Dave Miller and Steve Underdahl have a lot in common.
Both are Faribault High grads: Underdahl finished in 1971, Miller with the class of ‘78. Both spent years on the Faribault Planning Commission — Underdahl eight, Miller six — before being elected to the City Council.
Miller, who won his first term on the Rice County Board of Commissioners in 2012, is looking for another four years as the county’s District 3 representative.
Underdahl hopes to join him come January. He’s seeking the District 4 seat now held by Steve Bauer. Bauer, this year’s board chair, is not running for re-election.
Neither is opposed.
Miller, Faribault born and bred, says his parents instilled in him an understanding an appreciation for service. With 28 years of service to his community, including work with the Rice County Historical Society and Fair Board, it shows.
“I feel like I’m making a difference,” he said. “It’s not always easy. Sometimes you have to say no to people who want things. And there are always questions about what we do.”
Amid that involvement have been difficult times and good times, he said, pointing to the hiring of current administrator, Sara Foisted, as one of the board’s biggest accomplishments during his tenure.
In his six years on the board, Miller’s worked with several different administrators. Gary Weiers, who had served the county for 10 years, left for the private sector just weeks into Miller’s term. Anthony Murphy was hired in early 2014, resigning two years later. By June 2016, the board offered Folsted the job.
Miller said there was some turmoil in the county before Folsted took over, with some “department heads running things,” but added that he’s pleased with Folsted’s work and the stability she brings to Rice County government.
He’s also proud of the work Rice County’s done on road maintenance, and upgrades, particularly the County Road 1 project in Dundas, which has improved traffic safety.
There is still work to do, says Miller. He worries about finding good staff when employees retire and how the county can compete financially for top candidates.
He’d also love to see the County Road 9/I-35 interchange become reality. County leaders met with four state senators earlier this week and MnDOT to discuss the project, which Faribault and Rice County believe will draw additional industry to the city’s northern edge. But the price tag is huge, he says.
“It was $25 million years ago,” he said. “Who knows how much now?”
Miller said he wants to continue being frugal with tax dollars, but added that “it isn’t always easy.” He also wants to continue collaborating with Rice County’s cities, especially when it comes to economic development.
“It works so much better when we partner.”
Like Miller, Underdahl is a native Faribaultian whose priority is serving his community.
“Mainly I got into it to help chart the course of the community,” he said.
His work as a contractor and years on the city Planning Commission give him a good foundation in planning and economic development, something he sees as a major accomplishment in his time on Faribault’s City Council.
In the last few years, Faribault has seen a good deal of industrial growth with the location of SageGlass, the new 1 million-square foot Faribault Foods plant and Daikin taking over the 300,000-square foot former Malt-O-Meal warehouse, property which was just annexed into the city.
There have also been improvements to the city’s downtown: new underground utilities that make owning property and operating businesses much more attractive in the historic district.
While Underdahl’s still disappointed that planning to the city’s west hasn’t yet panned out due to the Great Recession, he’s proud of his work on the city’s fiscal policy knowing Faribault now uses available funds when possible to pay for larger expenditures such as equipment. Previously, it routinely bonded for those expenses. Avoiding financing avoids the interest that comes with bonding and saves taxpayer dollars.
Underdahl is clear that he’s not shifting to county government because he sees problems there. Instead, he’s interested in looking more regionally. That includes Rice County cities other than Faribault as well as its neighbors to the south.
“If something’s happening in Northfield or happening in Owatonna, we should champion that. There should be more synergy between the county and municipalities,” he said, pointing to issues including economic development and transportation.
Underdahl, too, praises Administrator Folsted for the work she’s done to collaborate with the city of Faribault and says he’s ready to get to work.
“I don’t have a magic answer for this,” he said. “Rice County, because of our location, is poised for growth, residentially and commercially.”
He acknowledges the tension between the cities and rural areas, which is where the county’s roots are, and knows that any decisions the county board makes will have to balance those needs. But, he said, he’s familiar with the issues.
“I’ll still be representing a good share of the same constituents.”