Supervisor candidates speak at forum
Three candidates for two seats on the Nov. 6 ballot for Jefferson County Board of Supervisors answered nine questions posed by moderator Nancy Morrissey, executive director of Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Tuesday evening at the Fairfield Public Library.
Candidates were asked how actions of the county supervisors impact the incorporated areas in the county, and candidates should provide examples.
Democratic challenger Becky Schmitz said campaigning door-to-door for this election, hearing questions from residents, indicates people don’t know what county government does.
“They hear about roads, mental health and general management of the courthouse,” she said. “The county has a governing body of ordinances. The board of supervisors can improve as a sounding board for issues. We should work with other counties to provide services.”
Incumbent Republican Lee Dimmitt replied the county has partnered with towns for economic incentives, such as Fairfield partnering with the county to pay for roadwork on 227th Street, the road by AmericInn.
“I serve on the Regional Housing Trust Fund, and along with Tracy Vance, travel to city councils [of towns in the county] to explain what the trust fund does,” said Dimmitt. “I’m on the Area 15 Regional Planning Commission which has been instrumental in getting block grants. One of those grants helped to build a daycare center in Van Buren County.”
County government affects all residents, said incumbent Republican Stephen Burgmeier.
“The county provides mental health services, sheriff protection and we have 28E agreements with communities under populations of 500 for road work,” said Burgmeier. “As a part of Regional Utilities Service Systems, we just finished a partnership with Pleasant Plain and East Pleasant Plain installing sewers.”
Candidates were then asked about economic development.
“Economic development is key to our future and we must work closely with education,” said Burgmeier. “Serving on the board of supervisors [for 12 years] I’ve chaired the Enterprise Zone Commission. We identified areas of the county that would be good for enterprise zoning. Agri-Plastics is in an enterprise zone.
“We used tax abatement for Cambridge to locate where they did, and also for HCM Plastic Inc.
“Tax Increment Financing is a good tool in economic development and to attract businesses,” said Burgmeier. “We also need to build infrastructure to attract businesses.
“We are working closely with Indian Hills college for job training to make sure residents have the needed skills. We need to look at economic development as a regional endeavor. As long as people in Jefferson County can drive to a job that provides a living wage, I think that’s good,” said Burgmeier.
“And we need to keep up our parks, museums and schools to attract business to the area.”
Schmitz, in the Iowa State Legislature 2007-2011, said when she served, she was interested in bringing economic development back to this area.
“TIF and tax abatement can be good tools, but the benefits need to be weighed,” she said. “In the Legislature, I worked for enterprise zones to be beneficial to our area. An important source of economic development is quality education. Fairfield schools and Indian Hills Community College are partnering with businesses because businesses are saying they need skilled, quality workers.
“Beyond the physical facilities, I see events such as art walk as an attraction,” said Schmitz. “The creativity here is a good quality.
“I feel surrounding counties have been more aggressive in providing opportunities for economic development,” she said. “I’d like to serve as a supervisor to help.”
Private and public partnerships have a place, said Dimmitt. “But we have to weigh the benefits.
“Our county offers tax abatements. Our high school has Project Lead the Way that teaches all facets of engineering. Businesses invested in that program.
“We need to bring our kids home,” said Dimmitt. “They are our best economic development tools. They receive a quality education here, go onto college and receive a quality education elsewhere and don’t return.”
The newest partnership between Fairfield High School and IHCC at the Career Academy is another boost to train skilled workers, he said.
“A new pool and gym would be attractions for businesses,” said Dimmitt. “Many people here have an entrepreneurial spirit.
“We have aging infrastructure and not enough funds. If we can bring kids back here, it will give us a bigger tax base to help pay for needed items.”
Asked what the most important issue in Jefferson County is today, and why candidates feel they are best suited to face that issue, Dimmitt responded, “funding.”
He said everyone is facing unknown federal and state funding because things could change with the upcoming general election.
“The election will affect health care and the county’s budget for mental health care,” he said. “This affects all residents and requires cooperation from all departments in county government.
“We’ve worked to hold down budgets, departments know they are allowed a 1 percent annual growth unless a request is offset by revenue,” said Dimmitt. “We’ve been a pay-as-you-go county.”
The county’s big issue is 750 miles of roads to maintain, said Burgmeier.
“We have a product we’ve recently started using, Gilsonite and I think it’s working to extend the life of roads,” he said.
Schmitz said economic development is the biggest issue facing the county.
“Obviously infrastructure needs and education go along with that,” she said. “If we attract more businesses, we have a bigger tax base. It’s a quality of life issue to strike a balance between needs such as maintaining agriculture land and installing sewers.
“Iowa is dealing with an aging population and economic development is important to attract younger, vibrant people.”
All three candidates oppose zoning and agree agriculture is very important to Jefferson County.
The candidates also agreed Home Rule and self-governing is working for Jefferson County.
About 30 people attended the forum Tuesday. It was videotaped by Fairfield Media Center. The video can be viewed anytime online at fairfieldmediacenter.com, and it will be aired on Fairfield’s public access channel.
The county board of supervisors has three members. Each election is for a four-year term. The third supervisor, who is elected on the off-cycle elections, is Dick Reed.