, working with all the department heads on the budget and seeing if they can reduce some of the items that they’ve got.”

Forshee also emphasized utilizing the technology on hand to reduce costs instead of buying a lot of new tech.

Human Services is one of the departments overseen by the county. When asked about handling its budget, the candidates agreed the issue is complicated by many state mandates.

“That’s probably the biggest budget that we have where no one really knows exactly how it gets spent,” Bleess said. “A lot of it’s mandated by the state and I don’t think there’s a lot we can do to manipulate a lot of those dollars.

“As a police officer working the street for the last 17 years, you can sometimes see where that money is going. Sometimes the money’s going to people that really deserve it and really need it. Other times we’ll come across people that will openly tell us that they’ve invented a disability to get it.

“I think if I was elected, I would want to make sure we’re examining any areas where there’s fraud with benefits so that we’re not giving away money to people that are actively working to get something they shouldn’t have.”

Forshee agreed that the budget needs to be watched.

“That’s one of the largest ones we’ve got in the county and a lot of that is mandated by the state,” he said. “When we do the budget for Human Services, we always look at the reserve fund too. Between Martin County and Faribault County, each county has its own reserve fund, and in case they do have something that comes up where they can’t meet with their allotment from each county, they need to go in and get some money out of that reserve fund. It’s a hard animal to understand and try to keep funding for that.”

Gustafson agreed that a lot of the budget is mandated by the state, while Geronsin said it is important to get rid of loopholes and watch for people who abuse the system.


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