If elected to the Board of Commissioners, what will be your top priority and why?
Jeff Docken: My top priority is continued economic growth for Rice County, expanding the business base while keeping our strengths in agriculture. This is important for job creation. The county’s population has grown dramatically in the last few years, and supporting the population with job growth and economic health has to be our top priority. If we aren’t financially healthy as a county, we can’t take care of our citizens.
Kim Halvorson: Fiscal sustainability for Rice County is my top priority. 2020 has been a challenging year in many ways. We know that the state and federal governments are under unprecedented financial pressure and my first priority is to protect the citizens of Rice County as we look at ANY possible tax changes. The current commissioners have passed a possible 5.5% tax levy increase! I will do everything I can to stop or reduce any increases!
It’s widely expected that the state’s $2 billion shortfall will lead to cuts in state aid to counties. How will you determine where the county can make cuts?
JD: This is one of the biggest reasons we need to be in good shape financially. We have asked all Rice County departments to make cuts in the past few years. The state cuts mean that more responsibilities will fall to the county, and this makes economic growth in the county even more important. If we want to keep all of the tax burden from falling on residents, the only way we can solve this problem is to encourage more growth of business and industry.
It’s a complicated balance, to preserve our quality of life in Rice County while allowing for growth. This is where my experience as a commissioner and life-long resident and farmer is important. We have been able to keep this balance, making Rice County a great place to live.
KH: I will take a look at each department’s budgets as well as the county’s overall budget. The key will be communication! Sitting down with each department and working through their budgets together identifying NEEDS over WANTS.
How will you ensure the voices and concerns of those in your district will be heard and accounted for?
JD: Growth and change comes to our every day life, and good planning for it is important. I’m always ready to listen, to stay in touch with engaged citizens so we can find solutions that work. I have great connections all around the county, with other farmers, neighbors, business owners, through church, through raising a family here and with our customers at the farm. And I have had the chance to make connections with even more people as a commissioner.
Meeting with county residents to get their ideas and feedback is the only way I can make good decisions as a County Commissioner. One of the most important things I do is spend time talking with county residents. Staying in touch with residents means I’m always ready to advocate for the people in my district.
KH: District 5 has seven townships represented. In order to represent each one carefully and comprehensively, my plan is to attend a different township meeting each month, scheduling a listening session which will allow me to listen to the needs of that township and its residents. I also will always be available by phone or e-mail to discuss any issue.
What should be done to help the county recover from the economic damage done by COVID-19
JD: We are investigating every angle on COVID-19 recovery, trying to plan for a lot of different possibilities. It’s hard to say what our needs will be going forward, and hard to know whether there will be state and federal help.
But, we have made some really important progress in the county using CARES Act funds. We have been partnering with the private sector to expand broadband throughout the county, for students and people working from home.
Our health care system has done an impressive job of handling the crisis, and we will continue to work with our hospitals and clinics on public health and safety. We know we will need to begin to rebuild Rice County’s jobs, especially in the service industry. As soon as we understand more about what the needs are, and what resources will be available, we can do more to strategize for recovery.
KH: Rice County is going to have to be very creative. I hope that the commissioners can work with the Economic Developer in Rice County to help current business with direction in finding and guiding them through possible available grant and loan programs. I believe in support for the current business as well as promoting for the future. Also, I would looking forward to working with Social Service personal to create a step up to employment program thus reducing the pressure on Rice County’s Social Services. Through education and jobs Rice County may be able to turn the demands on the system around!
What more should be done to maintain county roads and bridges?
JD: Right now, we do a good job with prioritizing the projects that need to be done. The commissioners work with the county engineer, and with citizens, to set priorities for where road improvements are most needed. We have a good transportation budget, but of course we have a lot of needs in specific spots throughout the county. There’s a bonding bill right now in the state legislature to support county road and bridge improvements and safety, and we hope this will pass. Meanwhile, we are doing what we can to avoid increasing tax levies, and finding ways to save where we can.
KH: First and foremost, a priority plan (updated) regarding continued maintenance of our current roads and bridges is a must. I am pleased to hear that the director of Rice County Highway Department has been working toward a plan to work with the state regarding a possible six-leg roundabout at I-35/Hwy. 19. This will be an awesome addition to relieve the bottleneck accessing Hwy. 19. I hope that moving forward we can also look at and plan for an I-35/County Road 9 on/off ramp. County Road 9 ramps would exponentially help with the truck traffic flow from the Industrial park, Faribault Foods, Met-Con and Aldi. Also, Rice County needs to address an issue with Ditch #6 that meanders out of Steele County through District 1. This ditch flows under I-35 and many of Rice County roadways and needs some attention.