At its first meeting of the new year, the Redwood County Board of Commissioners elected Jim Salfer to serve as the board chair for 2018. Now serving in the final year of his first term as a county commissioner, Salfer said he is looking forward to the things that can be accomplished in the coming year.
Sharing his vision of the next several months, Salfer said one of the biggest areas of focus for the year is going to be on meeting the infrastructure needs of the county.
“We have several buildings that need attention,” said Salfer, adding discussions about the courthouse and the county highway shop are at the top of the list.“The county has an aging highway shop that is in need of a lot of updates or replacing."
On top of that the courthouse remodeling project that has been discussed for a number of years is also a topic for discussion.
“At the courthouse we are looking at about $4 million just to do the remodeling and we are still not getting everything that we need,” said Salfer.
The question, he said, is whether the county board moves forward with another “patch job” on the courthouse to meet those needs, or does it take a different approach.
The highway shop is in need of a lot of work on its roof and with the heating system to start, said Salfer, adding the maintenance areas are also proving to be inadequate as the equipment being used is getting bigger all of the time and the spaces are not meeting the needs of those who need to work on them.
The problem with moving forward with projects like this is the fact that the county only has so many dollars to go around, explained Salfer.
With the county currently paying back bonds on the government center and the law enforcement center, Salfer said, from his perspective, he thinks moving forward with any added projects needs to happen after some of that existing debt is gone.
“I don’t feel we can ask the taxpayers of the county to pay for another bond,” said Salfer.
What Salfer is hoping is that the county can come up with a long-term plan that will address those needs it has today as well as find ways to take care of those long-term needs that are going to cost the county significant dollars to accomplish.
“Looking at the big picture and doing some strategic planning is a big priority of mine,” said Salfer. “We need to look at the big picture, especially when it comes to our finances.”
Yes, said Salfer, the financial picture for the county is in pretty good shape right now, as the county’s reserves are very healthy. Yet, he cautioned, many of those dollars sitting in reserves have been designated for certain departments and projects and can’t be used for anything else.
Another of the big areas of concern is the county’s road and bridge system.
“Our roads and bridges are aging,” said Salfer.
While the wheelage tax approved in 2017 has gone into effect in the county, the reality is that the road and bridge fund is the largest part of the county budget, said Salfer.
“There are a lot of needs to be met, and I think Keith (Berndt, county engineer) is doing a great job coming up with scenarios for us to consider,” said Salfer.
While the idea of implementing a one-half of one percent sales tax increase has been discussed, Salfer said he does not think there is much interest in adding a sales tax on top of the existing $10 wheelage tax.
Salfer admitted he was reluctant to take on the role of chair for 2018, adding he knows even after three years on the job there is so much more he has to learn.
Thankfully, he said, the county has a great staff, including a strong group of department heads, who make the job of the county commissioner much easier.
Salfer specifically pointed out the fact that his job will be made much easier working alongside Vicki Knobloch, county administrator.
“Vicki does a great job for the county,” said Salfer.
Salfer also said he appreciates his fellow county commissioners, adding he thinks the five of them work well together.
In the end, Salfer knows the role of the county commissioner is to serve the people of Redwood County, and he said he is willing to listen to the concerns of the public.
“I welcome anybody to call me with their concerns,” added Salfer. “It is hard to fix something if we don’t know that it’s broken.”
Salfer said he is planning to run for the seat again as his term comes to an end this year, adding he has enjoyed the opportunity to serve his constituents.
Salfer added there is a lot of work left to do, and he wants to help make sure it gets done.