Area candidates debate taxes and spending

Candidates for local office covered issues from economic development to state funding during the candidate debate and forum Monday night in Memorial Auditorium in Wadena.

City Council candidates
Photo by Sara Hacking Wadena City Council candidate Gillette Kempf, right, debates with Kay Browne, left, and Don Niles during Monday night's candidate debate and forum at Memorial Auditorium. Candidates for Wadena mayor as well as county commissioner, school board and Minnesota House 10B seats also debated during the forum.

Candidates for local office covered issues from economic development to state funding during the candidate debate and forum Monday night in Memorial Auditorium in Wadena.

Two Wadena City Council hopefuls shared the stage with incumbent Kay Browne during the debate.

Gillette Kempf, Don Niles and Browne are vying for two city council seats, Browne's and one vacated by Councilman Pete Phillips who gave up his seat to run for the Minnesota House 10B seat.

The candidates answered questions about the development of the old airport property, ownership of the community center, local government aid projections and the city's infrastructure needs.

All three candidates agreed the old airport property should be developed for residential use.


"I think developing the old airport property is going to be a vital part of maintaining and growing our economic base," Kempf said.

Browne said it needs to happen as soon as it is financially feasible.

"The only way that we can minimize taxes for anyone is to add more property," she said.

In answer to if he favored city ownership of the Community Center if it means attracting more grant money, Niles said he supports public-private partnerships.

All the candidates agreed aging infrastructure is a problem in Wadena and that the city faces some tough budget cutting decisions if local government aid is cut.

During the debate questions were also posed to Wadena's mayoral candidates, Wayne Wolden, incumbent, and challenger Mike Burcham. Wolden took the stage alone, however, as Burcham elected not to participate in the debate.

A problem the city needs to begin working on now is aging infrastructure in southwest and southeast Wadena, Wolden said. Positives about the community include a main street that has stores, which a lot of suburbs don't have anymore, he said, and Minnesota State Community and Technical College -- Wadena.

In answer to why he thinks he's the best candidate to represent Wadena elsewhere in the state, Wolden cited his position as president of the League of Minnesota Cities.


Trustworthiness, maintaining Robert's Rules of Order in council meetings, and encouraging discussion are qualities Wolden said a leader should posses.

"I am Wadena's voice in St. Paul," he said. "That's important."

Steve Techam, Peter Hayes, John Crandall and Dan Toedter, incumbent, are running for three seats on the Wadena-Deer Creek School Board. Incumbents Judy Taves and Mark Stone are not seeking re-election.

The candidates faced questions about the school's financial status and gave grades to the current school board. Crandall was out of the country and could not participate Monday night.

All the candidates agreed the school should not spend from the fund balance indicated by a recent audit.

"I don't really think we're right at that point that we can start spending that money," Techam said. "I think that we need to carry a 5 to 10 percent reserve."

The candidates all gave low marks to the current school board when asked to grade it, the current WDC administration and teaching staff.

Techam said he gave the board a D or an F when it came to managing the fund balance, which was as low as $2,000 a year ago.


Toedter and Hayes each gave the school board a C grade.

Hayes said he believed the board could have done different things to help the fund balance. Hayes gave the teaching staff a B or B+ because he believes students are getting a good education, he said.

Toedter gave the staff a B+ or an A. Toedter said he hadn't seen enough of new school administrators, Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom and High School Principal Tyler Church, to give them a grade.

None of the candidates said WDC needs a levy referendum in 2009.

The state needs to step up the plate and do its part to fund schools, Techam said.

Declining enrollment is a problem the school has to deal with, according to Techam and Toedter.

Offering college classes to high school students is a unique program WDC offers students, Hayes said.

Minnesota House 10B candidates Tim Nieminen, DFL--Wadena, and Mark Murdock, R--Ottertail, debated whether cities, schools, or counties can realistically expect more money from the state and if the state should help the Vikings build a stadium among other issues.


Nieminen said it would be hard to promise more funding to local government and schools when the state starts out with a $2 billion deficit this year. He will work hard to make sure the budget stabilizes if he is elected, he said.

Murdock said he is in favor of equal funding in school districts. The bulk of the money stays in Minneapolis, he said.

He is not in favor of income tax increases with the way the economy is now, Murdock said.

Both candidates opposed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, while expressing support for the environment and the arts. The Legislature should pass tax hikes, not the public through a constitutional amendment, they said.

They both also opposed state funding for a new stadium for the Vikings.

When asked whether JOBZ was a success, Niemenen said he thought it was more of a success in communities other than Wadena.

Murdock said he believes the program and funding should continue in order to get jobs into rural Minnesota.

Nieminen listed tax cuts for the rich and property tax increases as decisions he


disagreed with that were made by past Legislatures. He agreed with recent help provided to nursing homes and assisted living facilities, he said. There was also a little bit of an increase in education funding recently but not enough.

Murdock said he definitely disagrees with the gas tax hike.

Two Wadena County commissioners seats are up for grabs in this year's election. Jim Hofer and Ralph Miller are running for the District 2 seat currently held by Commissioner Orv Meyer, who is not seeking re-election. Rodney Bounds is challenging incumbent Commissioner Mary Harrison for the District 4 seat.

Candidates faced questions about space needs at the courthouse, the hiring of a human resources consultant, whether the region needs an economic developer, the positives about Wadena County and where the budget can be cut.

Miller said he was not sure what areas of the courthouse are the most crowded, but he is in favor of looking at the WorkForce Center as an option for dealing with space needs for county departments.

Harrison said it is to everyone's advantage for the county to keep the WorkForce Center in Wadena.

Bounds said after talking with Human Resources Consultant Mike Gibson he thinks the county needs to look at the buildings it has rather than building new.

Hofer said building new is ideal but the county can't afford that. After attending county board meetings since July he believes the space needs are compound and law enforcement, corrections and storage are some priorities, he said.


In regards to the hiring of Gibson, Bounds said he doesn't think the position is needed.

"It's feasible to work without the position," he said.

Miller also did not think the position was needed.

Harrison and Hofer expressed more "wait and see" positions.

Harrison said she was against creating the position. Part of the county's charge to Gibson is to present figures on how much money his work has saved the county, she said.

Hofer said the county has a large budget to manage.

"Sometimes you have to spend just a little bit of money to save money," he said.

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