Candidates looking to earn a seat on the Webster County Board of Supervisors gave their input on a variety of issues facing Webster County during a public forum hosted by the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance Tuesday evening at Iowa Central Community College.
District 2 candidates Mark Campbell and Aaron Newell, District 3 candidate Bob Singer, District 4 candidates Marcy Lundberg and Merrill Leffler and District 5 candidates Breck Johnson and Clark Fletcher all offered their insights on questions submitted by the public on topics ranging from farm drainage to job creation within Webster County.
All candidates agreed the continued development of the North Central Ag Industrial Park west of Fort Dodge is a top priority for both county and city officials.
"The ag park is the biggest thing that has hit Webster County in my lifetime," said Campbell. "The temporary construction jobs have had an impact on our housing, hotels, retailers and restaurants and the permanent jobs it will create will be an even bigger thing. It is the most exciting thing to happen in a long time in Webster County."
"The ag park is the biggest thing," Newell said. "There are rail development issues and more challenges there to be faced but thanks to our current Board of Supervisors we are at a good standing point there."
"It is a true wealth creation opportunity," said Fletcher. It's more than just jobs."
"The ag park is the biggest, most exciting development in Webster County in my lifetime," Lundberg said. "There are millions being spent and billions to be returned. I don't think anyone dared to dream when one company didn't work out that we would bring Cargill to town."
Leffler said it is one of the biggest developments to come to the area in a long time, but with that comes other areas to focus on for continued success.
"The ag park is one of the biggest things to happen in a long time, we can all agree," Leffler said. "We need to make sure we are looking to the future so it is set up right out there with rail and a port authority. There will be a need for housing so we need to work with the smaller communities of Webster County and Fort Dodge to bring more housing; that is the most immediate need."
"The ag park is a great start," Johnson said. "It brings opportunities for jobs, opportunities for farmers and I think we can grow on that and get some of our other industries to follow them. It is an excellent opportunity for this area."
Singer said in other communities with similar development in recent years there is still continued growth in other industries and the same could be expected for Webster County.
"You look at communities like Blair, Neb., and Eddyville and they have still been adding about one more company per year," he said. "We need to look at the management of the facility and who will manage in the future. It is in good hands and will continue to be in good hands."
Ways to keep a balanced budget by both making cuts and expanding in certain areas was also a topic of concern for the audience.
Newell said he sees regionalization of services as a good way to expand while also saving money in the process.
"With mental health, the funding has decreased and the state has required creating regions," said Newell. "We have regionalized with 17 counties for mental health and with budgets affected everywhere I think there will be more regional things as a way to save money."
Leffler said crucial areas, such as law enforcement have already been affected by the budget and he wants to make sure Webster County has the best coverage possible.
"I think we need to make sure we have the best law enforcement possible with the budget, and that our county facilities are kept up. We don't want to have to an LEC that needs updated again in 20 years."
"We need to protect our Sheriff's Department," said Johnson. "They put their lives on the line for us and the least we can do is protect them. Cutting jobs would be difficult; that would be the worst decision you would have to make."
Fletcher said making changes and still providing essential services can be a challenge.
"Realistically, the county government provides services to the people," he said. "We provide the staff, and sometimes you have to make changes in the staff, but you don't want to because it means a change in service."
Singer said attrition is one of the ways to cut without laying employees off, but it can still be a disservice to the community.
"When an employee leaves, their services would go with them," said Singer.
Campbell said enhanced technology will create ways to do more for the county.
"We have opportunity with new technology," said Campbell. "We can do more with less. The greatest assets we have are the employees."
When asked about their feelings on a county-owned farm being rented to Iowa Central for teaching purposes, all candidates said it was a good partnership benefiting both parties.
"The college has been our tenant for many years," Singer said. "They have the opportunity to teach their students and we have an income opportunity. It's a win-win situation."
"Anytime you can take a county asset and use it to benefit students it is a win-win," said Campbell.
"I think it is great," Newell said. "I've been there to talk about precision ag and it's good for beginning farmers. It's a great asset to bring in revenue."
"Anything you can do to generate revenue is a great resource," said Lundberg. "We need more opportunities like that."
"It provides a benefit to all," Fletcher said. "To the county and to the college and the students there."
"I can see the benefit of renting it to the college," said Leffler. "It generates the income the county needs and we need to be sure the college pays fair rent on it."
"It's a win-win all around anytime you can get revenue and provide an education to students," said Johnson.