Crow Wing County Board District 3: White says residents can’t afford higher taxes
The 21-year-old northeast Brainerd resident sees involvement in local government as a civic duty. He’s one of four candidates challenging incumbent Steve Barrows to represent District 3 on the Crow Wing County Board.
BRAINERD — When Jacob White’s mother complained about continual increases in her property taxes, he recognized one way he could do something about it: run for office.
“I know people don’t want their property taxes raised again, and with inflation, I mean, people need as much money in their pocket as they can get,” White said during a July 1 interview.
The 21-year-old northeast Brainerd resident said his interest in politics began when President Donald Trump was elected, despite the fact he was too young to vote at the time. And that interest translated to a desire to get involved in local government, which White sees as a civic duty. He’s one of four candidates challenging incumbent Steve Barrows to represent District 3 on the Crow Wing County Board.
“If you want to live in a democracy, you gotta participate in it,” White said. “ … And I’m doing my best I can to do that.”
Born in Crosby, White moved to Brainerd when he was in the seventh grade. He works as a house painter and is studying accounting at Central Lakes College with plans to start his own business one day. And just like it’s vital to keep track of spending when owning a business, he said governments also have a duty to ensure they’re spending taxpayer dollars wisely.
“We can’t raise taxes,” White said. “ … But they justify it by tracking with inflation or that there’s a need for construction projects.”
White said more transparency about how the county spends its money is necessary, and it should be easier for people to understand where the dollars go and why commissioners believe the spending is necessary. He pointed to what he described as vague spending priorities in the county’s capital improvement plan, such as hundreds of thousands of dollars allocated toward improving customer service.
White said county commissioners get too many perks considering their workload, and if they’re willing to accept those perks, they should be willing to extend the same to their constituents. White claimed commissioners receive free medical insurance as part of their service.
“That just seems like an unnecessary expense on the taxpayers. Why don't all the taxpayers get free medical? You know, you can’t do that,” White said.
While commissioners can opt to receive medical insurance coverage through the county, it is not free. The same plans available to county employees are available to commissioners, and although the county does contribute toward the majority of the cost, employees and commissioners remain responsible for a portion of that cost, along with covering the required deductible.
When it comes to land use — particularly lakeshore property, which is a common area of contention in front of commissioners — White said his job as a painter shows him many of the people who can afford to live on the lake take good care of their properties. He said he doesn’t think county officials need to micromanage how people use the properties they own.
“They're going to take the extra mile to take care of the house they spent so much of their money to do so why should we have to micromanage what they want to do on their property?” White said. “Now, if your neighbors have an issue with it, they should be able to, you know, have a forum to express those grievances. But there shouldn't be too many rules on how you develop your land.”
White said overall, county government decision-making has moved further away from elected leaders chosen by voters into the hands of unelected bureaucrats. He said he believes the county’s decision in 2014 to convert the county auditor/treasurer to an unelected administrative position was a mistake, and voters should have a more direct say in who oversees election administration.
Election integrity is a top issue for White, who recently appeared at a County Board meeting to implore commissioners to implement hand-counting of ballots rather than using tabulators.
“A lot of people do believe it (fraud) happened at a national level, so they have this voter confidence issue,” White said. “And the state’s not listening to them, the fed’s definitely not listening to them. … So they’re going to their local officials because they live in the same communities. The county can do certain things to increase confidence in the voter process, because people have all these issues with it.”
White said moving to hand-counting would restore voter confidence, which is shaken in the wake of unproven election fraud accusations from Trump and others. He said no matter what is motivating people to question the integrity of elections, it’s an issue that isn’t going away.
“If you see your neighbor counting your ballot, you know, it's easier to confront neighbors about voter integrity issues than it is a corporation that owns the rights to the machines,” he said. “It makes it easier for people to air their grievances about it.”
He said he would take a bold approach to solving problems at the county level rather than hiding behind the state government.
“The County Board seems to think that whatever the state says, they have to do,” White said. “In some cases yes, in some cases no.”
White said no matter the outcome of the race, he intends to continue being politically active and learning about local government while pushing to prevent property tax increases.
“I mean, you just cannot, for the next three, four years or something like that, raise property taxes,” White said. “People need the opportunity to catch back up, you know. You can tax all you want. It doesn’t mean it’s gonna fix any issues.”
CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or email@example.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .