BY SCOTT AUST
Fourth-generation farmer Duane Drees believes his 28 years in the farm business and service on various boards provides background and experience that would be beneficial to the Finney County Commission and residents of commission District 3.
"My family's been here for 94 years now, been an active part of the community. My family has always volunteered to serve the community, and that's all I'm after here," Drees said. "I'm just offering my services. It's kind of a family tradition. No axes to grind."
Drees, a Republican, faces Democratic challenger Patsy Fort, a longtime Garden City educator, in Tuesday's election to represent District 3. The winner will replace outgoing commissioner Don Doll who decided earlier this year not to run for a third term. The third district includes northeast Garden City and northeast Finney County, including Kalvesta.
Drees, 57, has served on local farm organizations over the years including Farm Bureau, Finney County Conservation District, Garden City Co-op (which he chaired for four years) and most recently the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Drees supports the county's sales tax question that is on Tuesday's ballot to extend the county sales tax for building and road maintenance. Without sales tax, more property tax would be necessary to support maintenance projects, he said.
"I definitely do not support that at all," he said.
Overall, Drees believes the county commission has "done a fine job" and he doesn't have an issue with past decisions. His goal if elected would be to protect the communities' infrastructure, support law enforcement and fire protection, and maintain the current course on road and bridge maintenance.
"It's just a balance of keeping what we've got, getting some economic development and continuing to grow that area. I don't think we have any really glaring problems jumping up at us," he said.
Economic development is important to the county, Drees said. He believes the role of the commission should be to set policy and let appointed boards and county employees carry out the details. When it comes to economic development efforts, Drees believes in pursuing both new industry and new retail.
"We need a combination. It can't be all industry or all retail," he said.
Drees leans more toward pursuing new industry due to the likelihood of creating permanent jobs and new wealth, but also believes retail is an important component.
Regarding recent talks about the county's transient guest tax, or bed tax, Drees understands both sides of the issue.
The Finney County Economic Development Corp. asked the county to consider creating a fund that could be used to provide incentives when wooing new business and industry to the county. That fund would be created by tapping into additional money raised when the bed tax was increased by 2 percent a couple of years ago. Currently, all the bed tax money is allocated to the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau for its activities. The commission told the two groups to talk about the idea and come back with a recommendation in the future.
Drees agreed with that decision, and supports the FCEDC's hunt for additional revenue. However, he also thinks it may be wiser to wait a year to allow more time to see how bed tax revenue fluctuates and determine what it will consistently bring in.
"However, I feel economic development definitely needs funded, one way or another," he said. "They do need to be able to offer incentive packages to people coming into the area."
As a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Drees believes in cleaning up and removing eyesores in the county.
"I know it's treading a fine line — one man's junk is another man's treasure — but at the same time we can't have abandoned trailer houses just sitting there with windows knocked out. It's an eyesore, safety hazard, health hazard. That kind of stuff needs to be cleaned up," said.
Following a fire that claimed three lives earlier this year, there was discussions about a potential need to step up inspections of rental property to ensure safety devices like smoke detectors were installed and working. Drees, who has some rental property himself, would not have a problem with rental inspections due to the life and safety concerns, but isn't sure if the county should go so far as to hire additional employees to conduct inspections more proactively.
Drees said he would be in favor of maintaining a set of criteria for rental property owners to follow that would deal with things like fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and electrical systems and creation of a place for tenants to go if they experience problems or want to request an inspection.
"People's lives are stake. Properties need to be safe," he said.
Regarding general budget issues, Drees does have a concern about the possibility of state service cuts becoming a burden on local taxing entities.
As a Republican, Drees said he supports Gov. Sam Brownback's budget actions "in theory", and said he hopes the governor is correct about any future budget deficit being made up by increased economic activity and new jobs. But he is concerned about how long it will take to see that new activity and the impact on local budgets.
Drees said if the worst scenario happens, the county may need to look at a combination of raising property taxes and making budget cuts. But since he's not on the commission yet and isn't privy to the inner workings of the budget, Drees said it's too early to say what he would cut if the need arose.
"It has to be a little of both. As a farmer, I make budgets all the time. During this drought I learned that the income side is not there so you have to cut on the expense side," he said. "There's always room in any budget to cut an expense. There's always a wish list in any budget that just has to be delayed or put off until the funds can match it."