Three people are running for two seats on the Stutsman County Commission. Voters will choose the commission members on Election Day, Nov. 3. The two elected will serve a four-year term.
Incumbent Mark Klose is seeking reelection. Commissioner Dave Schwartz is not seeking reelection. Also seeking a position are Joan Morris and Jill Schwartz.
Those elected on Nov. 3 take office on Dec. 7. County commissioners are paid $12,364.25 annually, according to Nicole Meland, Stutsman County auditor and chief operating officer.
The candidates were asked four written questions. The questions and answers follow; the answers were not changed in any way.
1. Why should voters choose you to serve on the Stutsman County Commission?
Mark Klose: I believe I have the experience and dedication to continue serving as your Stutsman County Commissioner. During my tenure, I have established many positive relationships at the local, state and national levels. I believe I have a very good understanding of County Government. I have served on numerous boards, and currently serve as Commission Chairman, and am a member of the Jamestown Stutsman Economic Development Board, Law Enforcement Governing Authority, County Park Board, Weed Board, Personal Committee and Grievance Committee. Stutsman County is fortunate to have a loyal and dedicated staff which I work well with. Understanding that county services cost money, I will continue to keep the tax payers in mind and to look at ways to be as efficient as possible. I am also proud of the fact that Stutsman County is in good financial standing. With that said I like the job and would appreciate the opportunity to serve another term as your Stutsman County Commissioner.
Joan Morris: I am a Jamestown High School graduate with deep roots in the county as my family has lived in Stutsman County since the 1890’s. I am invested in the County and care about its citizens and their quality of life. Over the past years, I have worked with projects to try to improve everyday life in the County, such as the renovation of Trapper Field (softball field at McElroy Park), the Arts Center, Safe Shelter building, the Senior Citizens Center, Daily Bread – Jamestown, the Chamber of Commerce and the Sensory Garden. Often my contributions have involved grant writing, laying out realistic project financial projections and timelines and seeking collaborative input from other interested parties. Having a career as a financial controller at Chicago, IL (Abbott Laboratories) and North Dakota (Agri-Cover, Inc and John Deere) factories, I am used to analyzing problems and issues in challenging environments and seeking cost-effective resolutions. I am hoping my financial background would prove useful to the County Commission.
Jill Schwartz: As a fifth generation Stutsman County resident, I will bring both experience and passionate love for our county to this office. I have been fortunate to have traveled and lived across the world and no place compares to our home. I have strong personnel management and budgetary oversight experience coupled with a solid track record of success in the private sector. Serving the people of Stutsman County would be a privilege and honor. Voters will be reposing their trust into capable hands when they vote for me on November 3rd.
2. What, in your opinion, is the greatest need in the county faces?
Klose: I believe that most all current needs are economically driven. With that said, our economic development efforts are very important to the future of Stutsman County. Job retention and creation while maintaining and building our tax base are key. Creating opportunities for businesses to construct and expand also provides opportunities for our citizens to enjoy a better lifestyle. With all the developments and activities from COVID-19, it may be very challenging for some businesses to survive. We need to continue our economic development efforts to ensure we have a friendly business climate while providing employment opportunities for our citizens.
Morris: The most glaring need is infrastructure (roads and bridges) in need of desperate repair. Keeping roadways in great condition aids our farm to market activities and is a public safety necessity. Currently, the cost of some infrastructure repair is out of reach for most townships, counties and other local governments. Even with outside (state and federal aid) cost sharing, the repairs are difficult to complete, especially when such outside aid requires additional restrictions, studies and reports. North Dakota state aid (such as the recent “Prairie Dog” funding project) has helped.to complete some projects. But, given the current economic conditions as a result of the pandemic and low agricultural and oil prices, it is uncertain how much state aid will be coming these next few years. The County needs to be ready to seek and acquire any and all road outside funding that is made available. In addition, County officials need constant communication with area ND legislators and the Congressional Delegation in the hopes of obtaining much needed help with these repairs.
Schwartz: In my opinion, the greatest need for Stutsman County is to secure funding from the North Dakota Legacy Fund to alleviate pressure on our County and townships in regard to road maintenance. The record years of moisture, lack of drainage and the growing problem of crumbling roads that large numbers of our townships face has resulted in many going deeply into debt. It is not logical to assume that our townships can carry the weight of this burden for much longer.
3. The county is receiving Land around Jamestown Reservoir from the Bureau of Reclamation. What potential public uses could be made of that land?
Klose: The property has easements which somewhat restrict its possible uses. One for sure project is the Farmers Union Youth Camp. Other possible ideas I am aware of at this time, include an indoor shooting range and wildlife management areas.
Morris: The federal legislation that allows for the transfer of the reservoir land to the Stutsman County Park Board limits the use of this land for public recreational use. The land, except for the cabin lots, cannot be sold. There are endless opportunities for the recreational use of this land. Farmers Union is commencing the building of a $2.5 million youth summer camp. Other parties have made preliminary inquiries for possible land rental for other recreational uses. The reservoir land offers tourism opportunities, including fishing, bird watching and camping. This tourism activity contributes to our tax base. The land transfer is a win for local residents, as instead of having land use dictated by others, there will now be local governance over the use of this land.
Schwartz: I believe it would be premature to share my personal opinion on potential public use for this land due to the fact that we are still awaiting the land conveyance agreement from Dickenson. Currently, there are already discussions being had about the construction of an indoor shooting range. Conversations are a great start to the process for development, but there are still many unknown factors that need to be weighed before making a decision. With that being said, Stutsman County recently secured a contract with North Dakota Farmers Union to develop a large tract of this land for the future site of the Farmers Union Camp, which will be an incredible asset to the area once completed.
4. In addition to the greatest need the county faces (question 2), what other priorities do you believe are critical for Stutsman County?
Klose: Road infrastructure is always high on the list. The wet weather over the past several years has created real problems for township and county roads. Repair costs are high and this creates real economic issues. There is often state and federal assistance; however local match money may not be available. Another critical area is our Correctional Facility. Some of our operational income is from contract housing of inmates, and that number has declined in recent years, and in turn less revenue is available. We continue to solicit contract inmates, and when the COVID-19 issue gets resolved, we are hopeful our numbers will improve. Palmer Amaranth, a new noxious weed, was recently discovered in our county. This has huge financial implications for our agriculture producers, and we need to work with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture to find an economical way to control this problem. In closing, I would like to point out that these are some of the important issues facing Stutsman County and will have to be carefully managed.
Morris: Although Stutsman County is operating with strong reserve balances, continued tax increases to fund County needs are not sustainable. The County must maintain basic services without tax increases while being prepared for emergencies and other events. This must be balanced with paying a fair wage to our hard working County employees. An increase in the tax base (new economic activity) is critical. I would look to support the JSDC in securing potential economic projects’ commitment to Stutsman County.
Schwartz: The recent crisis North Dakota is facing due to the downturn of the oil industry and the Covid-19 pandemic, will most definitely cause budgetary impacts for our county. We will need to prepare and plan for funding shortfalls in the future if we don’t see an increase in state revenue in the near future. A critical priority for Stutsman County residents is to understand and brace for this subsequent event.