Both incumbent Rich Pohlmeier of Brownton and challenger Daryl Luthens of rural Hutchinson want to represent McLeod County District 4 on the County Board for the next four years.
The District 4 commissioner represents the southeast side of Hutchinson, Biscay, Brownton, Hassan Valley Township, Rich Valley Township and Sumter Township.
In order to help voters get to know them a little better, the candidates attended a forum hosted by the Leader this past Thursday to answer questions submitted by county residents. The full forum video can be found at tinyurl.com/yyqutz6q.
In their opening statements, both men billed themselves as fiscally responsible, and both said balancing and managing the county’s budget would be among their top priorities if elected. When answering questions, however, there was a divide at times about what that meant as Pohlmeier defended some of the financial decisions taken by the board in the past four years, while Luthens was critical at times.
“In the role of county commissioner, I will bring common sense leadership and accountability,” Luthens said. “I believe we need transparency in how we manage our county and account for our taxpayer money.”
“As a sports official, I’ve learned how to administer rules fairly and respectfully, much like government with our guidelines and mandates that we need to follow,” Pohlmeier said. “I believe in honesty, respect and fiscal responsibility.”
On the county’s largest financial decision in recent years, the $12 million remodel of the former Jungclaus building in Glencoe into a government center, Pohlmeier strongly defended the decision. He pointed to cost-saving efficiencies that will be possible by combining departments under one roof, and noted the county is paying much less than other counties with similar projects.
“We are getting this whole project done on time, under budget,” he said. “We are looking to be able to have a one-stop shop for county residents. We won’t have people traveling across Glencoe to three different buildings to get county work done.”
Luthens said he didn’t have all the facts to fully answer the question, but “anything I’ve done in my past, I analyze the building, if we’re going to build new or not. … Building a brand new building is cheaper than trying to work with an old building and remodeling and putting new stuff back into it, especially if we’re going to use the whole building.”
Trailblazer Transit and whether it provides adequate service for the taxpayer investment was another funding issue. Both men felt it was a good program overall, however Luthens questioned whether routes with only one or two people were necessary, while Pohlmeier pointed out that the program is largely mandated and funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Two areas where the candidates seemed to be mostly in agreement were on county recycling services and development of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail. Both felt township residents should have recycling opportunities, but also said more work needed to be done to find a cost-effective way of doing so. They were also opposed to county funds being used to develop the Dakota Rail Trail.
“I believe it should not be paved,” Luthens said. “Money can be used elsewhere, and the maintenance, if it was paved, would be just a huge maintenance upkeep.”
“Personally, the only way that I can support the Dakota Rail Trail is through Legacy funding, which is applied through for the state,” Pohlmeier said. “I don’t see any county funding going into the trail system anywhere in the near future.”
When asked whether they would support refugee resettlement in the county, the two men diverged once again. While Luthens would not support resettlement in the county, saying, “as I’ve seen outside in other areas, it wasn’t very good,” Pohlmeier was nuanced in his response.
“I think we have to be very careful at what we’re looking at,” Pohlmeier said. “With that order, it was rather vague. I would support the vetted refugees to come to this area, but not anyone else.”
Finally, the candidates emphasized that county commissioners are responsible to the taxpayers who vote them into office, though Pohlmeier said they are often limited by state mandates and guidelines.
“(A commissioner’s job) is to provide leadership (and) give our staff the tools they need to do the job they do to keep our county running,” Pohlmeier said. “We’re navigating through mandates and budgets, and you handle everything in a board meeting from ditch flow to water to social services to public health. So you wear many hats.”
“We’re responsible for the tax dollars coming in,” Luthens said, “watching the income and expenses, working with department heads on their budgets yearly, and working on policies mostly.”