MARSHALL – Infrastructure needs, the county’s budget and widespread worker shortages were all topics touched on Thursday’s panel of candidates for Lyon County Board. Commissioner candidates in Districts 1 and 2 introduced themselves and took community questions.
There are three Lyon County commissioners up for election on Nov. 8, but only two of the races are contested. Commissioner Charlie Sanow is running for re-election in Commissioner District 1 against challenger Thomas Andries. Candidates Todd Draper and David Sturrock are running for Commissioner District 2. In Commissioner District 3, Commissioner Paul Graupmann is unopposed.
Candidates in the two contested races answered questions on a variety of topics, including the worker shortage facing area businesses.
Sanow agreed that southwest Minnesota needs workers.
“In our nine-county area, we currently have less than a 2% unemployment rate,” Sanow said. He said he is committed to the community and encouraged professionals to come back to Lyon County. Area counties were also looking for ways to bring people to the region, he said. “We are willing to work with anything we can work with. We’ve been trying to figure out plans, and doing things that we can try to do, to get those things going.”
Sturrock said the worker shortage is a complex issue, and one experienced nationwide.
“You either can’t keep (workers) or you can’t attract new ones, because of housing – both availability and cost – daycare, and to some extent transportation. The province has a role to play in each of them, but it is certainly not the primary one,” he said. Partnering with other groups and using available funding can help address those underlying problems, he said.
“The country still has unallocated ARPA funds from the COVID relief package approved by Congress. Perhaps there is an opportunity to utilize those funds,” Sturrock said. He said the country may also be able to access government grants to push for more broadband internet development.
Andries agreed that the availability of child care is a key issue in attracting workers to Lyon County. He said the expansion of broadband access in the area could also potentially bring in more people.
“People are moving back from the cities, and now they want to get back into the rural community. So, as a council and as a community, we have to do everything we can to make it a situation where they can survive and thrive,” Andries said.
Draper said having strong communities and good schools will help make Lyon County attractive to people moving from cities.
“There’s a shortage out there, and with inflation I just don’t know what’s going to happen. But as long as we have a good community for them to come to, I think that will help us,” Draper said.
Commissioner candidates also spoke about their priorities and why they were running for county council.
Sanow said one reason he ran for re-election was to help retain experience in county leadership during a time of staff and board turnover.
“Last year we lost our auditor and the person who worked under him, we lost our HR person, and we lost a few other positions in our country. (Commissioner Steve) Ritter is going, and so is the district attorney,” Sanow said. “With the experience I have, I want to stay there, and they wish I could stay there and keep working to keep things stable.”
Andries said he thinks the province should “think outside the box” for ways to keep property taxes under control, including the possibility of more part-time employees, or working with townships to clear snow from roads.
“Inflation is on everyone’s mind right now in terms of being stretched to the limit,” Andries said. “When I was elected to the commission, I promised to keep very strict control over property taxes. The commission must hold the line on taxes.”
Draper said he thought about running for county commissioner when he heard Steve Ritter was not running for re-election.
“I said to myself, this might be a good time for me to give back to the community,” Draper said.
“If I am elected, one of my goals is going to be to spend time with each department head and talk about things that are happening within their departments and within the country, and become familiar with what is going on. Talking to the existing commissioners – they have a lot of knowledge.”
Sturrock said some of his priorities include planning for the county’s future, and working to make provincial government more accessible to the public.
“Country government is this relatively mysterious thing,” Sturrock said. “An awful lot of it is just the structure of the counties and what they do, but there are some things we can do to fix that or help that.”
Sturrock suggested live streaming live council sessions, or putting more detailed information about the county’s budget process in an easy-to-find place on the county’s website.