December 9, 2022
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Four candidates take up county business at forum | News, Sports, Jobs

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Jill Schramm/MDN
Ward County Commission candidates participate in a candidate forum Thursday in Minot City Hall. From left are Lance Makeeff, Jason Olson, John Fjeldahl and Alan Walter.

Economic development, property taxes and election systems were among topics aired at a Ward County Commission candidate forum Thursday in Minot.

The Minot Area Chamber EDC sponsored the forum, featuring incumbent John Fjeldahl, former commissioner Alan Walter, Lance Makeeff and Jason Olson. They are running for two open seats on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Candidates indicated they want a collaborative approach to economic development.

“It seems like we compete against each other within our own county,” Fjeldahl said.

“We need to work together with the cities,” Walter said “Put together a friendly business attitude that is inviting to businesses.”

A good county road system and progress on the proposed southwest bypass around Minot can help address the needs of businesses, he added.

“I think the businesses coming in want lower property taxes,” Makeeff said.  He said the county can work with existing economic development programs at community levels, but he doesn’t support business incentives that increase the burden on other taxpayers.

“The county, I don’t think, should be picking the winners and losers in economic development,” he said.

“It’s important to send the message that the county has a business-friendly atmosphere,” Olson said. “I think we need to engage in promotion of this area as a great place to do business and we need planning and zoning rules, a tax situation and workforce that are friendly to business.”

Fjeldahl said he opposed Tax Increment Financing as an incentive for developing the Big M building in Minot largely because of the borrowing associated with it. He said he believes the county should develop a policy to be consistent on requests for these incentives.

Walter also supported developing a policy but noted a TIF for the Big M building needed to be decided in the meantime.

“I thought it was a no-brainer that it should be approved,” he said. “That building has been sitting empty for a lot of years.”

Olson said the building was at risk of becoming county property due to delinquent taxes.

“It had asbestos issues that was going to make it a huge burden on the taxpayers to take possession of that building. And so the details of that TIF I paid very close attention to, and it made sense.”

Although he understands the concerns around the Big M building, Makeeff said, he’s not fully made up his mind on using TIF as a tool because he dislikes shifting tax burden to other taxpayers.

Candidates shared some similar views on guarding election integrity.

Olson said he prefers in-person voting, but the county needs to account for people who can’t get to the polls and need to vote absentee. 

Fjeldahl said he would keep absentee voting but would encourage more election-day polling places and longer early voting.

“I still think the in-person voting is the most reliable method you can have,” he said.

Walter agreed voting should be in person and it should be done in a day.

“We always used to do it. We can still do it. It’s just a matter of having the will to do it,” he said.

Candidates also cited the importance of cybersecurity and secure election software.

“I still want everybody to have the opportunity to vote throughout the county, but I do want to keep it as safe as possible,” Makeeff said. “Be ahead of the curve and not behind the curve on election stuff because it is so important for us as a county.”

Candidates also agreed on the need to be fiscally responsible and to hold the line on property taxes. 

“My first thoughts always go to the taxpayers,” Makeeff said “They are under tough times, too. We are looking at tough times ahead.”

However, candidates were most engaged in discussing the entrance of a Bismarck campaign finance organization into the race to support Olson and Walter. Both Olson and Walter stated they have no ties to the Brighter Future Alliance.

“This is completely outside of our control,” Olson said. “On the same token, I’m happy to have support from people that want to support me. I just don’t want the public to be confused as to where these dollars and where this came from, because it didn’t come from us.”

Walter said he has no idea where the support is coming from, either, but he appreciates any support.

“It’s dirty money,” Makeeff said. “But it is legal for them to do that. It’s never been done before. I don’t know how the county pushes back, but I certainly want the county to know what is going on.”

He said he would be telling voters to ask questions if it was his name on the Brighter Future billboards because that outside support brings into scrutiny the motives behind any votes cast if elected. Fjeldahl, who believes his voting record may have made him the campaign target, said he would have a conversation with anyone who launched that kind of campaign for him without his permission.

“I don’t know if it’s dirty politics, but it’s politics at its worst,” he said. 



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