The issue of county roads and how best to maintain them were a focus of the KCSR/KBPY Election Forum during the Dawes County Commissioners race Tuesday night.
Candidates Levi Grant and Marissa Betson are vying for the vacancy that will be left when Webb Johnson retires from the seat this year.
Both candidates said roads are the top infrastructure priority facing the county, with Grant saying roads and the overall budget will be his main priorities if elected. With more than 600 miles of roads, the county needs to find innovative ways to spend money wisely to get more accomplished, he said. Betson said it’s important that the county works to update and maintain roads the right way the first time, rather than using “band-aid” techniques.
The candidates also agreed that there seems to be a lack of communication across the road department with little clarity about what the foremen, superintendent and crew are doing and how they are making decisions. The commissioners need to be more aware of what is taking place, Betson said, and work to listen to the road employees’ insights. A question from the audience regarding making the county comply with state laws regarding the size of rock allowed on roads had both candidates answering that the county should follow those laws; however, they each pointed out that it’s not as straight-forward as it may appear, as the different classifications of roads have varying standards.
Another question from the audience asked the candidates whether or not they would agree to keep the current road superintendent should he change his mind about his current resignation timeline. Grant and Betson each said it’s hard to make that judgement without being a sitting commissioner, as the county must hire someone with certain qualifications to receive its State Highway Allocation dollars. Betson added that if applicants are sparse, she would like to see the county work harder to find qualified applicants.
When it come’s to growing the county’s economy, Betson said the county needs to figure out how to attract more retail services and factories to increase tax dollars and provide jobs.
“We’ve done a lousy job with economic development in this area,” Grant said. “We don’t shop locally.” Addressing basic issues like shopping locally, keeping regulations at a minimum and offering a welcoming hand should be the focus so private industry can thrive, he said. Both candidates expressed a desire to continue to grow tourism in the region as well.
During closing statements, each candidate stressed the need for the county to be fiscally responsible and creative in how to become more productive and efficient.