Around 50 people turned out Thursday night at the county courthouse in Glenwood for a candidates' forum sponsored by the Mills County Republican Party Central Committee.
County supervisor candidates Joe Blankenship, Ron Kohn and Lonnie Mayberry took part in the forum, along with county auditor candidates Carol Robertson and Angie Winquist, county sheriff candidate Gene Goos, District 23 state representative candidates Raymond Chase and Mark Costello and District 12 state senate candidate Joni Ernst.
Each candidate was given time to present opening and closing statements and take turns answering hand-written questions submitted by members of the audience. A variety of issues were addressed, including property taxes, the county jail, zoning, economic growth, tax relief and incentives for businesses.
Blankenship and Kohn, incumbent members of the county board, talked about the experience they bring to the table and the difficult decisions they've addressed during their time on the board. Kohn made reference to a one-year county tax increase approved for the 2012-13 fiscal year that will help fund renovations and improvements at the county courthouse.
“You need to do the right thing regardless of what the personal consequences are,” Kohn said.
Kohn, who is completing his eighth year on the board, spent 32 years as an educator and coach before running for political office. He said he learned quickly that being a county supervisor takes a full-time commitment.
“It is an irregular schedule,” he said. “You attend a lot of meetings and it’s very important that you prepare for those meetings in advance.”
Kohn also discussed recycling.
“We need to find funding from both the cities and the county to make it work,” he said.
Blankenship said he wanted Mills County residents to know that property taxes haven’t been raised in seven years and he believes his experience on the board and as business owner prior to becoming a supervisor gives him the qualifications to serve another four-year term.
“We have a lot of issues that need to be resolved in the county,” he said. He singled out rural water, the aging Mills County jail and infrastructure needs along Interstate 29 as three of the most pressing issues.
A question from the audience about the condition of Bunge Ave. in northern Mills County prompted discussion about tax breaks for businesses. Blankenship said the Bunge Corp. was exempt from paying taxes for almost 20 years and half of what the “just over $100,000” the company pays now goes to Pottawattamie County. Blankenship also called out The Burlington Northern - Santa Fe Railroad.
“Without those people involved with us (financially), we’ll never repair that road (Bunge),” he said.
Mayberry said he may not have the political experience of Blankenship or Kohn on his resume, but as a land surveyor and business person he believes he possesses the qualifications to serve on the board. Mayberry said one of his priorities, if elected, would be to improve the working relationship between city and county governments.
“I think the county and cities need to do a better job of working together,” Mayberry said. “I think I can do that.”
Mayberry said he understands the commitment involved with being a county supervisor and would be able to give the job the time it requires because of the flexible hours he has with his surveying position.
“Experience” was a topic addressed by county auditor candidates.
Robertson said her strongest asset is her experience in the auditor’s office. She’s worked in the office since 1989 and has served as the auditor since 2000. She said being a county auditor in Iowa requires a person to have the ability to “multi-task.”
“You have to be versed in accounting, real estate and elections, not just one area,” Robertson said. “I’m very passionate about my job.”
Robertson said she has valuable experience working with cities, school districts and townships on a variety of issues.
Winquist said she decided to run for the auditor’s position because she’s seeking “a new challenge” after spending 30 years working in the private sector. While spending 28 years with a distribution company, Winquist said she gained experience in account receivables and payables, purchasing, customer service, sales, budgeting, conducting audits and managing employees.
Winquist said it’s important for a county auditor “to be good with numbers and be able to keep a watchful eye on county finances.” If elected, Winquist said she would want to keep the present county auditor’s staff in place and pledged to be “dependable, hard-working and respectable.”
The three legislative candidates talked about funding for education and pledged to work for a smaller state government with controlled spending. They stressed the need for Iowa to be competitive with surrounding states when it comes to promoting economic development and promoting a business-friendly environment.
Ernst said the state needs to set its priorities when it comes to education and do a better job of providing the funding promised to local school districts for allowable growth.
Goos, who is running unopposed for sheriff, was asked the fewest questions at the forum. He said he’s gained valuable experience during his first term in office and expects the law enforcement community to face more challenges as the county continues to grow.
The candidates taking part in Thursday’s forum will be on the Republican ballot in Mills County for the June 5 primary election.