May 29, 2024

Candidates talk taxes and turbines

Union County Board of Supervisor candidates Dennis Brown, Rick Friday, Bill Oetekn and Tom Spencer address the audience Thursday during a forum held at Southwestern Community College.

The four Republican ticket candidates for the two Union County Supervisor seats on the June 4 primary ballot explained their stances and visions for the future during a forum held Thursday at Southwestern Community College.

Incumbents Dennis Brown, Rick Friday and candidates Bill Oetken and Tom Spencer were invited to the forum sponsored by the Creston News Advertiser, KISB Radio and the Creston Chamber of Commerce.

Brown has served since being elected in 2010. Brown’s family owned Charlie Brown Auto in Creston for 44 years. Friday farms near Lorimor and has been a supervisor since 2018, initially filling a vacancy. Spencer, a native of Creston and a former BNSF employee, owns Spencer’s Chophouse in Creston. Oetken moved to Creston in 1972. Past work includes Easters and Office Machines. He owned Office Machines the last 10 years of the business until he closed it.

For more than the past year, Union County Board of Supervisors have had a suspension of all new commercial wind turbine projects and, at the same time, are making revisions to the county’s wind turbine ordinance. Other southwest Iowa counties have also revised their ordinances. Candidates were asked about how they see the future of the county with turbines.

“We need to be very very careful we don’t totally industrialize our county,” Friday said. The county has had 34 turbines since 2020.

He said 3% of calls he has received are in favor of turbines and the remaining are interested in further setbacks; the distance a turbine can be from a property.

“What kind of government are we if we don’t listen to people who put us in this position,” he said. Friday said great care must be taken as the county takes out bonds against future revenue. “All of us our co-signers of that. We all hope it works. If it doesn’t we have to be very careful moving forward.”

The county has begun using property tax revenues from the turbines for infrastructure improvements in areas of the county where there are turbines.

Friday said the waivers between landowners who want a turbine and neighbors who are not participating about the setbacks are a tool.

“That waiver gives neighbors an opportunity to talk to each other they can decide if a turbine can be placed closer to the property,” he said.

Spencer said it‘s a two-sided hot topic. “Every county is the same way.”

Spencer said he respects the concept of renewable energy but “Government overreach has no place in Union County.”

“I don’t think the government should be able to tell what you can or can not do with your property, where you want wind turbines or not want wind turbines.”

Spencer said he will protect the rights and privileges, safety and welfare of the property of the county and its residents.

“Even these small amount of rights and privileges taken away by local government, never to be restored. I will never take them away from future generations.”

Brown said the turbine industry is constantly changing. “They keep getting bigger and bigger. I sometimes wonder if we have enough knowledge on the local level to make those decisions. Every county in Iowa tries to find that sweet spot where placement of turbines is just right. I don’t think everybody has done it yet. It’s a moving target. Our goal is trying to be fair.”

Oetken said he does not know much about turbines.

“Aesthetically I hate they ruin our countryside,” he said. “It is what certain people want.” Oetken said he was in agreement with Friday’s view.

The county’s suspension on turbines is scheduled to end in July.

Candidates were asked about their strategy with House File 718. Approved by legislation, county budgets must meet certain levy amounts which may restrict revenue growth. Candidates were asked how they would meet the requirement but still provide adequate services.

Brown said he relies on every department head and said they have understood the needs.

This has thrown everyone for a loop,” he said. “We are going to have sit down year by year with each department head and some of those decisions are going to be tough,” he said. “This year was kind of a booger but we will get through it because we have to.”

Friday said he attended a conference about the ruling and there were “a lot of counties really concerned about it.”

“We have a very good auditor and before we left Sandy and I knew we were gong to be OK.” Union County has less than the maximum amounts.

Friday said the letter sent earlier this year, that costed $5,000, to inform the taxpayers was very confusing.

“I think legislation is going to fix that, make it more complicated,” he said. “We have our hands full next year, but we are ready for it.”

Friday said he was pleased with how the elected officials maintained their budget and the county engineer is not planning a budget amendment, the first for Friday as a supervisor.

“If we continue to see valued growth, which we probably will, how is this going to effect our levy. We don’t know that yet,” he said.

Oetken called courthouse staff is outstanding. “My main concern is economic development of the county. I want to be part of that and retain business and help businesses that are struggling so we can keep them here. We have a lot for this city, SWCC, the hospital and recreation. Getting some economic development going will help us in the long run.”

Spencer said he is learning the house file. “A lot of the counties south of us are really going to struggle, possibly bankrupt. If you show economic growth, you also get penalized. We all need to talk to our state legislators to see if we can get some relief.”

He called it the most important issue in Union County.

Brown said secondary roads is critical as the county spends the most money in that department. He also called the county one of the higher tax counties in the state.

“We need to be more efficient and we have exceeded in cases,” he said.

Friday said working with HF 718 and the 800 miles of county roads are imporant.

“To someone every mile is important. It is important to me. I’ve seen improvement and we plan to start building our own bridge.

He also wants more attention on Osage street, he said is one of the busier roads in the county and to Hi and Dry Road.

Oetken said he wants to look for new indsutry and businesses to come.

Spencer said taxes are critical.

“Everybody I talk to say we are drowning in property tax. That needs to be addressed. Secondary roads is the heart and soul of rural Union County,” he said.

Whoever is elected, the four-year term begins Jan. 1, 2025. Candidates were asked how they envision the county after the term ends.

Friday said he hopes the county’s communication system debt is paid off.

“Young people moving to our county. That is our future. They need a reason to come home,” he said. He favors support of entrepreneurship and affordable living.”

He said his children reflect others in the generation.

“There is nothing to do. We need to create more opportunity,” he said. “This county is beautiful. We have a lot of opportunity. Our children need to build homes here, go to school here. We don’t want to be Waukee, build a new school every other year. We need to bring our kids home.”

Oetken agreed with Friday. “Get them to come or stay,” he said about possible residents.

Spencer also said more young people need to come to the county.

“We need jobs. That is the bottom line. if we have jobs we could attract more people to our community. We need industry. That will lower our property tax evaluation as we spread it over multiple people. That is what is I fight the most over. I’d like to leave Union County in better shape than I got it.”

Brown noted wanting to end the population decline stop and stabilize tax levels.

“Everyone has outlined some great ideas. Let’s put these ideas in motion by voting for Tom Spencer. A lot of work needs to be done to get everybody the quality of life they deserve and pay for in Union County. I’m the person for this job. We need new ideas, lower taxes and incentives for businesses. A chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage Hoover once said. That statement can still be relevant today,” Spencer said.

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.