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Candidates for Grand Forks County Commission point toward fiscal concerns as top county issue

Eight candidates will be on the Grand Forks County ballot on June 14, in what effectively is a primary race. The top six vote-getters will move on to the General Election in November.

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GRAND FORKS — The county budget and maintaining existing property and services are the chief issues facing Grand Forks County, according to the majority of the candidates seeking a spot on the County Commission.

Responses to a questionnaire sent to the eight candidates showed most of them believe financial issues will be the top challenges for future commission members.

“One of our biggest challenges is growing and diversifying our economy,” said Tom Falck, an incumbent. “Our growth, which stabilizes our revenue stream, hasn’t always kept up with the demands and needs of the people and the county.”

In the running for three seats are Falck, Kimberly Hagen, K.C. Inman, Jordon Klava, Lon Kvasager, Bob Rost, Vanessa Richter and Mark Rustad.

All eight will be on the Grand Forks County ballot on June 14, in what effectively is a primary race. The three seats are at-large positions, and voters will be asked on the ballot to vote for no more than three names. The top six vote-getters will then move on to the General Election in November.

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Falck and Rost are incumbents who seek reelection after their current terms expire. The other seat is open after Diane Knauf — who served 16 years on the commission — chose not to run again.

The Herald sent a questionnaire to the eight candidates, seeking information about why they seek a position on the commission and information about their background. It also asked: “What is the biggest challenge or issue facing the Grand Forks County Commission, and what do you feel is a solution to fix it?”

In their answers, most of the candidates referred to budgetary issues.

“Deferred maintenance leads to neglect, safety problems and budget crisis,” said Inman. “I believe we must plan and budget to get necessary repairs done in (as much of) a timely manner as we can make the budget allow. Putting repairs off just causes more issues and expense as we delay.”

Klava referenced this year’s wet spring and flooding, and the effects the weather has had on public property.

“Fiscal responsibility is an ongoing challenge to maintain and improve our county. Flooding this spring has damaged many roads and culverts, and bridges were already aging,” Klava said. “We need to find good solutions to repair these, and other county improvements that are needed, without increasing taxes.”

Kvasager said the key needs to be maintaining a balanced budget while still providing “current and future” services.

“Explore ways to secure and generate the additional funds required, while researching ways to save money without sacrificing necessary services we need,” he said.

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Rustad also has concerns about public property.

“(The top challenge) is obviously fiscal issues, and maintaining of the properties, specifically River City Speedway and the county jail, off the top of my head,” he said. “The jail is quite new so it is very troubling that it is already in need of as much work, as has been reported in the media. The solution is to separate wants from needs and take care of the needs first, like you would do in your own home. There is no need for additional taxes to be levied.”

Rost also discussed finances and properties, specifically listing off a number of projects he feels should be prioritized.

"The biggest problem I see is we have to expand the jail, get a new spot for juvenile detention, the Sheriff's Department has to move out of the PD building and the state's attorney needs more room. So, the building things that we have to do (should be the priority). We don't want to raise taxes or raise the mill levies," he said.

He noted that the county is in the midst of pursuing home-rule status, which would allow the county to assess a half-cent sales tax that he believes would cover the costs of a number of projects.

"As part of that half-cent sales tax, 20% would be for property tax relief, 20% would for Highway Department infrastructure (bridges, roads, things like that) and 60% would be for getting these buildings done," he said. "My feeling is, when people come into Grand Forks County and shop, let everybody pay for these things instead of setting everything on the property owners."

Hagen’s answer veered in another direction.

“Through my passion to serve the family dynamic, I feel daycare is a need we must address. I will work to uncover programs or services that do not get attention or not yet utilized alongside new ideas,” she said. “I would work to ensure the success of county employees through competitive pay and benefits and other factors for long-term success. And finally, bringing awareness and community interaction to the commission. We can find user-friendly interfaces and other ways to boost engagement.”

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Richter did not return a questionnaire, nor did she respond to a telephone message reminding her of the deadline.

For a look at each candidate's complete answers to the questionnaire, go to the Herald website and search for: " Grand Forks County Commission candidates: A look at their answers to three questions from the Herald "

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.


As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.



Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
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