Candidates for the District 4 Crow Wing County commissioner seat had their sharpest exchange on the subject of per diem payments.
Challenger Gene Goedker said the per diem issue, additional pay to commissioners for attending meetings, was one of the reasons he decided to run for office. He noted a 2009 state auditor opinion critical of the county's per diem policy. While the board tweaked the per diem payments, Goedker said it wasn't enough. He was critical of his opponent's $9,000 in per diems. He also noted the commissioners raised their own pay in 2007 and 2008.
Incumbent Rosemary Franzen said she resigned her job in the Brainerd School District when she was elected four years ago to devote her full-time to the county board.
"I've been assigned more committees than any other commissioner," Franzen said, noting she serves on 29 committees. "It's a big job, a full-time job and I take it very seriously."
Goedker said the county's annual salary of about $28,000 was enough to cover additional meetings that are in the immediate area.
"My opponent is collecting as much as she can and to me it is like milking the system," Goedker said.
"I'm not collecting as much as I can," Franzen said. "The year I went to 300 meetings that would have been $15,000. ... Per diems are part of our pay.
"We are the bosses for the entire county and we are the lowest paid people there."
Franzen said the commissioners haven't taken a pay raise for three years and said she takes per diems for meetings the county board assigns to her.
"There is a big difference between milking your system and between doing your job," Franzen said, adding is someone is doing more they should be paid for doing more.
"No one works for free and I don't think you will either," Franzen told Goedker.
Franzen pointed to the county's work in the last years to combine offices, cut staff and trim millions out of budgets. She said the county has made positive strides, including televising meetings. She said she worked with Thirty Lakes Watershed District on the County Road 4 construction project and saved $100,000 and said the need for funding to replace trees on the Riverside Drive project was added at her request.
Franzen said she takes time to listen, does her research and gets to work. She said she's spent hundreds of hours on issues and tries to be fair.
"These last four years have been challenging, really challenging for all of us," Franzen said. "The county board has heard you loud and clear. You cannot afford more taxes."
In terms of budget challenges, Franzen said the county needs to learn to live without getting money from the state and to do more with less and be more efficient. She said with state mandated services, the county needs to see if it can get relief from state legislators.
"We can't cut everything," Franzen said. "My priorities are public safety, transportation and environment and those are things that we need to continue to put money into."
Goedker said the county has to hold the line on taxes, spending and fees. He said the county board needs to set the example and said he'd meet with department heads to see what could be cut or where private services may be used.
"We have some very difficult times ahead of us," Goedker said, noting the county can expect to see property values go down for the immediate future, meaning less revenue for the county and making it important to live within the budget. For the future, Goedker said the county needs to engage more people and make the county board more accessible.
Both candidates supported lake improvement districts.
Franzen said she'd provide steady leadership. Goedker said his business background would be a plus and he is committed to serving a single term.
"I think whatever they can throw at me I can adapt to," Goedker said.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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