Supervisor candidates share views at public forum

The future of emergency medical services and taxes were on the minds of many of the 40 or so persons who attended the Rotary-sponsored candidate forum last week, with several of the questions directed to county supervisor candidates focusing on those topics.

Before taking questions from the audience, moderator Rick Morain invited each candidate to give a three-minute introductory statement.

Tom Contner

Tom Contner, incumbent Republican supervisor from District 3, spoke first. A 1962 Rippey High School graduate, he farmed, then started his own business so his son could take over the farming operation. After 11 years as an entrepreneur he worked at Reuter’s in Grand Junction and retired earlier this year.

Contner named his top priorities as a supervisor as 1) ambulance service; 2) watching over the TIF dollars; 3) figuring out what to do about the jail; and 4) repairing and maintaining farm-to-market roads. “I’ll try to do anything I can for the citizens of Greene County,” he said.

About the jail, he said something needs to be done, but he doesn’t think it’s fair to county taxpayers to ask them to approve another bond issue so soon after the school bond issue. He wants to figure out a different way to pay for a new facility.

Melissa Frederick

Melissa Frederick, a Democrat challenging Contner, graduated from Jefferson-Scranton High School and the University of Iowa with a degree in biology and chemistry. She works in the lab at Louis Dreyfus in Grand Junction. Her husband Bill Frederick raises cattle and grows corn and soybeans in Greenbrier Township; they live on the Frederick family farmstead. They have a 6-month-old daughter. She’s running because she’d like her daughter to have the same opportunities she had growing up, and to be able to come back to Greene County as an adult if she chooses to.

She named finding a way to assure the county has EMS services as a priority. She said that without a willing partner to contract with the county as Dennis Morlan has, the county may have to levy a tax to make EMS viable in the county. She said Wright County in August became the first county in Iowa to levy an EMS tax. “No one wants to hear the word ‘taxes,’ and we’re getting about to the tax ceiling. Taxes are there to do the things we can’t do alone. This would be one of those situations… We have to come together to do that,” she said.

She named housing as a priority and suggested that Grow Greene County funds and TIF revenue should be used in partnership with Greene County Development Corporation and Region XII. “If they put together a good proposal and it comes to the board of supervisors, I think we should be ready to move on that,” Frederick said.

She named dealing with the growth of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as a third priority, and said she’d look at each one case by case. She said she wants young farmers to have CAFOs as an option, “but at the same time we do have to look at our air, water and soil quality.” She said she’d like the board of supervisors to join with other counties and petition the legislature to tweak the master matrix, putting more emphasis on soil, water and air quality.

Patti Naylor

Patti Naylor, a Democrat, is running in District 2. She grew up on a family farm in Guthrie County and graduated from Bayard High School. After graduating from Iowa State University she left Iowa and lived in several different states, working in nutrition education. She returned to Iowa in 2010 and moved to Greene County in 2011. She taught at Greene County Middle School for three years.

She and her husband George are transitioning part of his family farm to organic production. She is now a substitute teacher in Greene County and Paton-Churdan schools.

“We have some really great things going on here in Greene County. I think we really need to come together as a county and think about our future. We need to direct our future, not just let things happen to us,” she said. “There are a lot of economic trends and forces outside of our county that affect us, and we need to keep our priorities in mind and be sure they’re at the top of what we’re working on.”

She named supporting family farmers, small communities, and small businesses, and protecting the environment as priorities. She said the county needs to be pro-active, engage citizens, and advocate at the state level when necessary.

Naylor said she agrees with Contner and Frederick that the future of EMS needs to be handled quickly, and suggested Greene County follow the example of Calhoun County with county-based EMS.

She said the rural population is declining faster that the population in small towns, and she wants to change that. Adding wind turbines and CAFOs will limit rural population growth. She’d like to work with the zoning commission to reconsider setbacks for wind turbines and used the greater setbacks recommended by the Iowa Soybean Association.

She’d also like to join with other counties in calling for a statewide moratorium on new CAFOs. She said the current CAFO system doesn’t work for farmers, the environment or public health. “We have some of the richest soil in the world. I think we can do a better job of protecting that soil, protecting our farmers, and in doing that, protecting our water. We can also produce food in a much more ecologically sound way.”

She named better communication on taxes in general and how spending is prioritized as a third priority.

Dawn Rudolph

Dawn Rudolph, a Republican, is running for a third term as supervisor from District2. She is a lifelong Greene County resident. Her family farms row crops and raises cattle. She and her husband Jeff have an auto repair shop and detailing business in Scranton along with helping with the farm. She is a former school employee and a former mayor of Scranton.

She said she works for all county residents, regardless of which district they live in, their gender, their race, or their political stand. She said she’s learned everyone has different concerns: mental health services, public health services, CAFOs, or maintaining infrastructure. “It’s about finding a balance of where we can spend our tax dollars as wisely as we can and be good patrons for our community,” she said.

She said the county has made progress in providing mental health services for county residents and that she’s been very involved in that. She said the board members working on finding a solution to the EMS problem “are working very diligently.” She is currently on a subcommittee looking for a way to provide good health insurance benefits for employees while keeping costs down, and that the supervisors are looking at options for a new jail. “You need to really research and find the best solution. Sometimes research takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.

She acknowledged CAFOs are an emotional subject and that “the matrix could probably be updated. It was written several years ago and our CAFOs have changed since it was implemented.” She said reviewing the master matrix would be a good option and that she’d work to persuade the legislature to look at it.

She named working on the Freedom Rock project as one of her favorite supervisor-related activities.

The first question during the Q & A portion of the forum was whether the candidates would increase property taxes.

“I don’t see down the road we need to raise taxes,” Contner answered. “Maybe there’s some other way. We’re taxed enough.”

Rudolph said she wouldn’t a promise not to raise taxes if needs arise. She hopes that new developments will provide tax relief. “I’d like not to raise taxes, but if we’re going to have EMS and all these other services…. they cost money… At some point taxes have to be raised, but I want to be very conservative on that and make sure we’re not over-taxing.”

Frederick also said that money for essential services needs to come from somewhere. “I feel the pain, too. I don’t want my taxes raised, but you have to figure out where that money’s coming from.” She suggested using TIF revenue as possible to provide tax relief elsewhere, or partnering with other organizations to the best advantage, and use tax money only if it’s needed.

“You have to look at why we pay taxes. It’s so we all pay in and we all share the benefits,” Naylor said, adding that transparency in decision-making is important.

Discussion of housing in the county took up about half of the allotted Q & A time. The question was what should be done to entice developers to come to the county, and what should be done to revitalize the current housing stock.

Naylor said there is a range needed in rental housing and homes to buy, and there aren’t many options available for “people who want a middle-class lifestyle.” She said solutions will be difficult, and they need to be “creative, and working together with a variety of resources, a variety of people. I’ll be interested in learning more about what other people think.”

Frederick also said creativity will be needed and suggested again that TIF revenue be used in partnership with other entities. “It takes a lot of conversations. I do think that if we get housing, they’ll come,” she said, and added that school construction will help.

Rudolph said all the smaller communities have “sad looking properties, and that in itself hinders people wanting to make a move to those towns.” She said she’d like to see towns do more clean-up of those properties. She also said that higher wages would help. “People need good paying jobs to buy a house. I feel like some of our jobs aren’t as good of paying jobs as they could be, and that hinders their ability to buy a house.”

“The county is not in the business to do house developments. That’s not in our scope. That’s not what we should be doing,” Rudolph said. “We looked at the use of TIF funds to do housing development and that’s not in our scope of what TIF funds are for.”

She said there are a lot of programs available and used Region XII’s down payment assistance program as an example. She said there are a lot of different reasons people don’t live in Greene County.

Contner answered last. He said he agrees with what the other candidates said and that many jobs in Greene County don’t pay well enough to let people buy houses.

Each candidate was given a brief time to wrap-up  after the Q & A session.

Rudolph said she enjoys being supervisors and finds it to be “a learning job day after day after day.” She said the supervisors don’t have all the answers but she strives to find the answers and to serve the community as best she can.

Naylor said she thinks conversations like those at the forum are “incredibly important. That’s one of the main reasons I decided to run, so people could have these conversations. If Melissa and I hadn’t stepped out, we wouldn’t be having the kinds of conversations we’re having now.”

She said other counties are in the same position as Greene County, and that the county needs to advocate for itself. She added that people need to care for people in their communities and care for each other.

Frederick said, “I’m here, and I’m here to stay. I want to be part of where this community goes in the future.” She said she’s willing to be “that person who gets yelled at, but I’m also willing to work hard for everybody here.”

Contner said he also loves the county, and that he enjoys the conversations of a campaign.

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