Tomorrow River Chautauqua will host a community open forum with three declared candidates for Portage County Board Supervisor, District 25, on Thursday, February 15, at 7 p.m. at the Jensen Community Center auditorium in Amherst. District 25 includes the village of Rosholt, the town of Alban, the town of New Hope, the village of Nelsonville, and the town of Amherst. There are three announced candidates for the position; the incumbent, James Zdroik, and newcomers Robert Lord and Anne Abbott. A primary election on Tuesday, February 20, will winnow the list to two candidates for the general election which will be held on Tuesday, April 3.
Candidates for the position will field a variety of questions covering many ongoing and new county issues, such as healthcare, groundwater, budget, and revenue issues. The audience will have have an opportunity to ask questions of the candidates and to talk to the candidates after the program.
We have posted several questions along those lines to the candidates, and we print their answers here.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to include a response from Robert Lord, candidate for Country Board Supervisor for District 25, in the February edition of The Community Spirit. However, they are included below.
Spirit: Please provide a brief biography. What qualities do you possess that make you the right candidate for this position?
R.A. Abbott: I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. Being a rural kid, I learned to work early and hard. I have had a wide array of life experiences, including traveling in all 50 states, living in a log cabin in the mountains of West Virginia and raising my first hunting dog on the 17th floor of an apartment building in New York City.
I returned to rural America by moving to Wisconsin in 1987, and have lived in District 25 for over 20 years. My education and career focused on prevention and rehabilitation health care, teaching, behavior change, and keeping people well.
I am now retired from my career as Professor of Health Promotion and Wellness (at the University of Stevens Point). I continue to work as a consultant and provide wellness information via Abbott Solutions, Inc., directly to consumers, educators, health coaches and employee benefit managers. My community service includes being a health advocate for family and friends. Most recently I have been advocating for clean water in New Hope.
Robert Lord: Finding ways for decision makers to move forward has been my mission throughout my career. For 27 years I’ve facilitated problem-solving processes for professionals in manufacturing, service, and education, as well as in Federal and State government.
Too often decision makers become entrenched in their position and are hardly able to hear what’s being said by those on the other side of the table. My experience with consensus decision making and analytic problem solving informs me that there are methods for breaking through differences and finding agreement.
While canvasing in the district I’ve had some great conversations and I’ve learned a lot. As a supervisor, I will continue to reach out to people and to listen carefully to their ideas and concerns.
James Zdroik: Biography: I have lived in the Town of Alban (Portage County) all my life. I’m married to JoAnn and have three adult children with three grandchildren. All my children went through the Rosholt School District which gave them their diplomas. I’ve served for 20-plus years on the Rosholt School Board. It was a great honor to have served on this board. Currently I’m the Supervisor for District 25 and have been appointed to the Highway, Public Safety, Airport and Executive Operations committees. I’ve been on the County Board since 1997.
Spirit: What do you most appreciate about Portage County? How do you envision Portage County in 25 years, 50 years…?
Abbott: I have a vision for Portage County that includes clean and abundant water for future generations. I am passionate about health and the importance of recognizing clean water’s direct link with people’s health. I am interested in giving back to our community and in working toward positive change.
Through my education and career, I have developed a number of skills and qualities that will benefit this position. I listen, learn, and work collaboratively towards solutions and building community. My ethics and values are driven by alignment of head, heart, gut and hands.
I am uniquely skilled at gathering current research, asking tough questions, facilitating collaborative solutions and determining what the stakeholders are willing to share to improve our community. I am adept at evaluating problems and identifying solutions. This frequently involves bridging between stakeholders. In my recent efforts, I’ve been involved with stakeholders from agricultural (large, small, fresh/organic), residential and recreational interests.
I have experience working with the county government over the last two years through bringing citizens’ clean water concerns to the Portage County Groundwater Citizens Advisory Committee. Working with two other citizen/professionals (hydrologist and a geologist) plus an active group of citizens, we have advocated for a new ordinance to protect our water (Public Health and Groundwater Protection Ordinance).
I have a vision for Portage County that includes clean and abundant water for future generations.
We must find common ground based upon shared values that cross most cultures, race, nationalities and religious boundaries. These values, such respect, compassion, and accountability, are basic to human existence and community. We can continue to nurture these common values.
Population growth is something we have to deal with and plan for. The more we can anticipate, plan and address potential challenges now, the better off we will all be in 25 and 50 years.
Lord: I have a deep appreciation for the diversity that we enjoy in industry, topography, people, ideas, and expertise. We are lucky to live in one of the most beautiful areas of Wisconsin, where those who came before us had the foresight and wisdom to preserve and protect our resources. Our natural areas, lakes and streams provide excellent opportunities for hunting, fishing, swimming, and boating. Our beautiful country roads and hilly terrain are a magnet for bicyclists.
The people of Portage County believe in the power of education. Portage County communities have extraordinary schools, and our investment in higher education benefits us all. We are fortunate to enjoy a strong Technical College in MSTC, a world class University in UWSP and the research and technical assistance provided by UW Extension. These institutions provide jobs and opportunities for our young people so they don’t have to move away to pursue a career. Portage County industries from Paper to Agriculture have benefitted greatly by our commitment to education.
Zdroik: I enjoy living in the area because of the history and the community and how friendly its members are, along with living in a very quiet setting.
Spirit: What is the absolute first thing that you’ll start work on when elected? After that, what are the next top three things you would hope to accomplish while in office?
Abbott: Water issues. Our citizens have already been working on this for one-and-a-half years! We already know the problems: nitrates occurring naturally, from manure and fertilizer, e-coli from manure or septic, and contamination from pesticides/herbicides/prescriptions and over the counter medications.
After that: 1. Find younger citizens to lead local efforts around water and other important issues.
- Contribute to the conversation of what to do with the county nursing home.
- Contribute to the conversation about EMS.
Lord: There are some critical issues that must be addressed soon. The long term funding for the Portage County Health Care Center, the nitrate contamination in our ground water, the threat to our lakes and streams by the increase in high capacity wells, and the amount of State tax dollars paid by Portage County citizens that come back to Portage County.
Of course, most issues are first addressed in committee and so improving the process committees follow, and the quality of the products they produce, are my top priority. A committee must provide the decision makers on the Board of Supervisors with excellent and timely reports including organized information based on objective research.
Zdroik: Keep in mind that Portage County operates under the committee structure which means members are appointed thru their knowledge and background on most subjects. I would like to get back on all of the committees that I’m currently on. A) Highway Committee, because I think we have to look at some type of wheel tax in Portage County to make up for the loss in revenue. Portage County has always maintained a high level of service to all that live and travel on our system. B) Public Safety Committee: I would like to be on this committee because the upcoming bargaining will involve our county-wide ambulance service and help identify where we can improve/maintain on response times. C) Airport Committee: Mainly because, this is one that drives on bringing in new business and retaining ones that are present in Central Wisconsin.
Spirit: As you know, those who value strong protection of our environmental resources have been at odds with those in industry. Here in Portage County, water use issues are being hotly debated. How would you help to balance competing interests?
Abbott: We already know possible solutions: A public health ordinance to detect and report high nitrates has been submitted to the county’s Groundwater Citizen’s Advisory Committee.
Passing an overlaying Public Health and Groundwater Protection Ordinance includes the use of process to bring about change from what’s not working (nitrates are continuing to increase), to a prevention strategy, detect and report current problems. Some of the proposals in the ordinance are already in the works: a 1.0 full time employee increase in county staffing to monitor and respond to changes, through correction, and the possibility of enforcing the laws of the federal and state level, locally, that protect water resources.
In a memo addressed to Patti Dreier, the County Executive, from the last Portage County Groundwater Citizens Advisory Committee, (1/18/2018) it looks promising that there are action strategies that Portage County can take, within its current authority to improve water quality.
Lord: The need to protect our water resources and the needs of the agriculture Industry are not necessarily at odds. All farmers, large and small, like anyone who works with the land, understand sustainability. No one really wants to steal quality of life from the next generation. A failure to find common ground on water resource issues is primary a failure to communicate. The citizens of the county must be deliberately engaged in dialog on this issue.
Some excellent research has been done in Portage County by the University of Wisconsin and the Geological Survey. First we must agree to use this research and factual data as the basis for decisions. Second, we must agree that some limits on the use of water and fertilizer are necessary. Unlimited growth of CAFO’s is not sustainable. Unlimited use of a limited water resource is impossible. Nutrient Management Plans and fertilizer application rates must take into account the differences in soil type. The choice of farming practice (crop rotation for example), has an impact on the resource. These truths are self-evident and once agreement is reached on these few basic undeniable facts, then agreement on reasonable policies governing the use of this indispensable resource can be found.
Zdroik: As you may know, I do work for Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Association Inc. (WPVGA), as Coordinator of Community Relations. My job duties include the operations of the Wisconsin Spudmobile. Water use is a critical issue for all of central Wisconsin and WPVGA and all farmers are committed to responsible use of this precious resource. This is implemented thru research and new technologies. Most Wisconsin potato/vegetable farms are family owned and operated and many for several generations. Many growers have adopted precision farming which is grid soil sampling to reduce pollution and runoff whereby reducing costs. All farms big and small, potato/vegetable/dairy are invested heavily in the use of high capacity wells, and one of its key purposes is for crop security. Monies borrowed for crop production come with risks and banks/lenders require that they cover their risk by carrying insurance and having irrigation as back up if they don’t receive proper rainfall. This will be key right now because of a low price on certain commodities such as corn and soybeans. There will continue to be dialogue and open discussions between all parties not only now, but as we move forward.
Spirit: The County budget impacts local roads and rural social services, including Meals on Wheels, home healthcare, and rural poverty programs. Given the rising cost of services and dwindling revenues, what ideas do you have for maintaining vital services?
Abbott: Invest in real time data, tighter budget priorities, local involvement, and increased revenues (fines), for quicker actions.
We need to continue to engage all in the community to come up with creative solutions.
Lord: The bottom line is that vital services must be maintained, by whatever means necessary. Local and County governments are not powerless. Our Governor’s recent (somewhat promising), changes in School funding are a direct result of the influence applied by school board members, administrators and teachers. The State legislature and Governor can be influenced. If more tax revenue paid to the State by Portage County citizens needs to be returned to the county, then we must be proactive and strategic in collaboration with other county Governments to influence the decisions being made in Madison.
Zdroik: The impact of our current budget puts the highway budget at a deficient, which is why citizens will or may receive a reduction in services in the near future – hence the wheel tax. What isn’t helping is that the State is taking 138 million dollars of the transportation budget to fund same of the “Foxconn” road system with no new revenue source.
Spirit: What are your views regarding Portage County’s rural EMS service? How best can we maintain service?
Abbott: This is a new area for me, and I will need to learn more about it over the next few months.
Lord: County Executive Patty Dreier has made a great start. Surveys have been sent out to each of the county’s municipalities requesting that they include the survey on a board meeting agenda and get input from residents on providing EMS. The information gleaned from this survey will go a long way in informing the County Board.
However, the old adage applies, “don’t ask the question if you aren’t going to listen to the answer.” Citizens will expect that the solution reflects the input they provided.
Zdroik: I’m currently on the Emergency Service/Public Safety Committee. I would like to remain on this committee because the bargaining on a new contract county-wide ambulance system begins shortly after the new county board is in place. This is not only critical to the Amherst area but to all of Portage County because response times are a key to all who receive this service. The Rosholt/Amherst first responders will continue to play a big role in providing vital services to all citizens in the area.
Spirit: Please feel free to elaborate on any issues that you find to be important that we haven’t asked about.
Abbott: Thanks for considering my opinions, I welcome conversations regarding issues whatever they are.
I communicate directly with my neighbors to understand what's going on with farmers and their farms, lake owners and all citizens. I don’t just learn from water experts, or rumors – I go to the barn/lake/county/DNR to ask questions. I’ve learned about the issue from the perspective of a diversity of constituents. I'll make sure I understand the issue before taking a position, and I'll be fair.
Lord: The Portage County Health Care Center is a vital resource for our communities. When my Mother was in a nursing home, a two-hour drive from my home, I was unable to be with her as much as she needed. For the elderly, isolation reduces quality and quantity of life. I believe it is our duty as citizens to ensure that our elders are properly cared for. It is our responsibility to design a long-term commitment to funding the PCHCC.
Zdroik: The job description of a County Board supervisor is, and will continue to be, to do what is best for Portage County not only now but for the future. I have lived in Portage County all my life and understand the history and hope to continue playing a role in it’s future.