Lyon County Board candidates discuss economy, worker shortage | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo by Deb Gow Candidates for the Leon County Board, David Sturrock, Todd Draper, Charlie Sano and Tom Andres, took questions submitted by area residents during a forum event in Marshall Thursday night.

MARSHALL — Infrastructure needs, the county budget, and a widespread worker shortage were all topics that came up at Thursday’s Leon County Board candidate panel. District 1 and 2 commissioner candidates introduced themselves and took community questions.

There are three Leon County Commissioner seats up for election on Nov. 8, but only two of the races are contested. Commissioner Charlie Small is running for re-election in Commissioner District 1 against challenger Thomas Andres. Candidates in Commissioner District 2 are Todd Draper and David Sturk. Commissioner Paul Groopman is unopposed in Commissioner District 3.

Candidates in the two competitive races answered questions on a variety of topics, including area businesses facing worker shortages.

Small agreed that Southwest Minnesota needs workers.

“In our nine-county region right now, we have an unemployment rate of less than 2%,” Sano said. He said he was committed to the community, and encouraged professionals to return to Leon County. Area counties were also looking for ways to bring people to the area, he said. “We’re ready to work with everyone we can. We’ve tried to figure out the plans, and we’ve done the things we can to try to move those things together.”

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Sturak said the worker shortage is a complex issue, and one that is being experienced statewide.

“You can’t either keep (workers) or attract new ones, both because of the availability and cost of housing — day care, and to some extent transportation. The county has a role in each of those, but it’s certainly not primary. “ he said. Partnering with other groups and leveraging available funding can help address those underlying problems, he said.

“The county still has unallocated ARPA funds from the COVID relief package passed by Congress. Perhaps there is an opportunity to tap into those funds,” Sturrock said. He said the county may be able to access state grants to push for more broadband Internet development.

Andres agreed that child care availability is a major issue in attracting workers to Leon County. He said that by expanding broadband access in this area, more people can be brought in.

“People are moving out of the cities, and now they want to return to rural communities. So, as a board and as a community, we need to do everything we can to create conditions where they can live and prosper.” Andrews said.

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Draper said having strong communities and good schools will help make Leon County attractive to people moving out of the cities.

“There’s a shortage, and with inflation, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But as long as we have a good community for them to come to, I think it’s going to help us.” Draper said.

Commissioner candidates also spoke about their priorities, and why they were running for county board.

Small said one of the reasons he is running for re-election is to help put some experience in county leadership during a time of staff and board turnover.

“This past year, we lost our auditor and his deputy, we lost our human resources person, and we lost two other positions in our county. (Commissioner Steve) Ritter is leaving, so is the county attorney,” Sano said. “With the experience that I have, I want to stay there, and they want me to be able to stay there and continue to work to keep things stable.”

Andries said he thought the county needed it “Think outside the box” For ways to keep property taxes under control, including the possibility of more part-time employees, or working with townships to clear snow from streets.

“Inflation is on everyone’s mind right now in terms of border spreads,” Andrews said. “When elected to the commission, I promise to keep a very tight rein on property taxes. The commission must hold the line on taxes.

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Draper said he considered running for county commissioner when he heard Steve Ritter was not running for re-election.

“I told myself, this might be a good time for me to give back to the community,” Draper said.

“If elected, one of my goals is to spend time with each department head and talk about things that are going on within their department and within the county, and get familiar with what’s going on. To talk to the current commissioners — they have a lot of knowledge.”

Sturrock said some of his priorities include planning for the county’s future and working to make county government more accessible to the public.

“The state government is relatively mysterious,” Sturrock said. “An awful lot of it is just the structure of the counties and what they do, but there are things we can do to fix it or help.”

Sturrock suggested live streaming county board sessions, or having more detailed information on the county budget process easily found on the county’s website.

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