Crow Wing County Board candidates discuss goals at forum
Jon Lubke and Robin Sylvester are competing for the District 2 seat, while Rosemary Franzen and Troy Scheffler square off to represent District 4 - both districts are in the Echo Journal coverage area
BRAINERD – Following a sheriff candidate forum Tuesday, Sept. 13, six candidates for the Crow Wing County Board had a forum of their own to discuss issues facing the county as Election Day looms.
Current Jenkins Mayor Jon Lubke and Robin Sylvester, of Pequot Lakes, are competing for the District 2 board seat, currently occupied by Bill Brekken.
Incumbent Commissioner Rosemary Franzen, of Baxter, debated with Troy Scheffler, of Merrifield, as both are vying for the District 4 seat.
Also taking part in the forum were incumbent Steve Barrows and Tad Erickson, who are competing for the county District 3 seat, which is not in the Echo Journal coverage area.
This a beautiful place, and I love it here. I would like to do everything I can to be a part of that.
Candidates were first asked why they are running for a commissioner seat and what their top priorities will be if elected. Sylvester called for a simplification of government and a desire to get rid of unnecessary and obsolete laws. Also, with 25 years of experience working in finance, she cited an opportunity to help with the “economic situation.”
Lubke cited a desire to run to be a part of the county’s future.
“This a beautiful place, and I love it here,” Lubke said. “I would like to do everything I can to be a part of that. As a business owner, I have done budgets. As the mayor of the small city of Jenkins, we have done budgets … And we take our dollars very, very, very, very seriously.”
Franzen said she is seeking re-election because she can be a “watchdog” for taxpayer money, while Scheffler rebuffed this by saying he hopes to cut through the “insanity” the board has been going through in accepting multiple grants.
“We went from 20% grant-dependent in 2014, and now we are up to 35%,” he said. “That is insanity. It is crazy. Where is it all going? It is starting to bleed off onto our property taxes … Social service spending went from 18% in 2014 and skyrocketed to 32% with all those grants.”
The following question asked candidates how they will propose setting future tax rates, given the recent increase in property values.
Franzen said that property values are only a small portion of what goes into tax rates – it comes down to how much the county spends.
“The preliminary budget is 2.89,” Franzen said. “That is pretty darn low.
“We actually got a letter from the Department of Revenue after we set these new values, and they told us we hadn't gone high enough … We need to control our spending, and we need to get grants. We have a $100 million budget, and $42 million is paid for by taxes. $58 million is paid for by grants,” she said.
What do we need as a county, and what are the services that we, the people, are expecting the county to deliver? We start there.
Scheffler did not say how he would propose tax rates, but said the board is not telling the public the truth regarding its debt financing practices, and that many residents would see taxes increase 15-18%. He also accused the board of not caring that people may be priced out of living in Crow Wing County.
Despite competing for the same seat, Lubke and Sylvester had similar answers to controlling tax rates – namely, taxing only what is necessary to “keep the doors open,” as Lubke put it.
“What do we need as a county, and what are the services that we, the people, are expecting the county to deliver?” Sylvester asked. “We start there … The economy is changing. It is growing substantially here in Crow Wing County. District 2 is 57% of the revenue for this county. I’m not sure what the growth rate is on citizens moving there permanently, but it is exponential.”
Candidates were asked if they felt the 2020 election was conducted fairly and if they would propose any changes for future elections. Candidates mainly kept their focus on the local elections.
Franzen said she believed the election was done fairly in Crow Wing County and said the board has passed a resolution saying the county will hand-count four precincts – double the amount required by the state.
Scheffler called himself a “populist candidate” and said he would fully support however the people say they want elections to be conducted.
Lubke stated that simply not going through another pandemic during election season ought to help quell fears regarding the election, while Sylvester said she trusts the work done by local election officials, but has some qualms about the process.
“I cannot make an opinion of what happened or if it was unfair in the 2020 election. I was not an election judge, and I was not educated on our election,” Sylvester said. “I'm very impressed with our county election folks – the volunteers and the administration. I do have questions, however, on the machines.”
When candidates were asked the key difference between them and their opponents, Lubke pointed to his decades of experience in community involvement as an advantage for him, saying he does not know Sylvester well, but he has served and continues to serve on many local boards.
Sylvester responded by saying she has been coming to this area since 1974, moving permanently during the pandemic, and is proud to be a Crow Wing County resident.
Scheffler painted Franzen as dishonest, and said he would serve based on openness and transparency.
“My competitor didn't even bother answering the League of Women Voters’ questions, which was kind of disappointing," he said. "The sexual harassment issue with Andy Galles – the chief deputy – was ignored for over a year, and I don't have any tolerance for that … Someone sitting at this table was not honest, on record, about how that methadone clinic showed up. There was a letter of support that was given for it, and here it is killing people.”
Franzen pushed back, saying the situation surrounding Galles is under investigation, and data privacy reasons prevent board members from discussing it publicly. She also said a simple data request would show the board did not support the clinic.
“It just seems to me that everything that is told to you, you twist into something that isn't even accurate,” Franzen told Scheffler. “I am really, really offended by the way you conduct yourself.”
Roughly 75 people were in attendance for the forum, which was also streamed via Facebook.