Incumbent La Crosse County Board member Dan Ferries faces challenger Connor Nagy in the 16th District. The candidates in contested county board races were all asked the same set of questions to gauge their views and qualifications for the job.
Why do you want to serve?
Ferris: Since being elected in 2010 to serve the constituents in District 16, I remain committed to being fiscally responsible with county taxpayers hard-earned money while providing valuable services to all residents.
Nagy: I am running for the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors to help serve the community. I am a lifelong resident and would like an opportunity to give back to a community that has given me so much.
What qualities/experiences make you a good candidate?
Ferries: I vote for the citizens in District 16 like I run my life. While the rates are low for borrowing, there comes a time when borrowing needs to be repaid. We need to do what’s best for all county residents but also proceed with caution so we can continue with the best bond rating for the taxpayers and county as a whole.
Nagy: I come from a family of public servants, and from my time serving as a state Senate intern I realized I have a passion and drive for public service. I would add diversity to the board as my age will help add to conversations as I bring my own unique set of experiences to the table.
Identify the three most important issues facing the board
Ferries: Drugs: To addressing opiate and other addictive drug issues (which also tie into the homeless population), we should continue open communication with treatment facilities, courts, health care facilities, families, schools, etc. to heighten attention of the effects addiction has on families and communities. Make information readily and easily accessible on the county website and through numerous venues on the type of aid and support offered for recovery.
Roads: Tapping into excess sales tax revenue, the county cash reserve, along with working with legislators to find out how we can work together to achieve the goal of repairing roads and infrastructure.
Attracting more residents and businesses to La Crosse County: Additional businesses and residents generate more tax revenue to accomplish our goals to become better in all La Crosse County services. Continue to work with all La Crosse County communities, La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce, and other entities who focus on attracting businesses and people to God’s Country.
Nagy: Roads: Our roads are critically underfunded and are in desperate need of repair. I’ve heard from many people who’ve needed to replace suspension systems and tire after tire because of our underfunded roads. We need a long-term funding solution. I would do my part by lobbying the state to fund our roadways as they have done in years past.
Opioid and drug addiction: Drug addiction is here in our community and it’s worse than ever before. In 2017, the number of people who died from overdoses doubled. Emergency room visits and hospitalizations have doubled since the year prior as well. Drug addiction has reached epidemic proportions. This is the first year that my generation’s life expectancy is shorter than our parents’. A major reason for this is due to opioids and drug addiction. We need to continue funding our health and human services programs to tackle this epidemic.
Mental health: Mental illnesses, according to the U.S. Surgeon General report (2015), are now more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease. The county has also seen an alarmingly high rate of suicide in the past two years, showing the greater need for resources in our schools and in our community health centers. Coupled with drug addiction, mental health has also grown to systemic proportions. We cannot allow cuts to our health and human services at a time when we need them the most.
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Should the county pursue a premier resort area tax to fund roads?
Ferries: The resort area tax originally was intended for resort areas in which tourists were the main source of funding. Unfortunately, it has gone beyond that to fill gaps in budgets for counties and communities across the state. La Crosse County does not meet the current criteria as established by state statute. Additional road funding needs to be addressed but being careful not to add another tax/user fee on the back of our county residents. Recently, the Onalaska Common Council (which encompasses District 16) voted unanimously they were not in favor of the PRAT due to it being an unfair burden on the taxpayers.
Nagy: The PRAT was an attempt to come up with a solution to insufficient road funding. There are over $100 million of unmet La Crosse County road needs. This tax is effectively dead on arrival, as the state has refused to move on the voters’ non-binding referendum. This is an example of the state’s erosion of local controls and refusal to respect the voters’ wishes. If the state doesn’t want to pass the referendum, then it needs to step up and start taking care of its roads again.
How else can the county manage road maintenance?
Ferries: La Crosse County has a sizable cash reserve. We could also look at utilizing the excess sales tax to fund $500,000 to $1 million per year. With the projected expansion of the La Crosse Center, sales tax revenues will continue to increase. Obviously, this is not a cure-all, but it is a start. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation also needs to address this issue within their budget to assist counties and communities in repairing and improving roads and infrastructure.
Nagy: This is not the first year that road funding has been an issue. Our roads are falling apart and it’s causing costly repairs to our vehicles. If elected, I would lobby the Chamber of Commerce and the state to advocate for putting money into our road systems. In the past few years the state has dumped an ever-increasing share of the road funding on municipal governments without allowing them any tools to shoulder the burden. The state needs to start paying its fair share of the costs, as they have in the past, rather than forcing local municipalities to cover the entire cost.
What is your view on the county budgeting $500,000 to help fight the homelessness problem?
I believe we need to address our homeless population, but there should be a plan presented on how the money would be spent, a budget provided to the county board prior to the budget process, how many staff would be employed, what the money would be used for (rent, electric, heating, food, etc.), and what type of other funding avenues have been researched or applied for. As county board supervisors, we need to prioritize items which effect all county residents, with one major item being repairing or building new roads and infrastructure.
Spending $500,000 to address issues contributing to homelessness will ultimately result in long-term savings for the county. Keeping people off the street will save the county by reducing the cost of policing, health care, and incarceration in many instances. This money would go to help stabilize families that are at risk of becoming homeless. If we can keep families and children off the streets, then we can help keep them on the track to living good, productive lives. The effectiveness of these programs has already been proven successful as shown with the recent homeless veteran initiatives.
What are your views on the prospect of La Crosse County building a regional juvenile detention center?
This is a new item brought forward at the state level. Currently, we do not have sufficient information to make a well-informed decision. There are pros and cons to having a juvenile detention center within your county. A pro is that the juveniles are close to family and relatives, which could assist in their mental health and well-being. A con would be the cost of the facility and what type of funding the state would provide for not only the bricks and mortar of the facility but also the staffing and benefits for those employees now and in the future.