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Tim Walz team comes to BE to listen

By Staff | Oct 1, 2017

All of the attendees at the session posed for a photo in the atrium at the Ag Center after the formal discussions were over.

They came to listen, and they got an earful.

More than 20 officials and citizens of Faribault County showed up at the Ag Center in Blue Earth when staff members of First Congressional District Representative Tim Walz (DFL-Mankato) held a listening session last Tuesday night.

Among the topics under discussion during the hour and fifteen minute session were jobs, population decline, infrastructure, health care, agriculture and housing.

While Walz himself was not present, his chief of staff, Josh Syrjamaki, asked those present some questions and took notes on their answers and areas of concern.

The group filled out cards where they wrote what they felt were the major concerns of Faribault County and the area.

Topping the list was the issue of population decline and what things can be done to halt the steady decline and get people to move to the area.

Tied in with the population decline was economic development and keeping businesses and jobs in the county and was a concern that was expressed by many.

But after some talk about healthcare, the Walz chief of staff had a question for everyone in attendance.

“What do you think should be done about healthcare?” Syrjamaki asked during discussion on healthcare reform. He received a variety of suggestions.

“Healthcare is fine,” one of the attendees said. “It is the high cost of healthcare and how to pay for it that is the problem.”

Another person added that healthcare has become all about money and not about healthcare.

But, it was the high cost of health insurance coverage that brought out the most concern, both from individuals and from local business persons.

“Our health insurance costs for our 105 employees has skyrocketed,” said Bevcomm president and CEO Bill Eckles. “We are seeing it increase by double digit percentages every year. It is a major concern.”

Travis Keister of Minn-Iowa Insurance in Blue Earth says his company insures 2,000 farmers through the Federal Crop Insurance Program.

“There are three amendments to the proposed farm bill that would be disastrous to this safety net for our farmers,” Keister said. “One is to limit the coverage to 1,400 acres. Our average farm in southern Minnesota is around 1,400 acres.”

Keister urged the staff to tell the congressman, who is on the Ag Committee, to vote against these amendments.

“Please tell him to not let others screw things up,” Keister said. Others also added that what they wanted the most was for Congress to not screw things up.

Housing issues were also a big topic. Blue Earth City Council member John Huisman said the top three issues here are “housing, housing, and housing.”

“We need to somehow get more quality housing built in Faribault County,” Huisman said. “And to help tear down our old ones.”

Winnebago city administrator Chris Ziegler agreed with Huisman.

“There have been no new homes built in Winnebago for several years,” Ziegler said. “Or any apartments or senior living places. And we seem to have to tear down three old houses every year. We will need assistance to accomplish building any new homes and demolishing old ones.”

Wells has the similar problem, someone said.

“Many of our houses (in Wells) are in poor condition,” the Wells resident said. “And we are told that to build new homes costs $150 to $160 per square foot. Since everyone wants a 1,200 square foot house, that means $200,000 or more to build a house. Many people in Wells can’t afford that.”

Another issue was infrastructure, and finding the funding for all the roads and bridges that need repair in the county. Infrastructure items included such things as broadband access, water treatment plants and other public services.

The listening session in Blue Earth on Tuesday evening was just one of many planned by the Walz Team as they cover all of the 21 counties in the First Congressional District in what has been called the “Southern Minnesota Way of Life Tour.”

“This tour is a testament to the power of participation in our democracy,” Rep. Walz said in a press release. “I am very grateful to the folks who took part in the first three swings, and I can’t wait to hear the ideas of First District constituents this time around. Together, we can find common ground on how to best move this country forward while protecting and enriching the way of life we so dearly love here in southern Minnesota.”