For the race of Dodge County Board of Supervisors, District Three, Republican incumbent Lon Strand faces a challenge from Democrat Daniel Beerbohm. The district encompasses much of the county’s rural areas — Hooper and Scribner, along with the Townships of Hooper/Winslow, Logan, Everett, Cuming, Pebble, Webster and Nickerson. Both candidates spoke to the Tribune about their campaigns and the issues affecting Dodge County.
Strand is a fourth generation Dodge County farmer, currently finishing his third term. Strand previously served on church boards, the Logan Township board, the Logan View school board and others. He also runs a family construction company.
Strand says that he’s most proud of Dodge County’s ability to keep the budget down, arguing that it’s historically in the bottom 10 percent of the county levies in the state.
“You can ask any department head in the county and they would tell you it’s like trying to get blood out of tomato to get more money,” he said. “We’ll hold them to it, and they’ll do their job, and we respect each other in that regards.”
This year, the budget did go up, leading to a 27 percent increase in the tax request and an increase in the tax levy. That was driven in large part by a growing jail population and a recently approved contract with Motorola to overhaul the county’s reportedly outdated emergency public radio system — an $11 million project considered crucial for public safety.
At board meetings, Strand has argued that while the tax increase was unfortunate, the county’s share of the property tax is still significantly lower than other taxing entities, and its levy remains lower than most other counties.
The biggest challenge in Dodge County will be preparing for forecasted population growth, Strand said. The county will need to figure out how to address potentially increased demand on fire departments, police departments, the jail system, and roads. Strand said it’s important to be proactive, but also to be efficient — to not spend money “unnecessarily” on projects, and rather put money where needs emerge as the county grows.
“If we can figure it out ahead of time, that’s great, but if not, be ready to do something in a short amount of time,” he said.
He also said the county needs to be responsive to the evolving needs of rural areas.
As the board considered approving the Motorola project, Strand expressed frustration at meetings that rural fire and police departments had not been adequately informed about the costly project. Motorola ultimately offered those entities a 12-month grace period to decide whether to opt in or out of the project. Strand says that outreach to those entities is ongoing.
On the board of supervisors, Strand is the chairman of the roads and bridges committee. Strand highlighted several big state road projects that the county needs to pay close attention to: the addition of a four-lane highway between Norfolk and Scribner, and also between Schuyler and Fremont, as well as the southeast beltway project.
“The county has to get feeder roads to those projects, and that’s going to require some funding and some budgeting going forward here,” he said.
He added that there is some money set aside for those projects.
The incoming Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry project is also a focus area. With the board receiving and considering applications for poultry barn operations, which could increase truck traffic, there’s a need to make sure roads are maintained.
Strand said that Lincoln Premium Poultry has worked with the board to identify the routes it intends on using.
“I don’t know if we’ve really ramped up and got those roads ready, but we’re aware of which ones they’re going to be and prepared ourselves for that situation,” he said.
Strand says he believes the board has done a good job in vetting poultry barn applications, and that it prepared its zoning and livestock processes ahead of time. He also suggested that the process could change as concerns arise. Currently, for instance, the process only requires applicants to notify property owners directly adjacent to the site of a proposed livestock operation. Strand suggested that could be expanded to include more residents.
While Beerbohm is running in this election as a Democrat, he says he’s actually an independent. In 2014, he unsuccessfully challenged Strand for the supervisor seat. In that race, he ran as a Republican in the primary.
“I’m still kind of an independent, but running as a Democrat because you got to be in a party to run for a seat as a supervisor,” he said.
Beerbohm is a lifelong resident of Dodge County who has been a full-time farmer since 2011, though his family’s had a farm between Scribner and Snyder since 1989. Prior to farming, he worked for Fremont Health for three and a half years and was involved in maintenance and transportation for West Point Public Schools for four years.
He’s also currently on the Pebble Township Board and is running for re-election for that office as well.
Beerbohm believes it’s “time for a change” in the board of supervisors. If elected, he promises to keep open lines of communication with all the county department heads and to ensure that he considers “not just one area,” but the whole county in mind in decision making.
He believes the board needs to be more aggressive in seeking additional financing opportunities, like federal grants, for costly projects and to help prepare the county for growth. He pointed to the Motorola project, which he feels was approved without enough consideration of financial alternatives.
“I know a lot of our fire departments can’t afford what the county’s trying to force on them or trying to get them to pay from what I understand,” Beerbohm said. “We need to look at ways of financing that to help out these small fire departments so we don’t hurt them financially.”
For their part, board members have expressed frustration at declining opportunities for state aid for projects like the Motorola project and have argued that “endless hours” were spent trying to hammer down spending and finalize discounts with Motorola.
But Beerbohm also believes the board meetings are not accessible enough to the general public. Currently, public hearings are held every other Wednesday at 9 a.m. If elected, Beerbohm says he would push the board to consider hosting at least one meeting after work hours, so more members of the public could attend.
Other priorities for Beerbohm include working with the county’s corporate partners — particularly Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry, as well as WholeStone Farms, the new owners of the Fremont Hormel plant. He hopes to keep open lines of communication with WholeStone to monitor the status of the plant and ensure that the company invests in it to keep its workers employed.
He said the county is “fortunate” that Costco chose Dodge County to settle in and lauded the company’s investment. He also said he’d keep tabs on the barns going up in the area and would be hesitant to support projects pursued by those who live outside the county.
“If it’d be a person within the county that wants to keep the family farm going, then the board’s going to have to look and say ‘OK, so we’re going to have a little bit of extra expense on keeping the roads up,’” he said. “So are we going to put that and reflect that back onto Costco with their tax levy for their operation in Dodge County, or are we going to look at some other ways to do it?”