HOUGHTON - Houghton County candidates answered questions on pressing issues facing the county at a Keweenaw Peninsula Chamber of Commerce forum Thursday.
Present were Houghton County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Makinen (Democrat) and challenger Pam Dobbs (Republican); Houghton County Treasurer Kathleen Beattie (R) and challenger Linda Pizzi (D); Houghton County Board of Commissioners District 1 candidates Tom Tikkanen (R) and Rick Kasprzak (D); District 3 Commissioner Anton Pintar (D); and District 5 candidate Judith Rupley (D). District 5 Commissioner Tim Palosaari (R) did not attend because of illness, while independent District 3 challenger Bill Manderfield was also not present.
Candidates answered a series of questions developed by the League of Women Voters of the Copper Country.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Fredi de Yampert, standing, of the Copper Country League of Women Voters, talks at a forum for Houghton County candidates hosted by the Keweenaw Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
Asked about a new county jail, the county commissioner candidates agreed a new jail was needed, but that voters would only embrace a cheaper solution. County voters rejected a $15 million, 110-bed proposal by a margin of 3-to-1 in 2010.
Pintar said the earliest he could see a successful jail proposal was 2016. That proposal would likely be smaller, and be funded by a bond lasting 15 years instead of 30 years, he said. In the meantime, he said, renovations to the newer jail make it subject to new Department of Corrections standards.
"There's a limited amount we can do even with maintenance of the jail," he said.
Tikkanen said it was unfortunate the jail was defeated, but that he believes an affordable plan can be created.
"The voice of the people prevailed," he said. "Nevertheless, the problem has not gone away."
Kasprzak said the problem voters saw with the jail was the size of the proposal; a more scaled-down model might work, he said.
"It's something we desperately need, no doubt about it," he said.
Rupley said she would support a 60-bed facility, with plumbing and other utilities designed for the possibility of expansion.
"If you built it right, you could add onto it later on," she said.
On the question of the recently approved revisions to the county's master plan, candidates stated their opposition to the idea of county-wide zoning, an opinion shared by the current county board and planning commission.
While the master plan is well-written, Tikkanen said, residents have questions about it. He said the county has an opportunity for "smart growth," contrasting it with the Traverse City area, which he said has become overbuilt.
Kasprzak said he supports the master plan, but that "Houghton County is so diverse, it would be impossible" for the county to develop the needed regulations.
Rupley said the county should have a master plan for economic reasons, but that on zoning, "we're going to let the townships have the zoning they want to."
On the subject of waste removal, Pintar said he would like to see the county add a countywide recycling program, as well as hazardous waste collection. Kasprzak said he agreed with Pintar's waste collection idea, and also suggested seeing if the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program electrical appliances collection was feasible on a countywide level. Tikkanen said transfer of solid waste would be an issue from an economic standpoint; he also addressed the need for removing the trash along recreational trails, and hoped there was a way to subsidize volunteers bringing it to the transfer station.
In the prosecutor's race, Makinen said his goals for another term would include continuing to bring the assistant prosecutor to a position where she will be able to succeed him someday if he retires or something happens to him.
The office has also reorganized the role of an office manager, and said there would be the potential of combining the office functions with the Friend of the Court office. Dobbs said she would work to "rebuild confidence in the prosecutor's office" among law enforcement and other groups.
"It's important for the county these relationships be established and strengthened," she said.
Makinen said he had an "open-door policy" for law enforcement.
"Officers can and do come into my office on a regular basis. ... There is no problem in that regard," he said.
In the treasurer's race, Beattie discussed things she introduced, including establishing the Houghton County Land Bank Authority, and pro-ownership measures such as allowing people with delinquent taxes the opportunity to pay by credit card.
"I will do everything within my power to help you, because I'm very passionate about my job," she said.
Pizzi said she planned to continue the land bank, and would also pursue grant opportunities for the county.
Many of the county candidates, plus State Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine, and Democratic challenger Scott Dianda, will be at the League of Women Voters' candidate forum on children's issues. That is scheduled for 6:30 to 9 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Hancock Middle School auditorium.