Two candidates are seeking an open seat to represent the Fifth District on the Houston County Board of Commissioners currently held by Tom Bjerke of Spring Grove, who chose not to seek re-election. Dana Kjome and Lane Zaffke, both of Spring Grove, are vying to represent the district, which was increased in geographic size this past April to equalize the district according to population. It now encompasses the cities of Eitzen and Spring Grove and the townships of Black Hammer, Crooked Creek, Jefferson, Wilmington and Winnebago, although it still remains the smallest in population at 3,308.

Both candidates responded to the questionnaire from the Spring Grove Herald. Below are their responses listed in alphabetical order. Each response was limited to 150 words.



Lane Zaffke, age 56 - Pastor of Cross of Christ, Farm owner and Operator



1.) Please tell us about yourself and why you are running for office?

I have always been interested in politics and public policy debates. I can add some energy, creativity and innovation to the Houston County government. My family, friends and community leaders have encouraged me to run for the county commissioner position. I am convinced that I have some unique qualities and perspectives that would be beneficial to the county board.



2.) Are you in favor of stringent permitting requirements for frac sand mines or should Houston County encourage mining through a minimalist approach?

Mining frac sand would bring needed jobs to the county - providing income to the workers and private land owners. It also would hurt the roads and perhaps the environment. The present county commissioners have set up a study group to examine both sides of the issue while the mine moratorium is in place. People have taken some stands, but I prefer to listen and study the conclusions of the committee before I take a stand one way or another. Too many times people jump to conclusions without knowing all the information. As commissioner, I want to make wise decisions based on all the facts.



3.) Should Houston County move forward with an expansion of the Houston County Airport or look at other options for the facility? What options would you be in favor of?

The state government cut about $3 million in revenue sharing to Houston County. Now is not the time to be spending money on expansion unless there is the possibility that it would pay for itself or make the county some money. I don't have the figures for 2012, but in 2011, the airport cost the county $541,000 to operate. There was no line item that shows if the airport brings in any revenue for the county in the 2011 budget. There probably are some fees to the people that use the airport, but in the end, it looks like it costs the county a lot of money to have an airport. While it is nice to have an airport in the county, we probably can't afford a luxury that only a few people can use and enjoy, and fewer that need it for business.

Options:

1) Sell it to the people that use it. It would be a savings for the county to just give it to them for a dollar and let them run as they deem best.

2) Sell the land to whomever can use it for a business. It would add ongoing property tax revenue and bring the county a one-time windfall of money.

3) Just let it sit empty. It would not cost the county money. But it wouldn't add anything to our property tax revenue, and eventually it would become an eyesore.



4.) With the Human Services Redesign process in the early stages, what would be your top three priorities as part of any redesign plan?

It is my understanding that Houston County has pulled out of the 12-county Human Services Redesign Plan. It wasn't going to work for us as Olmsted County insisted on 49% of the decision making power. The present group of commissioners has said they would begin talking with neighboring counties, particularly with Fillmore and Winona. This keeps decision making close to home. Administration of the programs could probably happen on a bigger scale. There are a number of services that need to remain as local as possible to maintain efficiency of service.

Top Three Priorities:

1) Keep Veteran Services within Houston County. This provides vital services for people who made great sacrifices for our county. They deserve our very best.

2) Home Care nursing and aid - this service helps the elderly and disabled to stay in their homes. People do pay for this service on a sliding income scale fee so they help it pay for itself. It is also cheaper for the County to help people stay in their home rather than pay for the nursing home service.

3) Domestic Violence prevention - this service also relies on our workers having direct contact with people, primarily women and children, to build a relationship and be trusted when help is needed most. You can't do this over a distance.



5.) The current tax levy increase for 2013 payable is proposed at 9%. Do you think some areas of the budget can be scaled back, and if so, what areas?

Houston County relies on property taxes for a big part of its income. It is however the most regressive tax we assess. It is hardest on people with fixed incomes such as senior citizens and the poor. The state uses income tax, sales tax, gas tax and such. These taxes are easier on the elderly and poor.

Cuts will have to be made regardless. It will mean some people may lose their job. Before doing that however, here are a few ideas that could easily be done.

1) First the airport, I answered that in question No. 3.

2) The old jail. It has been estimated the cost of keeping the building will be about $60,000. This would save one person's job and keep some county services working. It is hard for me to believe that no one asked what will we going to do with the old jail after building the new Justice Center. We could drain the pipes and turn off the heat and air conditioning and let it sit - saving money.

Do some work so that Pubic Health, Veteran Services and Extension could return to the Houston County Campus and sell the CCS building. This would increase efficiency by having people closer and more available and eliminate having to heat and cool two buildings instead of one.

Give it to the State Historical Society, and they can take care of it. It has served Houston County well, but we no longer need it if we aren't using it.

Sell it if there is someone who will buy it. It will then generate some property tax income for Houston County.

3) Ask some workers to retire early and put a hiring freeze on non-essential jobs. It would be very difficult to cut.



6.) What are your top three priorities if elected to the county board?

What are your top three priorities if elected to the county board?

I would look for creative ways that the county government could run more efficiently and smoothly without raising property taxes.

I want to find ways that the county can help start or bring new businesses into Houston County that pay livable wages.

I want to relook at our comprehensive land use plan with the zoning commission.