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Craig Fontaine - District 2 candidate. Submitted Photo

Craig Fontaine vs. Ben Grimsley -- Two DL men vie to represent new Becker County Board district

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Becker County Board District 2 candidates Ben Grimsley and Craig Fontaine faced off in a candidate forum Thursday at M State, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce. Here's what they had to say:

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'I lost 200 pounds'

Fontaine talked about his background in McDonald's restaurant management, community college teaching, and emergency medicine, and noted that some may not recognize him from ambulance runs, since he weighed 420 pounds and had a "big, burly beard" just seven years ago.

"I've since lost 200 pounds, so I'm not him anymore -- if you think back, I'm that guy," he said.

Grimsley noted his deep roots in Detroit Lakes, where a direct relative served as mayor in the late 1800s.

"As a business owner (Anchor Financial) I know what it takes to balance a budget, and I know how to give serious advice on complex issues (involving financial matters)."

The two most important things people look for in relocating to a community are the economic conditions, especially concerning jobs, and good schools, he said.

"I want to see our community grow and prosper."

Cooperate to save money

Asked how Becker County could best work with other government units to save money, Fontaine suggested the use of "mutual aid" between the sheriff's department and the city police department.

"Rather than duplicate all the issues and efforts, I think something like that could be very beneficial," he said, noting that fire departments do it all the time.

Grimsley said he has "heard the talk about EDA, at several meetings," but doesn't believe there is "a whole lot of overlap," between the county and city on the issue. He'd like to see cooperation in the fight against aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels and flowering rush.

How to spur growth?

Asked how the county can encourage new business growth, Fontaine noted that McDonald's Corp. saw a lot of potential in the area when he first came to Detroit Lakes as store manager.

"There are a lot of good things out there that can be brought into town," he said. "We've done well as a recreational area ... we need to bring in more manufacturing."

Grimsley said he would like to find a way to "reach out to some of those job-creators in North Dakota or elsewhere in Minnesota ... We have a great area and people want to locate here."

M State is a great resource, he said, and the county may want to consider offering tax incentives to businesses that locate in the area.

"It's a great place to live and work," he said.

How to pay for Voter ID?

The next question was about the Voter ID amendment, and how the county should pay for the cost -- estimated at up to $500,000 in Becker County -- if it passes.

Fontaine doesn't see how it could be so expensive.

"Now if you want a hunting license or a fishing license, you need an ID," he said. "Most everybody out there has some ID, but I don't see the cost ... the IDs are out there, I don't think it's that big an addition."

Grimsley said that the cost has not yet been established, since the constitutional amendment first has to pass on Nov. 6, then the Legislature has to write the rules.

"As Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen pointed out, we don't know how the state will implement it," Grimsley said. "It's not an ongoing cost -- maybe we could take some from reserves and some in the form of a levy. I'd like to see the smallest impact as possible on the constituents."

Housing for the poor?

Asked if the county is doing enough to provide housing for low-income residents, Grimsley said "yes," adding that the program could be improved by working with the city to "manage those houses more effectively."

Fontaine said there is "lots of subsidized, low-income and student housing in the area -- I think we do a good job with housing in Becker County."

Aquatic invasive fight

Asked what the county's role should be in protecting lakes from aquatic invasives, Grimsley said the county has to be realistic in its expectations.

"We could do everything short of shutting down accesses on all lakes in the county and we wouldn't do anything to stop AIS (aquatic invasive species)."

He believes the answer lies in educating those who use the lakes, since most people don't want to spread invasives. Fines should be higher on those who do break the AIS laws, and the county may want to look at buying decontamination units and encourage the closing of some lake accesses so AIS volunteers aren't spread so thin.

Fontaine said the job of protecting against invasives "can't just be Becker County, the city of Detroit Lakes or even the state of Minnesota ... Those who use the lakes have to take ownership of the issue, get educated, "and really understand what it takes to keep our lakes clean," he said.

Bringing 'New energy'

In his closing statement, Grimsley said he would "bring a new perspective and new energy to a strong board and we'd work well together."

People need to bear in mind that more services mean higher taxes, and fewer services mean lower taxes.

"We always have to have a balanced budget," he said.

Fontaine said he has been in Detroit Lakes for 28 years, served on the Detroit Lakes Fire Department and Becker County dive rescue team, and been on the sheriff's auxiliary.

His background in business, education and public service would make him a good commissioner, Fontaine said.

"I have a lot of respect for the commissioners," he said. "My job is to make the board a little bit better."

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