I’m a Democrat. But what does that mean? In my family, it meant we believed government could play an active role in improving the lives of its constituents.
At the Houghton County Fair Democratic Party booth last August, Rick Kasprzak, right, author of this article and Democratic candidate for Houghton County Commissioner, District 1, is pictured here with District 3 County Commissioner Anton Pintar, who is running for re-election. Both of them are strong supporters of the candidate in the lifesize photo, center. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)
Houghton County is unique in many ways. We are a unique people, hardworking, resilient and resourceful. Houghton County is also a place where a visitor can step back in time, so to speak, and return to an earlier, simpler time. Many of our buildings were built near the turn of the century and have a remarkable design and architecture.
However, because of hard financial times which started over 50 years ago as the mining companies began to pull out of the area, much of our infrastructure is in desperate need of repair. Many of those old and beautiful buildings sit empty, awaiting a new purpose.
Meanwhile the county’s funding is limited, and our personal finances are stretched to the limit. To borrow a term from football, how then are we to flip the field position in our favor?
My opponent and I agree fundamentally on the problems facing our county, and also on the fact that economic development is the key to successfully restoring a strong local economy. Frankly there is little difference between our goals.
What separates the two of us is our perspective on how to accomplish those goals. This is a new century. The usual ways of doing business are old news. What is needed now is a fresh perspective. That’s what I offer.
County Commissioner Candidate Rick Kasprzak, center, chats with John Laitinen, left, Franklin Township Trustee, who is running for re-election. At right is Scott Dianda, candidate for Michigan House of Representatives 110th District. All three were gathered in the Hancock office of the Houghton County Democratic Party Friday, Nov. 2, for a visit from First District Congressional Candidate Gary McDowell, who was on a whirlwind campaign tour of the district this weekend.*
Much of the challenge of being a manager in the private sector, especially in a troubled economy is continuing the same quality of product and service despite limited resources and especially finances. I am always thinking outside the box. I have some alternatives for our county to jumpstart the local economy. This is where my belief in government as an engine for proactive improvement in our lives plays a role.
My first idea is to utilize the properties in the county’s land bank as a starter kit for local entrepreneurs. The county has been forced to foreclose on a number of properties due to non-payment of taxes. These properties go up for public auction once a year. The commercial properties that go unsold at these auctions could be allocated for the "starter kit." If someone wants to open a business, they would have the opportunity to acquire one of the starter kit properties from the county for free. In exchange the county would get an agreement the new business owner would pay the taxes on that property for 10 years or it would revert back to the county.
The most positive aspect of that idea is in its win-win nature. A small business owner has more money to allocate towards building restoration and inventory since they didn’t have to purchase a property. The county wins because a derelict property is immediately returned to the tax rolls and several jobs were just added to the community.
Also, I believe there are many small business owners who are unaware of the resources available to them. As county commissioners it would be fairly simple to tap the ideas of the savvy local business people, find out what resources they utilized to get ahead. We could then compile that information and have it at the ready for anyone willing to invest in our communities. It would cost the county nothing, but make life easier for new businesses to start and succeed.
For the past dozen years, I have been working in management in the private sector. This is my first run for office of any kind. I don’t have any preconceived notions on how county business should operate. What I do have is an extraordinary ability to find alternative solutions to problems. These are just a few of my proposed solutions. I would like to have a chance to employ that prowess to help Houghton County prosper again.
* Click here to read about Franklin Township Trustee John Laitinen. Click here to read about Gary McDowell's Nov. 2 visit to Hancock.
To learn more about local candidates, click here for the League of Women Voters of the Copper Country Voters' Guide.