The empty chair on the Goodhue County Board will remain empty until after the special election, which we now know will occur on Nov. 5, 2019. Before then, commissioners will have to certify to the state a maximum property tax levy.
Two people filed to run for the position: Linda Flanders and Darwin Fox. If one more person had filed, the November vote would have been a primary election and the special election would have been bumped to February. Now, there will be a representative for District 1 before the 2020 budget and levy are finalized and, possibly, before the final votes on moving the Bench Street Landfill into the state's Closed Landfill Program.
Since May, Commissioners Brad Anderson and Paul Drotos, chair and vice chair respectively, have favored reappointing Scott Safe, who filled in while Commissioner Ron Allen was undergoing cancer treatment.
When the vote to appoint an individual was initially raised after Allen’s death, Commissioners Barney Nesseth and Jason Majerus opposed it. Nesseth said on several occasions that he did not want to appoint someone before the election filing period was closed because he wanted to avoid creating an artificial incumbent.
Nesseth now says he never said that he would agree to appoint someone to the board once the filing period was closed -- which happened on Tuesday, Aug. 27 -- though repeatedly said that he would consider it. No appointment in expected at Tuesday's board meeting.
On Aug. 13, when the filing period opened, Nesseth changed his most common explanation for why he did not want to appoint someone. The primary reason now: He believes that issues facing the board for the remainder of the year are “too important for an appointed official.”
Majerus, meanwhile, told the board and reiterated to the Republican Eagle that none of the four people who sought the appointment was acceptable to him. (The board could only choose someone who was certified for appointment.) Majerus also raised the topics of the property tax levy and the solid waste agreement as reasons for no appointment.
As things still stand, the board is split 2-2 on both issues.
The lack of District 1 representation since Allen's death is the most common reason people have attended board meetings and spoken up, with many demanding a voice for themselves and their community including the Prairie Island Indian Community. District 1 includes half of Red Wing plus Welch Township.
The lack of full representation may have the largest impact on the county budget. An election in November means that there will be five people to vote on final levy in December. However, the County Board will vote on Sept. 17 on preliminary levy; the county will not be able to raise that amount but only decrease it after that.
Historically, Majerus has favored a flat levy. Nesseth has said he will consider some increase, and Anderson and Drotos don't want to cut services and reduce planned infrastructure maintenance.
The preliminary county levy being discussed would be about 3.8% above the current levy. Nesseth said that one of the reasons he decided not to vote to appoint Safe as the interim representative of District 1 is that Safe voted for one of the largest levy increases in the county’s history.
“Did a fine job while he was here,” Majerus noted of Safe.
Solid waste plan
Nesseth and Majerus also have cited the solid waste plan that the county and city of Red Wing are working on together as a reason to avoid making an appointment. Nesseth told the board that it was too important of a decision to be made by someone who was not elected by the district. (The commissioners are currently split 2-2. The person elected in November will most likely be the deciding vote on this issue as well.)
Nesseth and Majerus have noted that this project requiring all waste generated in the county be brought to Red Wing may affect their constituents more from than Red Wing residents. Nesseth predicts that the program will cost District 3 residents $7 million from tipping fees, building upkeep, and other expenses that come with this project.
Drotos notes that if the landfill needs to be cleaned up and isn't part of the Closed Landfill Program, all citizens will have to pay $20 million and upwards, plus ongoing monitoring fees. Red Wing residents would have to pay for the tipping fees, bonds for the new city solid waste building and part of the cost of cleaning the landfill.