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Mower commissioners must be more prudent

How soon we forget. It was an independent auditor’s report by the state of Minnesota less than four years ago that reported that the county assets exceeded liabilities by $104,674,299 at the close of 2005.

The state auditor went on to report that the county had a combined fund balance of $30,471,180. How embarrassing that our fund balance was higher than any other similar county in the state. The audit reported that the county at the time was investigating the possibility of building a new criminal justice center.

Today, four short years later we learn that the new justice center will probably exceed $35 million. The fund balance has all but disappeared and our taxes are increasing at an alarming rate to pay for the new justice center. If I didn’t know better I would say that a shell game was going on over at the county building.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently blasted the Mower County Board for giving themselves a pay raise while Minnesota residents are wondering how they will pay their real estate taxes in the spring or their fuel bills this winter.

The commissioners are honorable men and we all make mistakes. However, we have entered into uncharted waters. Setting an example of prudence and responsibility is both appropriate and desirable. This is especially true when we are expecting the same from Main Street.

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Maybe our county commissioners could take a lesson from City Administrator Jim Hurm. He gave up a well-deserved increase in salary.

One is always concerned that the county might ultimately pay the price from comments loosely expressed. Might the governor cut Mower County’s Maintenance of Effort as a result of recent comments from the commissioners which could translate into even higher taxes for our residents?

Controversy is not new for our friends at the county building. More than a couple of decades ago our courthouse and county building were remodeled and updated. However, the project came in behind schedule and over budget. Within the past 10 years the county took on the project with the city of building an ice arena at the Mower County Fairgrounds. The city came to the rescue and finished the project, which is now known as Packer Arena.

Every hardship brings opportunities. Ultimately, it will be during the next election that the citizens of Mower County will determine whether the commissioners have treated the residents fairly and acted in their best interest.

Would it not be wonderful if the office of county commissioner had a two-term limit? This would allow new faces and a fresh breath of air into county government. Transparency and new leadership is needed if we are to have continued confidence in our local government.

The county commissioner jobs are not careers but opportunities for citizens to assist in the governance of their own communities.

Roger Boughton is a longtime Austin resident and a former member of the city council.

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