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Candidates talk about hospital, teens and property taxes at City Hall forum

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Candidates talk about hospital, teens and property taxes at City Hall forum
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

DICKINSON - The three candidates for Dickinson City Commission were on public display for the first time Tuesday at a City Hall forum.

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St. Joseph's Hospital, concerns about teenagers and property taxes were issues central to the discussion which was fueled by questions from the nearly 30 attendants.

Shirley Dukart, part-owner of the Home and Land Co.; incumbent Commissioner Carson Steiner, an agent with Bank of the West Insurance; and Gene Jackson, past president of the engineering and surveying firm Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson Inc., were all in attendance. The three are vying for two seats on the commission.

Mayor Dennis Johnson, the president of the city commission, also attended the forum. Johnson is running unopposed for a third term.

Each candidate introduced themselves, and then the group fielded questions from the crowd.

A member of the audience asked the candidates what they would do to retain and maintain Dickinson's hospital which has been facing financial woes.

Steiner took an optimistic lens on the issue.

"I wouldn't put the dagger in them yet. They got some good people up there, and I believe that they're working hard to bring that hospital around," he said, adding that he supports using city funds to help the hospital and having a public forum on the topic.

Jackson said what's needed is an unbiased assessment of the hospital's status and its prospects.

"One thing that I would like to see with the hospital is for us to bring someone from the outside...and really get an objective arms-length look at what our hospital can be and what it is now," Jackson said.

Dukart stressed that the community needs a full-service hospital with a 24-hour emergency room and a mental health unit.

"I just can't see it going it away," she said. "If they need help, we need to help them."

Johnson said in the short term, the hospital must achieve financial stability. To do that, he said, the hospital has to be recognized as a "critical-access" hospital, which would make it eligible for significantly more funding. The obstacle is that Richardton's hospital holds a designation of "critical access," and federal regulations stipulate that such hospitals cannot be within 25 miles of each other, he said.

In the long term, Johnson said, the community should consider building a new hospital.

"The existing hospital is old, and it was built for another time...a different way medicine was practiced for a different size community," he said.

The second part of the same audience member's question asked for the candidate's thoughts on the problem of underage drinking.

Steiner said the Dickinson Police are working to address the issue, but parents must play a role.

"The number one thing we see is that parents are not getting involved in their kids when they are doing the drinking," Steiner said. "It's got to start at home."

Jackson said teens who take part in athletics and other activities typically stay out of trouble.

"Kids who are involved don't drink or don't drink as much," Jackson said.

Dukart spoke from personal experience with her granddaughter's alcohol use. She said a program is needed to help young people shake their addictions.

"It's something that they don't outgrow. You have to help them along and take baby steps, and that's what we're doing," she said.

Johnson pointed to the construction of the West River Community Center and the advent of a school resource officer as steps the commission has taken to tackle teen problems.

A point of contention between Steiner and Dukart came over the two-year property tax exemption for newly constructed homes in Dickinson. Dukart said she favored abolishing the exemption as a way to generate more income for the city. Steiner countered saying such a move would result in more home construction outside the city limits, where Stark County offers a similar exemption.

Jackson said the way to reduce the property tax burden is to keep the city "economically energized" and "run a good, crisp city government."

An audience member asked the candidates to name what their top two priorities as commissioners would be. Dukart said hers are the city's youth and eliminating the 2-year tax exemption on new homes. Steiner listed the retention and recruitment of residents as his top two. Jackson named enhancing and maintaining the city's "can-do" attitude and preparing the city for the potential impact of the proposed mine and coal gasification plant in South Heart.

The Dickinson Chamber of Commerce, which organized Tuesday's forum, is sponsoring a gathering of Stark County Commission candidates on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall.

In the county commission races, Jay Elkin and Brian Personne are running for the District 5 seat; Martin Krank, Pete Kuntz and Tom Ribbp are vying for the District 1 post; and Duane Wolf is running solo in District 3. All three districts are in the city of Dickinson.

For more information, contact the chamber of commerce at (701) 225-5115.

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