Q & A with Lincoln County Commissioner Dist. 4 candidate Chris Bruns
I don’t have a specific priority project, but rather three big areas where I truly believe that significant work needs to be done and where I will focus a lot of my efforts as a County Commissioner. First, is a multifaceted approach toward growing Lincoln County. Over the past several decades our county’s population and tax base has stagnated. We’ve lost several retail stores and other commercial businesses. The county’s largest employer is quickly transitioning and embracing new technologies which will reduce the labor force they require—it’s simply a reality. While we value the relationship that the UPRR has with Lincoln County, we must find ways to attract new industry and business to our communities in order to prevent a looming exodus of our talented, hardworking labor market and their families. Second, is finding ways to reduce our property taxes through smaller and smarter government. This goes hand in hand with growing our county. In order to attract new industry, we need to have a competitive position with regard to taxes—and frankly, our existing taxpayers deserve it too. This is an area where the county has done okay, but areas for improvement must be found without sacrificing the services our citizens require. Third, is finding ways to improve our roads and infrastructure. They will crumble and erode whether the county grows or shrinks; however, the maintenance of that infrastructure is directly correlated to our tax base. This again, goes hand in hand with both of the previous items. Our 1,600+ miles of roads, 52 county owned bridges, and other county infrastructure are critical for our citizens and current businesses; let alone enticing new industry into the county. I’ve seen how extremely hard our Lincoln County Department of Roads employees work with what often seems like needlessly reoccurring maintenance work. As a County Commissioner, I will work to ensure that they have the necessary and proper resources to get the job done correctly. These things will take a lot of work and partnership to achieve, but they are vital for our future and what I will work tirelessly toward as a Lincoln County Commissioner.
Our road repair priorities need to be based on a triage of condition as well as the impact they have on businesses and families. I believe that a lot of the issues that continually arise can be mitigated with proper materials for road beds and improved crowning on many of our dirt/gravel roads. All in all, I’m pleased with the current one/six-year road plan presented by the Highway Superintendent and don’t know that I would make any changes at this point. I’m glad that the Sutherland North River Bridge is on the 1-year plan and that state funding is available. Once that is completed, I would absolutely push to see Prairie Trace Rd to the north get it’s overlay to the county line sooner rather than later—it’s currently on the 6-year plan, but can’t afford to be pushed off. I’m pleased of the fact that roads in the Wallace area will get much needed attention after years of being pushed down the list. I also agree with the prioritization that the E State Farm Rd and W State Farm Rd projects should be on the 1-year plan, as they are extremely important for continued industrial growth in North Platte. I’m also thrilled to see that Cattle Growers Rd and Garfield Table Rd will finally get the improvements that are essential for that area’s business demands. We as a county need to ensure that our Agribusinesses are supported where we can, as they are a vital element of our economy and rely heavily on county roads.
The County really needs to take the lead and provide a strategic vision for short and long-term growth that all of our communities can coalesce behind. This is something that other counties across the state are doing with tremendous success in growth. Implementing that vision will require strengthened partnerships with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and all Lincoln County cities, towns, and villages, as well as our local development corporations. We need to aggressively market Lincoln County and champion new industry and business development with a concerted emphasis on creation of high-wage earning jobs. What is going to be extremely important is the encouragement and support that we provide existing local businesses so they can grow and expand. Likewise, with new industry comes the need to foster public-private partnership programs for skills training of the workforce in our communities.
I’ve spoken with multiple law enforcement personnel and the consensus is that this expansion is needed. There has been a higher level of jail bookings where mental health issues have been prevalent, and the current setup is not conducive for it. When the safety of our law enforcement officers is brought into unnecessary question, my position is that it needs fixed. The expansion needs to ensure that this aspect is directly taken into consideration. The new facility must have the capability to address inmates with mental health issues, address the capacity issues we currently have, all while providing for the safety of our deputies and other law enforcement personnel.
Regarding the revenue generation—our state has an issue with inmate capacity at all of the various state facilities. The State of Nebraska provides for monies to be paid for housing inmates locally, and the county should utilize that while the program exists; especially as it could help pay off the expansion sooner than planned. We need the expansion for our own community safety needs, and the state needs to house inmates. While I do not think that we should foster a long-term practice of generating money off of incarceration, but instead should look to how we reduce recidivism, the fact remains that these two realities do exist together and can be beneficial to the taxpayers in the short run.
The best way that the county can control our part of the property tax situation is by controlling our spending and being a responsible steward of the taxpayers’ money. Just like making improvements in business, we need to take a look at the silos that do exist in our county government and find ways to create efficiencies. Our various county departments can do a lot to embrace new technology to provide important services to our citizens in a digital age. The need of this aspect can be seen in the recent disruptions we’ve all experienced with the COVID-19 measures the county has taken. A good working relationship and regular discussion with department heads in needed to truly understand what each department needs in order to provide their necessary services to the citizens. With that understanding, a thorough review of each department’s budget is also needed to identify potential wasteful expenditures, and if they exist, cut them. Lastly, I will work hard to forge a coalition of County Commissioners and Supervisors across the state in order to put additional pressure on the State Legislature and our Governor. They need a large and united group of county leaders pushing them to actually do something meaningful with regard to property tax reform.
My priority is for controlling expenses across the board, while providing for the citizens of Lincoln County. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Our budget process should always be guided by the principle that the County Commissioners have a duty to the taxpayers to protect their money through wise, frugal, and necessary expenditures. By thoughtful review during the budget request process and working with department heads, we can efficiently control the county spending while providing effective services to all Lincoln County residents.
Our largest and most immediate challenge is getting all economic planning stakeholders on the same page and working to find large industry partners to invest in our communities quickly. Large economic projects take time and extensive planning, and that is after the time and effort it takes to recruit them, which is substantial in and of itself. Making gains in this area over the next 4 years is imperative for the future of the county. Our county leaders need to be people like myself, who have a strategic vision and the ability to bring that vision to reality.
I will bring a fresh set of ideas to the County Board that are influenced by unique and diverse experiences that I’ve had in my life thus far. My time spent all over the world in my decade of active duty and combat service as a United States Marine has taught me precisely what great things can be accomplished with limited resources and a can-do attitude. This was my classroom for learning the leadership skills that I utilize every day helping businesses grow across western Nebraska. I promise to provide trusted leadership and a business-minded approach of governing for the various important issues that face all Lincoln County citizens. I’m not only a business leader with Farm Bureau but I’m also a rancher running a small nurse-cow operation in the middle of my district, so I have a good understanding of what impacts many of our farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. Most importantly, I’m a Constitutional Conservative who will always guide my decisions based on protecting the rights of the individual. I believe that all of these reasons set me apart and make me the right candidate to help lead Lincoln County into the future.
With the constantly evolving situation, I think that steps taken by government officials, for the most part, have been adequate given the amount of information they had to base those decisions on. I agree with the steps taken in limiting access to the county courthouse, and other county offices, while still taking strides to provide services to the public as needed. I think the various communities across the county have really worked hard to implement social distancing standards, and that our citizens have done a fantastic job with the personal responsibility of minimizing the spread of this horrible virus thus far. I am hesitant about the authorities ceded by the City of North Platte to the West Central District Health Department, to enact rules and regulations, which shall have the full force and effect of law. For me, these actions should remain with elected officials so that the voters can keep them accountable. I sincerely commend the hard work that the people at WCDHD have done so far. It has been a long time since our country has faced an epidemic like this, so much of this feels like uncharted territory. While I do not fear that this particular organization will trample on individual rights, I always take the stance that less government is better; that actions taken in the name of safety and security generally always reduce personal liberty; and that this move seems to have added a layer of government without adequate time for the public to provide input.
Our local businesses are owned and operated by amazing people. I see the resolve they have and feel the intense pressure they are enduring right now. There is nothing anyone can do or say that will completely take that away. Right, wrong, or indifferent, our federal government has provided tremendous financial help for many affected by this pandemic. I encourage all business owners to seek out assistance if needed as well as employees who have been negatively impacted; especially as we have no clear idea how long this will last. Those that can, should go out of their way to help restaurants by ordering food to go or utilizing drive-thru lanes. Many shops and businesses provide curbside assistance that shoppers can take advantage of. There are many ways to continue to support our local businesses while still keeping a healthy distance and practicing good preventative measures. After this does end—which it certainly will—I am confident that the free market will rebound quickly as we have amazing communities that support each other.