Story County candidates take questions from community


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County candidates prepare to take questions from community members during a forum hosted during the League of Women Voters.

Seven county candidates addressed urban sprawl and affordable housing during a forum Thursday evening.

The forum, hosted by The League of Women Voters, featured candidates for Story County Board of Supervisors, county treasurer, county recorder and county attorney.

“I do think housing is a critical piece in the overall cycle of economic development,” Kara Warme, candidate for the Story County Board of Supervisors. “We need housing of different styles and different prices to attract people to come and stay in our county, and to attract businesses.”

Warme added there will need to be wise decisions where development is set to take place.

James Wright, candidate for the Story County Board of Supervisors, said he is concerned about urban sprawl, and it should not infringe upon agricultural land.

Linda Murken and Lisa Heddens, both incumbents and candidates for the Story County Board of Supervisors, mentioned a housing study commissioned by the board regarding affordable housing. Heddens said the study highlighted gaps in affordable housing throughout the county that need to be addressed.

“We have provided funding to the American Rescue Funds, to the Story County Community Trust, and we’re looking at ways to have affordable housing, such as providing funding to work with Homeless for Iowa, which will do more prefab homes here in Story County,” Heddens said.

Also, on the topic of rural communities, the board candidates responded to how they would address drainage issues.

Wright said as former chairman of the Forest Service Board, he is familiar with the drainage issues of Story County. He said old infrastructure is in part to blame.

“Most of our tile lines were put in in the 20s, 30s and 40s — by hand,” Wright said. “That infrastructure is getting worn out, and we really need to look at how we can address that going forward.”

Warme said her focus would be on finding the experts on the issue to consult with and also to prioritize water quality.

“I think investments that we make and soil health and cover crops, in everything about water quality, hopefully, improve our overall ecosystem and can tie into what we’re doing with drainage as well,” Warme said.

Murken said as a member of the board, they serve as district drainage trustees, and they are directly operating with the landowners’ money.

“The landowners pay for all of the maintenance and the improvements,” Murken said. “It is not a county tax thing.”

Heddens said the board will have a public hearing with landowners so they can have their concerns addressed.

According to a League of Women Voters study on transportation needs, there is a real need for transportation in many rural communities. Murken said the best way to explore opportunities for transportation is through grant funding and setting up a committee to set up plans on rolling out accessible transportation.

Warme said there could be potential partnerships with private companies to solve the issue.

“I agree that we don’t always want to throw taxpayer money at something, but if there’s the right partnership that can happen with our job providers locally that’s mutually beneficial, that can be a solution that doesn’t cost the taxpayers money and also solves the problem,” Warme said.

Wright said he is in favor of Warme’s proposal of partnering with private businesses. Wright said he was also in favor of Murken’s suggestion to look into grants, but voiced his concerns on the costs of upkeep of transportation services after the grants funding has depleted.

Heddens said a big contributor to the issues in transportation is linked to the workforce shortage.

Heddens said in studies that were previously conducted, a five-member board is more costly to taxpayers. The board of supervisors currently has three members.

Wright said rural counties are not getting represented enough and he wants to change that.

“I totally would love to have a five-member board, and I think it should be around the county,” Wright said. “It shouldn’t be just focused over here in Ames right now.”

In response to a question asking the board candidates how they would respond to the threats of climate change, Murken mentioned a greenhouse gas inventory done by the board. She added that the board has taken steps to try to make Story County more sustainable, such as a Go Green Committee and using geothermal heating in buildings.

Warme said the county should promote sustainability and stewardship, and that the county should focus action on the research done in Story County in regard to sustainability.

“Maybe we can partner and leverage best practices from Iowa State Research Park, from our county’s many experts in renewable energy and cutting-edge agriculture, and the climate action plan that’s underway with the city of Ames,” Warme said.

Stacie Herridge, candidate for county recorder, said she and her team will continue to work hard to make as many real estate records available to the public as they can.

“The one thing that I really want to strive to do is trying to work with the other county departments is trying to find a way to inform the next generation as far as what’s going on and how to get involved in county government and what each office does,” Herridge said.

Currently, the county recorder is an elected position, but Herridge said she does think it could be an appointed position, adding that the position is fairly nonpartisan.

Tim Meals, Democratic candidate for county attorney, said in closing remarks the county attorney focuses on public safety, and works with a team of 15 attorneys and a $3 million budget.

“This is not a job for amateurs, and this is not a job where you get to learn on the job,” Meals said.

Linda Serra Hagedorn, moderator of the forum and former president of the League of Women Voters, said the league holds such events to help inform the public about the elections.

“We want to make sure we have an educated voter pool, and that folks understand the positions each of the candidates take,” Hagerdorn said.

Hagedorn said League of Women Voters is nonpartisan but is a political organization, which focuses on representation and wants people to understand why they are voting and who they are voting for.