Instead of the sound of crickets chirping, the Crow Wing Board of Commissioners got an earful during the usually mundane portion of its meeting from a resident who had a lot to say.
Vic Kreuziger of Pequot Lakes first asked the board for more time to speak before the open forum even began Tuesday, Nov. 27, meeting and then went through a laundry list of criticisms.
"You've addressed us before, Vic, so we know you're schooled in many things. ... Just be reasonable because we know that you can 'wind it up' pretty far," Chairman Paul Thiede said.
Kreuziger replied to much laughter, "I'm a taxpayer. Taxpayers aren't reasonable."
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"I'm a taxpayer. Taxpayers aren't reasonable." - Vic Kreuziger of Pequot Lakes
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Kreuziger began with how county commissioners are compensated. They serve a four-year, $30,000-a-year term, but that could change when the 2019 levy and budget is finally approved.
"You want a 3 percent increase according to the local scandal sheet, article in the newspaper, and my commissioner, Mr. Thiede, objected to that-saying this was not a good time to have a pay increase when you're throwing a 7 percent increase at the taxpayers," Kreuziger said.
Kreuziger then made reference to Commissioner Paul Koering's comments about having earned the proposed increase in salary at the Sept. 25 board meeting during which Thiede made a failed motion-seconded only by Commissioner Doug Houge-to forgo the proposed raise.
"By what barometer do you guys decide if you're doing a good job or not? Coming to meetings? That's not a good job, that's your job. Keeping the taxes down? That's not a good job, that is your job. Balancing the budget? That's not a good job, that is your job," Kreuziger said.
Koering challenges disgruntled to run for elected office
In December, the board passed a reduced levy for 2018 for the eighth consecutive year but approved the 2019 preliminary budget in September with a levy increase of 6.99 percent.
"In my view, the $30,000-a-year attracts people who are looking at the dollars. Below that is people who are looking to share their talents with the county," Kreuziger said at Tuesday's open forum.
"And my suggestion, as a taxpayer, is that you limit your income to $25,000 a year. On top of that, you can get additional money by committee assignments ... so by increasing your activity on committees you get more income."
Driving the county's 2019 preliminary budget-and a proposed levy increase of almost 7 percent-are the growing use of methamphetamine in the county and rising employee health insurance costs. Final approval of the budget occurs next month.
"If it's a vet who is on pain medication, and he gets hooked on drugs, I say, 'Let's help that person,' but if it's a voluntary sort of thing, I'm not interested in helping those people," Kreuziger said.
County community services started a policy in November through the state of Minnesota to drug test people who have a drug-felony conviction within the past 10 years who want financial assistance or help buying groceries from the government.
"I don't like the idea that my tax dollars is helping those people who are on drugs and having a hard time. If these people made a conscious, informed decision to get on drugs, they've made their decision-make them live with it," Kreuziger said.
The county's drug-testing program, which cost $2,012 after state and federal reimbursements, saved the state a total of $3,299 for those who were permanently disqualified. Those figures do not include savings due to those who are, for example, incarcerated or who have relocated.
"I don't want my tax dollars saving those people from themselves," Kreuziger said. "And if you do help these people on drugs, it seems to me that the very least you can require is that every single one of those people that gets any benefit from we, taxpayers, has to show that they have a job."
The county paid Mid-Minnesota Drug Testing Inc. a total of $3,815 for drug tests from November to August, but received $1,803 in state and federal reimbursements, so the actual cost to the county was $2,012.
"Vic is a constituent of mine. I did not ask Vic to come and say anything here, but he does espouse a few issues that my constituency has espoused over the years, but I had nothing to do with Vic coming this morning-just to be perfectly clear," Thiede said.
Koering added, "Vic, first I want to say thanks for coming here and expressing your opinion. I appreciate it, and if I was a smart politician, Vic, I would probably keep my mouth shut and not saying anything, but that's not me, so I'm going to take you to task on a couple of things."
Koering of District 1 and Houge of District 5 were not up for election this year. Their terms end in 2021. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen represents District 4 and was unopposed for a fourth term in the Nov. 6 general election.
"You didn't mention that there was eight years of a zero levy in Crow Wing County where this board, here, actually tried their best to keep property taxes at zero, and sometimes I wonder if anybody even cares what we do. I know I care. Otherwise, I wouldn't run for office," Koering told Kreuziger.
"And as far if I'm making too much money, I'm up in two years, Vic. You're more than welcome or anybody can run against me if they think I'm making too much money and I'm not doing a good job, and I'll be glad to just go home, and sit and look at the lake."
Thiede comments about re-election loss to Brekken
The county cost of out-of-home placements for children more than doubled from about $1.5 million in 2013 to $3.5 million in 2017, according to County Administrator Tim Houle, which was a factor in Houle's recommendation earlier this year of a 2019 preliminary levy of 6.99 percent.
"As for the 6.99 percent increase, I don't like that either. I don't like it all. But out-of-home placement is children that are living in bad situations ... and the county has to take those children out of their house ... and we have to pay for that as a civilized society," Koering said.
"You can come up here and say a lot of things and try to make us look bad, but it isn't necessarily the truth, Vic. ... I'm not going to sit here and take it. ... If somebody is going to criticize something I'm doing or the wages I'm making, I'm going to fight back ... so thanks."
At the conclusion of Kreuziger's remarks, Thiede emphasized he had nothing to do with Kreuziger's open forum comments, even though Kreuziger resides in Thiede's district.
"I do want to agree with Commissioner Koering-having just lost an election by 85 votes-it is very discouraging sometimes to see the complexity of government and the lack of ability of people to be able to discern who it is they want to vote for," Thiede said of Bill Brekken.
The First Assessment District candidate and political novice Brekken beat Thiede in the Nov. 6 general election in the District 2 race for commissioner, while Baxter City Council member Steve Barrows defeated Keith Johnson of Brainerd and will represent District 3 starting next year.
"I have not said this publicly-I will say it publicly now, since Commissioner Koering has baited me-my opponent ran without taking positions on issues. I have gotten 16 years of taking positions on the issues," Thiede said at Tuesday's board meeting.
Thiede said at Tuesday's board meeting that he has taken "many difficult positions" in his political career but did not elaborate.
"And I can tell you without equivocation-including employees of this county who were out campaigning against me based on fallacious information about the positions I've taken-that's something that I have no regrets over," Thiede said.
"But it's very difficult to tell the story. It's becoming more and more complex. There's more and more cynicism about it. For that very reason, people don't know where to go to get the truth, and yet the truth does still exist. It's very hard to find, and it takes work to find it."