BY GLENN PUIT
SUTTONS BAY — Four contested races for the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners appear on county ballots.
Current Board Chair Tom Van Pelt faces former board Chair Mary Tonneberger in the district 4 race. Van Pelt, a Republican cherry farmer, said the county's unfunded retirement liabilities of approximately $5 million needs to be paid for without tax increases.
"We are 80 percent funded, but 20 percent is still a lot of money," said Van Pelt.
Tonneberger, who listed no political party affiliation, was a county commissioner from 2002 to 2010, and spent two years as the board chair.
She said there's too much acrimony on the board and contends there needs to be more civil discourse and cooperation. The county needs to lead in implementing high-speed Internet throughout the county for economic development. There needs to be more partnerships with chambers of commerce, she said.
"These people need to really get to the same table and brainstorm, and to take a look at zoning regulations that put barriers to people starting businesses," Tonneberger said.
In the District 5 race, Republican Karen Zemaitis faces Democrat Patricia Soutas-Little. Zemaitis worked in banking for 10 years and as a manufacturer's representative. She serves on the county Land Bank Authority.
Soutas-Little is the chair of the Early Childhood Development Commission Steering Committee and has an extensive background in the field of biomechanics evaluation.
Zemaitis described herself as a candidate of fiscal responsibility. She said the county needs to make sure it gets the best deal possible for the old county courthouse in Leland. The county should tackle the county's unfunded retirement liabilities, reduce costs at the county jail, and appropriately fund the county 911 system.
"We keep kicking the can down the road; this is a necessary service that must be funded," Zemaitis said, adding solutions exist that don't involve increasing taxes.
Soutas-Little wants to help small businesses in the county that support tourism, agriculture and the arts. She wants a thorough economic development strategy for the county that keeps youth in the area. Permitting and licensing for businesses needs to be streamlined. Soutas-Little supports revitalizing the dormant Sugarloaf ski resort and early childhood development programs.
"I have an opportunity to give back and to help Leelanau County to grow and to thrive," Soutas-Little said. "We need to support our agriculture, and we need to "¦ support clean technology to create more jobs."
Republican Robert Hawley is a former county commissioner who's opposed by Democrat Carolyn Rentenbach for the District 6 seat. Hawley previously served eight years as a commissioner, including six years as board chairman.
He wants to reduce the county's legal bills and special millages that can be covered out of the county's general fund. The 2013 county budget calls for a dip into the general fund for $300,000, which Hawley said is unacceptable.
"I'm hoping to get elected based on my experience, my community service and where I stand on the issues," Hawley said.
Rentenbach said she'll bring a moderate, common sense voice to the board. She's a longtime county resident and ran the LaBecasse restaurant for 18 years. She said the county budget needs to be managed "in an equitable manner," services to the elderly need attention, and the Meals on Wheels program needs to be preserved.
"One of the things so valuable to our county is our natural resources," Rentenbach said. "We are so very fortunate to have this national lakeshore. We need to encourage and support the tourism industry and, at the same time, protect the natural resources that are drawing tourists here."
In the District 7 race, longtime commissioner Melinda Lautner faces Karl Dungjen. Lautner is a farmer. She's served on the commission for nearly 18 years.
"I bring common sense and accountability to the board," Lautner said. "I've always worked hard and continue to work hard for less government regulations and controlling government spending, which can lead to lower taxes. I'm a private property rights advocate. I've got a lot of years experience on the board and I'm ready to hit the ground running."
Dungjen, who lists no political party affiliation, is a radio producer and musician who produces the Saturday polka party show on 1310 am WCCW. It's time for change in District 7, he said.
"You need a change of representation to see that everyone has a voice," Dungjen said.
Dungjen said economic development, Internet access and getting Sugarloaf up and running are priorities. The county, he said, needs a long-term strategy for decisions, saying the county is reactionary and "right now we are being detailed to death."
"With the right type of leadership (we can) positive and progressive instead of reactionary," Dungjen said.