Brown County Board District 5 and 24 candidates talk mental health, opioids, the environment in forum

GREEN BAY – The four candidates running for Brown County Board in District 5 and 24 shared their views on the role of the board and other key issues Saturday in a candidate forum at Franklin Middle School.

All 12 candidates were invited to participate in the event, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Greater Green Bay, ahead of the April 2 election. Six districts have a contested race.

Candidates from two districts agreed to participate. Incumbent Dan Theno and Gloria Jane Eastman are running in District 5, while Vanya Koepke and Ross Toellner are running in District 24.

The candidates answered questions and had time to give opening and closing remarks in the forum. Residents were able to submit questions to the candidates.

Here are the main takeaways from the forum.

Brown County’s biggest issues: Mental health, opioids, court backlog and equity

The candidates were asked what they saw as the most important issues facing the county.

Toellner said it is important to manage the tax levy and have a focus on mental health services since opioid and drug abuse and crime are all related to mental health. Koepke had a similar priority, continuing to address the abuse of opioid-based drugs.

Meanwhile in District 5, Theno said the current backlog of cases going through Brown County is an underemphasized issue supervisors need to work with the state to address. He pointed to hiring more public defenders and assistant district attorneys by the state to reduce the backlog.

“There are people on streets of Brown County that should be in jail and people in jail that are not getting justice and getting back to their families and jobs,” Theno said.

On all issues the county addresses, accessibility of the services should always be the focus, Eastman said. There’s an “equity issue” in the county, making some resources hard to access for people in such marginalized groups as LGBTQ and those with disabilities, Eastman said. One of the first steps Eastman wants to implement is livestreaming County Board meetings on Youtube.

Environmental protections and energy conservation are priorities for the four county board candidates

Each candidate said they wanted to prioritize various environmental issues.

Theno said he wants the county to make all of its buildings energy efficient and reduce levels of phosphorus going into the Fox River and East River.

Eastman pointed to working to use green energy more uniformly around the county. Toellner said it will be important to work with experts to preserve current protections. Koepke said preserving parks and the environment area important because “natural resource care is healthcare.”

Each candidate highlighted the National Estuarine Research Reserve designation for the Bay of Green Bay would be an important opportunity to protect the area’s water.

County taxes: too high, low, or just right?

Theno, Toellner, and Koepke agreed that the tax rate just right.

Eastman said the county should raise the rate by a couple of dollars to help pay county employees a livable wage and said there is a turnover of staff due to pay.

“We are not breaking even if we are not paying our county employees a livable wage,” Eastman said.

All four candidates agree on expansion of housing, childcare, and BadgerCare

The candidates all support expanding BadgerCare Plus, the Medicaid program that provides health coverage to low-income Wisconsinites, though they noted the county does not a direct role in such a decision.

They also agreed on the need for more child care options for families. Eastman said it’s important to protect Wisconsin SHARES, the child care subsidy program in the state. Toellner said the county needs to create more incentives for child care worker retention. Theno highlighted the work of the Aging & Disability Resource Center of Brown County to provide services to families and people with disabilities.

Each candidate in the forum also agreed on working with local municipalities to build more housing that is affordable.

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Brown County Board candidates speak ahead of April 2 election

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