Yankton County Commission candidates say there will be a number of new and old challenges to face as 2020 turns to 2021.
During a forum sponsored by the Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, four Yankton County Commission candidates — Bob Gleich, Bill Conkling, Wanda Howey-Fox and incumbent Commissioner Don Kettering — had the opportunity to answer questions for the first time in this campaign. Incumbent Commissioner Gary Swensen, who is also running this year, was unable to attend due to a prior commitment.
Among the questions asked was what the biggest challenge the county will face over the next six months will be.
Gleich said it will likely be the continuation of one of the most controversial items in the county.
“The biggest challenge is going to be getting a resolution to our zoning ordinance,” he said. “It seems to be the issue that’s kind of windrowing down the road and preventing the things we should be looking at, like future development and stuff like that.”
Kettering said the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to continue looming large over the county.
“The COVID thing is going to be a challenge for a few more months,” he said. “Getting the economy started and rolling again is going to be a challenge.”
In a similar vein to Gleich, Conkling said the county will need to deal with numerous outstanding issues that have plagued it for years.
“That includes zoning — get that straightened out so we know where we’re at and how to move forward. Resolve litigations so that’s not hanging over our head,” he said. “Resolving the funding issues for roads and bridges and how we’re going to move forward and maintain those so we don’t have to keep going back and trying to find ways to fix things.”
Howey-Fox put a focus on the lawsuits the county has faced amid the controversy over CAFO development.
“In the next six months, we need to resolve the ongoing litigation that has arisen,” she said. “There are a number of conflicts. It’s my understanding that, although some agreements have been made by the county and by the litigants, those agreements haven’t been signed, haven’t been resolved, and that needs to be resolved so everyone can move forward.”
Though it may seem like a distant memory now, the year began with a number of townships seriously exploring an exit from Yankton County due to a perception of being ignored by the County Commission.
When asked about this, Conkling said that he doesn’t see this movement going forward, but greater effort must be made to be inclusive of county residents.
“There haven’t been any petitions turned in yet, so at this point, it’s just speculation,” he said. “There are several levels they have to go through before they can actually leave, and numerous votes. I actually don’t really see it happening. I think what’s important is the County Commission needs to make sure that all the different groups of people know that they’re represented equally. The rural people, the lake area, the city residents and the small towns need to know that they’re all just as important.”
Howey-Fox acknowledged that it would be a long process to secession, but it’s something worth taking seriously due to a potential impact.
“All of the citizens of Yankton County have an equal right to have representation,” she said. “This is not (George Orwell’s) ‘Animal Farm’ where we some pigs that are more equal than others. The effect of those townships leaving Yankton County would be devastating if it did happen and it would increase the property taxes of those citizens remaining by a ridiculous amount.”
When asked which strategic partners the county should seek, Kettering said it’s important to keep the city, towns and development entities in mind.
“My first thought is the City of Yankton,” he said. “It’s close and we have lots of common goals. The seven towns in the county are strategic partners and we need to work with them to satisfy their needs and desires. We have strategic partners in YAPG and GOED — both of which can assist us in economic development.”
However, Gleich said that there’s one entity that must be a constant partner.
“The biggest partnership we have to have is with the public,” he said. “We have to inform the public and we have to educate them on why we are doing things.”
Other topics addressed Wednesday included the Highway 52 corridor, wind farms, the budget and hiring a county manager.
Two of the five candidates will be headed to the commission in the Nov. 3 general election.
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