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The results of Tuesday’s general election have the potential to shift the balance of the Winona County Board and set the tone for years to come.

A closing jail, a massive feedlot expansion, and a budget deficit are just a handful of the county issues that will be shaped by the election.

On the ballot, six candidates are vying for three county seats.

1st District

Voters will decide whether Chris Meyer or Paul Double will replace three-term county commissioner Jim Pomeroy.

Meyer, who has served on several city and county committees, said she hopes to continue Pomeroy’s tradition of evidence-based decision making.

A strong proponent of sustainable practices, Meyer wants to give the next generation the same opportunities afforded to Winonans today.

“Future generations should have the same quality of life that we have had,” she said.

Meyer also aims to tackle some of the county’s biggest challenges, namely the county’s $1.7 million deficit, the rising costs of social services, workforce housing the and county’s substandard jail.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections announced in early September it would close the facility in 2021.

Meyer also wants to tap into the billions of dollars of investment happening just over the county line in Rochester.

It’s an opportunity to leverage that growth, especially in the county’s westernmost cities, she said.

Double, a former city council member, sees running for the board as a chance to return to politics and help the county find common sense solutions to its biggest challenges.

“One of the things that people don’t realize is the county is the primary government body that handles most of the social issues,” he said. “That’s a big issue that Winona needs to deal with.”

His priorities include the addressing the jail, making mental health services more readily available and rebuilding Winona County’s deteriorating roads and bridges, all while reducing the burden on taxpayers.

“Taxpayers need common sense solutions, results and actions not stalemates, internal fights and mounting legal expenses,” he said.

2nd District

Mike Charron, the dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Saint Mary’s University, will challenge incumbent Marie Kovecsi for her seat at the table.

The former Woodbury, Minn., city council member and one-time state representative aims to bring a bipartisan approach to an often partisan board.

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“We need to be able to walk across the street and talk to our neighbor and listen to them and come up with solutions together,” he said.

Charron hopes to use his connections made while serving as a state representative to bear and help reduce the burden of state-mandated programs.

Kovecsi, a former teacher of the blind and visually impaired, has based her campaign on solving the county’s problems with evidence backed solutions

“I believe my leadership shows in concrete actions: show up, listen up and follow up,” she said, pointing her support of environmental protections, the criminal justice system, prevention programs and actions that help to broaden the county’s tax base.

While Charron has taken aim at state-mandated programs, Kovecsi has called on the county to tax everyone — including large corporations — their fair share all while driving economic growth in the region.

5th District

Political newcomer Bryce Lange will challenge incumbent board chair Marcia Ward.

Ward, who has represented the rural district for the last 16 years, said she wants to help Winona County residents find solutions to their problems.

“Whatever the issue or concern, I along with county staff need to work to help resolve it for the constituent,” she said.

Ward said the jail is an issue that needs to be addressed soon.

The former business owner also remains focused on balancing the budget and reducing the number of children interring Winona’s foster system.

According to county administrator Ken Fritz, the foster system costs the county nearly $2 million a year and is responsible for a significant portion of the deficit.

Ward’s opponent is also one of her harshest critics.

A relative newcomer to politics, Lange is running in hopes of ousting Ward — who he says hasn’t voted in the interest of the district — and refocusing the county’s attention on rural issues and economic development.

According to Lange, in the next four years the county needs to reinvest in rural communities, drive economic development and take more aggressive steps to protect resident’s water supply.

While Lange agrees that the jail is problem, he has focused most of his attention on improving the quality of life for rural residents.

“Instead of putting roots down in Winona County, many prospective residents and businesses are going to other counties that are willing to assist them with loans, grants and other incentives,” he said.

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Tobias Mann covers crime and government in Winona County. He can be reached at 507-453-3522 or at tobias.mann@winonadailynews.com

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