Candidate Profiles: Carlton County Board of Commissioners District 1 R.J. (Dick) Brenner • Erik Blesener
Question 1: How does your past experience, job or education qualify you to serve on the County Board?
Question 2: What do you believe the county’s role should be in economic development?
Question 3: What is the best plan to keep property taxes in check but to continue to provide essential services that county residents want and need?
I am a lifelong resident of Cloquet. I have been employed by the city of Cloquet for 18 years. I have previously been elected to and served on the Cloquet City Council Ward 1. I have served on the Cloquet Chamber of Commerce tourism committee, and economic development collaborative. I have also been very active with volunteer work in and around Cloquet including athletic coaching, president of soccer association and board chair for REACH
I strongly support continued efforts in developing the Carlton County economy by recruiting and attracting new businesses including industrial, retail and agricultural to come into the County. Our county is one of the few our size that has an economic development coordinator employed by the County. The county can assist in economic development by grant writing, offering loans and development of infrastructure to help make the process of a new business coming in easier. I believe that continued economic growth leading to a strong economy is the key to the high quality of life that we enjoy here in northeastern Minnesota.
I strongly feel that increasing the county tax base and wealth is the best way to keep property taxes in check. Many cities including the city of Cloquet have seen drastic cuts in local government aid over the past 10 years. These funds are not easily replaced. I also strongly support the local option sales tax as this measure would bring considerable funds into the local government’s budgets. Finally I will strongly encourage collaboration and partnerships with local governments, Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to ensure that Carlton county continues to grow and
improve its business environment.
My 20 years of serving on the county board and on the many sub-committees has given me a unique perspective of the needs and pitfalls of county government. I received a Bachelor of Science Degree from Mankato State University with major concentration in Finance, Economics and a minor in Mathematics. I was a Division Plant Controller accountable for all financial activities and for a time served as the human services director. I was a small business owner in Cloquet for 20 years.
The county should remain in a leadership role in economic development while working with all the county’s political subdivisions. The county established an economic development department in 2005, supported by Iron Range Resources Rehabilitation Board, interest from loans to start up and establish businesses, and a number of grant opportunities. To date, no levy dollars support county economic development. The county economic development has maintained a leadership position in financing the construction of 18 buildings for private business expansion…and has successfully written millions in funding mechanisms…as well as managing a number of land development projects, for example the Hwy. 210 business park.
I have always believed that one of the most demanding yet critical aspects of my job as a commissioner is to keep property taxes in check without sacrificing the quality or quantity of necessary services to our public. Keeping property taxes in check can best be done by understanding the public’s service needs and demanding efficiency and accountability from all county departments. Some important steps that we can take to provide for these needs are as follows:
Continue to maximize our economic development opportunities throughout the county.
Demand that the legislature not impose mandates on local governments without offering full funding.
Continue to evaluate replacing retiring employees, using the most up-to-date technology, and reorganizing service wherever possible to lower costs.
Editor's note: The Pine Journal did give candidates the option to also send a longer response for the website, something Mr. Brenner did and Mr. Blesener did not.