WINONA — With the Aug. 14 Minnesota primary election approaching, the Winona chapter of the League of Women Voters hosted a forum Thursday for the three candidates running for Winona County Commissioner District 5.
Incumbent Marcia Ward faced off against her two challengers, Lewiston City Council Member Bryce Lange and longtime Winona-area activist Lynn Carlson, answering a series of questions.
After initial introductions, the questions were as follows:
What are the top three issues facing Winona County?
Ward listed the ongoing discussion over the county jail, the county budget, and out-of-home child placements as the biggest issues facing the county. “That has skyrocketed and become a huge budget item,” she said.
Carlson pointed to production of healthy food through sustainable land use, soil quality and water quality as the biggest issues in the county. “We’ve got townships that have water they cannot drink. It’s been going on for about nine years,” she said, adding some of those townships have e. coli in their water.
Lange agreed that the jail is one of the biggest issues facing the county. “We’re sending prisoners to Wabasha and Houston counties,” he said. “I have to believe we’re losing money and not solving the problem.” Other top issues in the county, he said, include economic development in small towns and rural Winona County.
What priorities are there for funding social services?
Lange told a story about being approached at the Winona County Fair by a man who had a 10-day-old baby who had been taken from its parents. “He said there’s no one to represent that child in court,” Lange said. “I think there’s something we should be looking into to represent those in need.”
Carlson pointed to a shortage of licensed foster care providers in the county and a need to feed low-income families, ensuring access to healthy food.
“Social services is a menagerie of funding,” Ward said. “It’s sorrowfully underfunded.” She pointed to the state regulations that require the county to deal with out-of-home placements, adding that the state provides no funding for this mandated program.
What are you doing to promote the prevention of domestic violence and stalking prevention?
Carlson said she’s worked with the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action and its leaders to help push for universal background checks so that individuals with histories of domestic violence don’t get guns.
Community education and access to resources are key components to battling domestic violence and stalking, Lange said. Keeping those resources funded is where the county comes in.
Ward pointed out the county already helps fund resources such as the women’s resource center and, of course, the sheriff’s office, which responds to calls of domestic violence. “We’ve talked about this on the state level for materials and training,” she said.
What is your opinion of the work being done concerning high-speed rail?
Currently, county and AmTrak officials have moved away from high-speed rail and placed an emphasis on getting a second Chicago-to-Twin Cities passenger train, Ward said. She added she supports the effort because it gives commuters an alternative to driving, and it can help students traveling to and from Winona-area colleges. “I think it’s a boon to the immediate area,” she said.
Lange said bringing high-speed rail could help with economic development and the reduction of the carbon footprint in the area due to less car usage. “It would expand the area for commuters,” he said. “People could live in Winona and work in (the Twin Cities).”
Carlson said too often today people practically live in their cars, adding she’d support more train service.
Should the county fund a new jail?
Carlson said that with both the Wabasha and Houston county jails at about 40 percent capacity, it does not make sense to build a jail in Winona County. That said, she’d like to see the 911 dispatch office moved from the jail to the new county building.
“I’m skeptical that exporting prisoners is cheaper,” Lange said. He’d like to see the cost-benefit analysis on the issue. But looking down the road, he said, it might seem expensive now to build a new jail, but the need in the future is likely.
Ward said the county needs to wait until the current jail committee completes its work and brings in all the facts to be weighed. But for now, taking prisoners to Wabasha and Houston counties is the financially prudent move.
“We’re getting a very good price per day,” she said. “The cost of a new jail would be $150 per day (per inmate). Right now, we’re paying $50 per day.”
Do you support the ban on frac sand mining?
Both Carlson and Lange said they supported the ban that was passed in October 2016. Lange added that reversing the ban could hurt the landscape and tourism in Winona County.
Ward said that the issue of the ban is now in the courts, and the courts will decide if the ban was the right choice or not.