By Tara Brandl
Tracy Area Headlight Herald
A phone call from a Tracy area resident asking if he’d be interested in running for Lyon County Commissioner led to 20 years of service for Steve Ritter. Now, he has decided it’s time to let someone else take that role in the county, as Ritter has chosen not to run for reelection in District 2 this fall.
Ritter was originally elected in 2002 and began his first term as County Commissioner in January 2003. Giving back to the area has always been important to him.
“I had the time, I sold one of our businesses in the late ‘90s,” Ritter said about his first time running. “I had someone from the Tracy area call me and ask me if I’d be interested for running for commissioner. I thought about and I thought,’Why not?’ I like politics. It was the perfect fit for me. I’m big into giving back to the community. Prior to that, I had just retired from the Marshall Fire Department in April of 1998 after 20 years there. I thought I should just keep going with my giving back. Actually, it will be 40 years of giving back at the end of this year.”
While county commissioners do receive pay, Ritter has always maintained this wasn’t a job about money.
“We get reimbursed for our time, but it’s the commitment to the taxpayers, the people of the county,” he said when talking about his decision to run. “I didn’t get into it to make a living off of it.”
In addition to his commitment to the taxpayers of Lyon County, Ritter has worked with a variety of fellow commissioners, making his time on the board even more enjoyable.
“There have been past commissioners and current commissioners I’ve worked with and we don’t always agree, but we walk out of there with a solution and we’re friends,” he said. “There has never been any vendettas. I’ve been really fortunate to serve with some really good people. We had good conversations and we got the job done.”
There have been many changes in the county since 2003, but there are several projects that stood out to Ritter as he looks back at his time as County Commissioner. One such accomplishment was getting the Legislature to change so that Lyon County could appoint a recorder and an auditor/treasurer. While there was a lot of discussion at the time, Ritter felt this was a good fit for the county because of the commitment that an appointed person would bring versus someone who had to run for reelection.
“There are disadvantages to it but I could see more advantages to having it appointed by the elected officials,” Ritter said.
One of the first projects Ritter was a part of was selling $5 million in bonds to overlay the non-state-aid roads. Every county road that is 50 years old or more doesn’t qualify for state aid. Lyon County Commissioners used the bond sales to overlay the roads to make all the roads safer for county residents.
Another project Ritter felt was very beneficial to the county during his time was the half-percent sales tax the county added for five years. The sales tax increase raised $10 million for the county. In order to add the sales tax, the county had to identify projects and take their proposal to the Legislature.
“By doing that, we did not have to levy the taxpayers, and we did not have to use any of our state aid on other roads, plus we were able to do projects — a big project once a year or a huge project every other year,” Ritter said. “When you do those big projects, you get a really good price. We were able to complete about $2 million extra dollars of work off that $10 million — that’s a home run for the taxpayers.”
A project that Ritter describes as a huge win for the people of the region was the joint powers agreement for Southwest Health and Human Services. Southwest Health and Human Services serves six counties — Redwood, Lyon, Murray, Lincoln, Pipestone and Rock — and allows for one administrator and one director of nursing for the organization.
“At that time, the savings in Lyon county alone was between a million-and-a-half and $2 million a year, by just doing that joint powers,” Ritter said. “Whenever you can work together in a smaller area, it makes sense.”
Ritter describes Twin Lakes Park in the southwest area of Lyon County as a real plus for the county and the region. The park includes camping, a picnic shelter, playground equipment and an up-shore beach area. The county has applied for a grant to offer more recreational items at the park.
“We used our wetland credits, we sold a bunch of those, and we used that money to buy and develop that park,” Ritter said. “It’s not on your taxes.”
Also, as part of the county’s Capital Committee, Ritter reviews requests from all the departments and feels this has really opened up communication and being able to share equipment between departments.
“If you’re a department head and want to spend over $5,000 it has to come to us first,” Ritter said. “You need to justify it — is it a want or a need? We can go to the board and say there is a request and here’s the reason why. It opens communication.”
As Ritter looks to his final months as a County Commissioner, he is hopeful someone will step in and run for his position in District 2, which now is just Ward 2 of the City of Marshall. It’s not a decision to take lightly, but Ritter understands the important job commissioners have with respect to taxpayers of Lyon County.
“It’s a time commitment, and you have to step back and say, ‘Hey, is it something I want to do?’” Ritter said. “‘Do I want to serve the county?’ When I vote to spend the taxpayers’ money, the first thing I think is I’m spending my money, too. I want to be fiscally responsible.”
He encourages anyone interested or who has questions about running for a county commissioner spot to call him or any of the Lyon County commissioners.
When asked why someone should run for County Commissioner, Ritter’s answer was simple.
“It’s part of living in this country — to do public service,” he said. “To give back for what you’ve been given and what you receive.”
The filing period is currently open through 5 p.m. on May 31. The Lyon County filing office is with the Lyon County Auditor/Treasurer at 607 West Main St, Marshall.