MARSHALL — Infrastructure needs, the county budget and a widespread workforce shortage were all topics touched on Thursday at the Lyon County Council Candidates Committee. In the 1st and 2nd constituencies, the committee member candidates presented themselves and accepted community issues.
There are three Lyon County commissioner seats 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.
Candidates in the two contested races answered questions on a variety of topics, including the labor shortage facing area businesses.
Sanow agreed that southwest Minnesota needed workers.
“In our nine-county area, we currently have an unemployment rate of less than 2 percent.” Sanou said: He said he is committed to the community and has encouraged professionals to return to Lyon County. Area counties were also looking for ways to bring people to the region, he said. “We’re ready to work with whatever we can work with. We’ve tried to figure out the plans and we’ve done things that we can try to do to get those things moving.”
Sturrock said the worker shortage is a difficult problem and one that is experienced across the state.
“You either can’t keep (workers) or you can’t attract new ones because of housing, both affordability and cost, day care and to some extent transportation. The county has a role to play in each of these, but it is certainly not the primary one.” he said. Partnering with other groups and using existing funding can help address those issues, he said.
“The county has a portion of ARPA funds from the Congressional-passed COVID relief package still undistributed. Maybe there is an opportunity to use those funds.” Sturrock said: He said the county could also access state grants to push for more broadband.
Andris agreed that access to child care was an important issue in attracting workers to the Lyon area. Expanding broadband access to the area could also bring in more people, he said.
“People are leaving the cities, and now they want to return to the rural community. So as a department and as a community, we have to do everything we can to make it a situation where they can survive and thrive.” Andris said:
Draper said having strong communities and good schools will help make Lyon County attractive to people moving out of the cities.
“There’s a deficit 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 are running for county council.
Sanu said one of the reasons he is running for re-election is to help keep some experience in district leadership during a period of staff and board turnover.
“This past year we lost our auditor and whoever worked under him, we lost our HR person and we lost several other positions in our county. (Commissioner Steve) Ritter is leaving, and so is the district attorney.” Sanou said: “With my experience, I want to stay there and they want me to be able to stay there and continue to work on keeping it stable.”
Andris said he thinks the county should “Think outside the box” for ways to keep property taxes under control, including allowing more part-time workers or working with rural communities to clear snow from roads.
“Inflation is on everyone’s mind right now, in terms of stretching to the limit.” Andris said: “When elected to the commission, I promise to maintain strict control over the property tax. The commission should hold the line on taxes.”
Draper said he considered running for commissioner when he heard Steve Ritter was not running for re-election.
“I told myself this might be a good time for me to give back to the community.” Draper said:
“If elected, one of my goals would be to spend time with each department head and talk about things that are going on in their departments and districts and get to know what’s going on. Talk to the current commissioners, they have a lot of knowledge.”
Sturrock said some of his priorities include planning for the county’s future and working to make county government more accessible to the public.
“District management is this relatively mysterious thing.” Sturrock said: “An awful lot of it is just the structure of the districts and what they do, but there are some things we can do to fix that or help that.”
Sturrock suggested live streaming of county board meetings or more detailed information about the county’s budget process is easily found on the county’s website.