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Hill County Commissioners primary candidates

Mark Peterson: Wants to continue giving to the county

A candidate for Hill County commissioner said he wants to continue and expand his service to the county by running for that position, and his background as a lifelong resident will help with that.

"I know this county. I know the people in it, " said Democrat Mark Peterson, who farms north of Havre. "I believe in the county and the people in it. I want to make it a better place when I leave than when I came. "

Peterson faces Hill County Road and Bridge Department office manager Deborah Walker in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

The winner will face Republican Debi Rhines, a Havre businesswoman, in the general election. Rhines is unopposed in the primary.

Incumbent Kathy Bessette, a Democrat, is not running for re-election.

Peterson said he was a finalist in the search that appointed Bessette to her position 22 years ago, and then he ran against her — and lost — in her first election.

Peterson said he has given countless hours, weeks and months every year to the community, such as working as a water plant operator, an emergency medical technician, a reserve deputy, and a volunteer firefighter.

He has trained first responders, worked with Montana State University-Northern and the Northern Agricultural Research Center and served on countless boards and groups including the Hill County Electric Cooperative board; the Hill County Weed District board; the national Council on Agricultural, Research, Extension and Teaching; and the Montana State University College of Agriculture Advisory Committee.

His involvement also ranges to groups like 4-H, Walleyes Unlimited, the Wild Turkey Federation, Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line, the Bullhook Bottoms Black Powder Club and associations like the Montana Grain Growers Association, also serving as the former president of the Montana pulse crop growers association.

"I have given to Hill County, and the local community, many, many hours of community service in many, many different ways …, " Peterson said. "They just are community services, and that's where my heart is, is to (give to) this community. "

He said the biggest issue facing the county is money. One of the first things he will do if elected, he said, is put a jar of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters on his desk, and it will stay there. If you watch those, Peterson said, the dollars will follow.

He said he believes work can be done to increase the efficiency of operations, which might start with the members of the departments brainstorming on where efficiency could increase and money could be saved.

"We have to communicate throughout, and find out, and discover, where to do a better job and not cost us more money, " he said.

He said one area where he would like to expand operations is applying for grants. One way to accomplish this would be to continue working through Bear Paw Development Corp.

"Bear Paw Development is a tremendous asset to this community, and we need to work with them more, " he said.

But the county could be doing more, Peterson said, citing the millions of dollars brought into Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation every year through applying for grants.

He said he eventually would like to have someone working for the county in that capacity.

"I think, in the beginning, we're going to have to walk, but, in the end, I think that should be a full-time position, " Peterson said. "I have no doubt in my mind that a good grant writer would pay for themselves. "

Any money raised through grants will benefit county residents, he added.

"It offsets dollars you and I don't have to pay in taxes, " Peterson said.

He added that he has worked over the years with local and state government agencies, as well as members of Congress ranging from reps. Rick Hill and Pat Williams to sens. Conrad Burns, Max Baucus and Jon Tester.

"I've worked with all of them, " Peterson said. "I'm fully comfortable with trying to find other ways to help this county grow without having any people pay more taxes. "

He said the amount of plastic going into the new landfill is immense, and it will never degrade, never go away, he said.

"Is there a way that we can maybe set up, help somebody set up, identify a way, of recycling? " he asked.

And new ideas could come from anywhere.

"We need to think outside the box. We've got to be creative, " he said. "That's why we've got to communicate with everybody. Their idea may not be the right idea, but what it may do is lead to the right idea. "

Peterson said the commissioners need to listen to all of the residents of the county and find out what they want. "Between the three of us, we'll try to come up with a plan of action to make it happen. "

He said he would listen to, and represent, all of the people in the county.

"And, You need to feel free to walk up to me and say, 'can we visit, '" Peterson said.

Deborah Walker: County experience, a communicator

A candidate for Hill County commissioner said her experience as a county employee gives her the best qualifications for the job.

"I have experience, " said Hill County Road and Bridge Department office manager Deborah Walker, a Democrat. "I work with the Hill County budget every day, Hill County policies, road issues. I've done that for over 11 years. "

Walker faces Hill County farmer Mark Peterson in the Democratic primary Tuesday.

The winner will face Republican Debi Rhines, a Havre businesswoman, in the general election. Rhines is unopposed in the primary.

Incumbent Kathy Bessette, a Democrat, is not running for re-election.

Walker said that, in addition to her experience in county work and as a supervisor and administrator in other positions, her personality lends itself to the position.

"I listen. I don't make hasty judgments, although I can if I have to, but I prefer not to, " she said. "Especially in the commissioner position, you need to know all sides of the issue before you make a decision. "

Walker was born in Ballentine, Neb., in 1952.

When she was in second grade, her family moved to Montana, and she graduated from Joliet High School in 1970.

She majored in liberal arts at a college in Kansas, but did not receive a degree.

Walker married a rancher from Forest Grove near Lewistown, and worked on the ranch and also as an assistant postmaster.

She moved to Havre in 1985, and said much of the work she has done since then would help as a commissioner, including working with the public at the Havre Woolworth's store, where she ended as floor supervisor, and working as an administrative assistant in the Chinook public school district. Walker said her job there included working with the superintendent, business manager and school board, dealing with the budget, student issues, district policies and confidential issues.

She said being available and focusing on the county would be key issues for her.

"I also don't think that running to Washington, D.C., is the answer, because we need to be here in the office, whoever gets the position, doing whatever is best for Hill County …, " Walker said. "I do think the commissioner, whoever wins this, needs to be willing to be in the courthouse, in the office, accessible to the general public whenever possible. "

She said one key issue facing the county is the annexation of property by Havre, on which a lawsuit filed by Havre property owners still is pending.

Walker said the city is trying to annex property — which it has the right to do — but is trying to not annex items that have to be maintained, like roads and lift stations.

"I just don't see how they can do that … they want the revenue but they don't want the expenditures, " she said, adding that the cost of that would eliminate the road department's ability to maintain county roads.

Havre Mayor Tim Solomon said this morning that, once the lawsuit is settled, any property annexed would become the responsibility of the city, including roads and water and sewer lines and so on.

Walker said another key issue is maintaining the flood control system on the Milk River, which could cost the county disaster assistance money if a disaster occurred and the levees and dikes aren't up to specifications.

"That is an issue that affects everyone that lives in Havre. Whether they would be flooded or not, it would affect their life …, " she said. "I don't know the answer to that. I don't think I will know till I get in there. "

Another is the new landfill and plastic bags blowing out of it. Walker said she wants to work with the major local retailers, and is in the process of setting up meetings with the management of those stores, to talk about their switching to biodegradable plastic bags.

Biodegradable plastic, depending on the material from which it is made — which also affects cost — are reputed to degrade in several months to a few years.

"It's definitely an interest of mine, and I think it needs to be addressed, " she said.

Dealing with maintenance and improvement of the county's more-than 1,800 miles of roads in the county will be an ongoing issue as well, she said.

Walker said a key to succeeding as a commissioner is to work as part of a team.

"I think the city and the county need to work together. I know that, in the past, there have been some problems with that …, " she said. "I think the commission needs to work as a team. One person cannot make a decision up there. You need all three … the general public thinks that one person up there can make a decision. They need to work together as a team. "


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