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County Commission candidates speak at forum
District 1 candidates
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Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories about Thursday night’s candidate forum, hosted by the  Barton County League of Women Voters. The second story, with candidates for Barton County Commission Districts Four and Five, will appear in Sunday’s Great Bend  Tribune.

Four Republican candidates for Barton County Commission District One spoke at Thursday’s Candidates Forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters. The winner of the Aug. 2 primary will be on the general election ballot in November.

Background information as provided by each candidate can be found online at, by clicking on the “Candidates Forum July 21”tab located below the photos on the page.

Each answered four questions. Here is a summary of their answers:

How will you communicate and coordinate your goals to the other cities and townships you represent?

Jeffery Donecker, Ellinwood - He believes in open communication, whether it’s through email, social media or telephone, as well as face-to-face. If elected, he said he would like to attend city council and township meetings. “I’m not opposed to town halls.” 

“The youth is what I’m going for,” he said, adding his son moved home from college and started a career in Great Bend. “I’d like to keep him here, so I’d like to build Great Bend, Barton County and the surrounding area. Great Bend is obviously our biggest tax base, but Hoisington, Susank, Galatia and Olmitz, they all pay taxes, too. I’d love to get their input and see what we can do for those communities to make them better going forward.”

Matthew Gerritzen, Hoisington - “Basically in the county, communication will boil down to accessibility,” he said.

“As long as you keep yourself accessible, you put yourself out there on social media, city council meetings, township meetings and even approachable on the street. Don’t pigeonhole based on economic status or job status; everybody’s voice has equal weight.” He wants to be “the voice of the people.”

“I’ve heard opinions of a lot of problems that have been pent up but they just don’t want to bring them to their representation because they’re either on a higher scale, lower scale, they just know their voice won’t be heard. So if you put yourself at the person’s level, they’re more apt to come to you to solve that problem.”

Linda Moeder, Beaver - “District One is a large area that includes five incorporated cities and 14 townships. I think communication can always be a challenge, but relationships foster communication. In order to build relationships, I would periodically attend the city and township meetings to get to know the people and understand the issues.” She also thinks city and township officials would find it helpful to request the weekly email that provides the agenda for the next county commission meeting. “If the officials in the townships and the cities would receive that and read the information they’d be aware of what the county commissioners were working on and they’d have the opportunity to express their needs in a timely manner.”

Duane Reif, Hoisington - “I will take this job as commissioner very seriously, because it’s representing the taxpayers and finances, and I think they should expect honest and thought-about decisions.” He said the first three keys to good leadership are “communication, communication, communication.”

He mentioned the diversity of his experience, including co-founder of the Kans for Kids Fighting Cancer Foundation, serving on the Hoisington Chamber of Commerce and Hoisington Fire Department, and 30 years as a branch manager.

“So I really feel like I know the people; I have heard a lot of their concerns. I know where they live.” He’s driven on county and township roads and talked to people. “Sometimes, you know, people just need to be heard and that’s what I would be to the people. We can’t really show that we care unless we get out there and volunteer and attend fundraisers and events.”


How are you planning on utilizing the relationship with the (Great Bend) Economic Development Board to develop needed programs for housing, childcare and business expansion to better our community?

Jeffrey Donecker - As he mentioned in his introduction, his son moved back to Barton County to start his career. “I’d love to have him stay. He doesn’t want to rent, he wants to own. So I’d be eager to sit down with any board that could (help) grow Barton County. If we can have more industry, attract more people into our county, we can keep those kids here. We can make Barton County what it used to be.”

He sees what Hays has done and asks, “Why can’t we have something to draw people in? And that includes housing, daycare. We can have all that. We have to advocate to the powers, ‘Let’s get something in here. Let’s get it rolling.’ And that’s what I want to do. ... It’s not about me. It’s not about you guys. It’s about our future. It’s our kids, our grandkids and great-grandkids.

Matthew Gerritzen - Picturing economic development “kind of like a tree,” he said, “You got the canopy level, you got the trunk level and you got the root level. Typically we look at housing, childcare and all that as the canopy level, but sometimes you have to dig deeper into the roots to figure out where your true problem is.” In Barton County, we need to find a way to bring in industry that will pay good wages so people won’t need help with housing and childcare.

“Now, some families will still need it, so it won’t go away as an initial problem. But we can ease that burden on housing and childcare by bringing in that industry that will pay that wage to give people that opportunity.”

Barton County residents pay taxes to Barton Community College, which could be used to train employees for new jobs, he said.  “(BCC) has been the most under-utilized entity we’ve had here, because we’re training the workforce for somebody else’s town. If we can promote industry, you basically get that working development between the economic development the college and the commission and the cities. Those problems will kind of work themselves out over time.”

Linda Moeder - “The mission of the Economic Development Board is to improve the quality of life for the citizens of the county. I would like to become more familiar with the economic board in order to take advantage of available grants and other opportunities for all of the county. I believe the ongoing joint meetings with the county commissions and the city councils are a good way to help spread the economic ideas and opportunities throughout the county.”

Duane Reif - “I think economic development is key to survival of Barton County. We’re very fortunate to have the Economic Development Board of Directors and because they’ve got their the feet on ground, and they’ve got the feelers out, they probably know more than what the commissioners know, by just talking to people.”

The daycare that is going to be built in Great Bend will have room for 59 children and Hoisington is in the early stages of its own plan for more daycare. “I think we’ve got a good plan. It’s just a matter of hopefully next year at this time we’ll have construction going and that’s my goal.”

The county’s facade improvement grants for small businesses are another good thing that’s been done for economic development, he said.

Better housing is something to continue working on. “That’s not magic you can change overnight. So just continue working on that. And let’s not ever forget about roads and bridges for the ag community.”

As we all know, property taxes are a serious concern for all property owners. What is your philosophy on taxation and ways to attract future residents?

Jeffery Donecker -  Citing his service on the Claflin City Council, he said, “One of the big things is never drop the mill levy. If you hold on to keel and you’re just riding and all sudden you drop it, what happens when something breaks? Your infrastructure goes south.” For example, suppose “Hoisington gets leveled off the map again, like it did. All of that comes back to taxation. We have to have that money, to pay for our infrastructure. Dropping taxes isn’t a good deal. Growing tax base, that’s a good deal. That’s what I’m aiming for. I want to get with economic development, build things, get Great Bend rolling again, get Barton County up on its feet, and we’ll have tax dollars. Your tax dollar goes a little further if we get more people to pay more taxes.”

Matthew Gerritzen - “You know, property taxes is a hot topic for just about everybody. And I mean, it’s easy to go up into the courthouse, do your valuations raise a mill here, change a number here. It’s relatively simple on that aspect of things. But as everybody well knows, income does not adjust the same way. When we squeeze all the juice out of that lemon, there’s no more there’s no more leeway left there.”

When income is out of balance with property taxes, people will leave, he said.

Barton County has been losing population for years. “We have to bring in that industry, that infrastructure, that tax base to lower the property tax, provide that income, provide that ability to make housing work. Don’t just adjust numbers. ... You have to find that happy medium and actually build those large projects to bring that tax base in and also to be fiscally responsible about those dollars coming in.”

While emergency vehicles need to be newer for reliability, “not everybody needs to have new vehicles,” he added. 

“There’s a lot of entities within the county that have brand new vehicles, brand new equipment all the time. We can make that last a little longer with the right maintenance and everything else to make those expenditures go a little farther.”

Linda Moeder - “As a previous owner of Mo’s Place, I know hard work and the value of the dollar. I realize that taxes are necessary to provide needed services, but it’s not the government’s job to fix all the problems. County Commissioners should have a focus on the government’s role versus that of private business. I believe limited government is better. We need good management of tax resources to maximize the benefit for all the county residents.”

Duane Reif - “First of all, I have no plans on raising taxes. That’s not my plan at all. I know it’s always a hotbed issue.” But he also doesn’t want to lose the great benefits that Barton County residents enjoy because of their tax dollars. “So think about that before we really lower taxes. I mean, if there’s way lower taxes, that’s great.” It’s OK to ask elected officials questions and hold them accountable, he added.

How would you address the current issues that our local sheriff has defined Regarding food and gas? In your opinion, can the commission help to control the cost of living in our community? 

Jeffery Donecker - “Throwing more money at it isn’t gonna help anything. That’s why we do budgets. That’s why we have budget hearings. That’s why we have reserves. I’ve been there. I’ve done the City Council budget. It’s tough – where do you cut? What do you do?”

Eventually, today’s high inflation will go away, he continued. “We’ll get there. And again, it goes back to, hopefully, we get a little bit bigger tax base with more money in the county. And it goes back to the youth again. We can build better for our youth for our grandkids, great-grandkids. We’ve just got to look forward to the future. You got to move forward.”

Matthew Gerritzen -  Inflation is really not a beast that we can manage, but the commission does need to provide good management, he said. But the county commissioners can look at contract bidding and working with local entities on volume discounts, for example. “That’s where we have to work. We can’t cut emergency services because that’s a public safety issue. We have to be fiscally responsible in other areas of this county and try to manage that.

“We can’t raise the taxes we can’t basically spend our way out of this deal. And the situation boils down to management, management management; make that dollar work and go as far as possible. Look a year down the road, six months down the road, buy in excess and buy in volume.”

Gerritzen said he would also lead by example. “Whoever gets this position should not be immune to the cuts. I can’t cut my own pay if I become commissioner, but I would be willing to donate part of my wage to nonprofit – help those people out.”

Linda Moeder -  “I agree with what most people up here that said. There’s not much we can do locally to battle the inflation problem we have right now but I believe the best thing that the county commissioners can do is to keep spending under control. We should be wise and prudent and good stewards of all the taxpayer dollars. For instance, this year the sheriff’s office has purchased fuel at a contract price, and the county treasurer is not including envelopes for return payment. And even though these are small things, they add up to big savings and they should be encouraged.”

Duane Reif - Budgeting for a good year is hard, and inflation makes it almost impossible, he said. 

“But you just have to realize, we came out of a pandemic for two years. We postponed everything, weddings, funerals, any type of party, traveling. We just have to have some patience, wait for things to calm down.”

Locking in prices is wise, he continued. “Road and bridge and landfill, I believe they’ve already locked in 50% of the fuel. I think it’s a smart move. And we just have to be careful over wants and need, postpone anything possibly we can do and maybe just wait till inflation eases just a little bit.”