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2 Dems square off in District 1 primary election

July 24, 2014
JOHN PEPIN - Journal Staff Writer ( , Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Incumbent Steven Pence and challenger John DePetro will square off in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary for a seat on the Marquette County Board.

The winner will face Republican Daniel Everson in the Nov. 4 general election. The term of office is two years. District 1 includes includes Precincts 6 and 7 in the city of Marquette, Powell Township and the north part of Marquette Township, which is split along U.S. 41. Both men live in Marquette.

The candidates were each asked to provide some details about their backgrounds they think voters should know, why voters should choose them and what top three priorities they would have in office if elected. Word limitations were imposed on answers.

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Pence described his background saying: "I am a Marquette County native and Northern Michigan University graduate. After law school, I returned to the Upper Peninsula where I was elected prosecutor for Delta County, serving eight years. When the opportunity arose, I came to Marquette, where I have practiced law for over 25 years. I love both the city life in Marquette and time spent outdoors trout fishing, hiking, canoeing and biking. In quiet moments I enjoy writing, photography, great books and my grandchildren."

On why voters should select him, Pence said: "A successful legal career requires the ability to listen and communicate well, problem-solve thoughtfully and compromise when necessary. I bring these skills to my role as county commissioner.

"The challenges facing county government are daunting. Increasing need and decreasing budgets make every decision important. With the loss of three commissioners this year, it is crucial to retain experienced members who have demonstrated their ability to work collaboratively to maintain key services, protect the tax base, preserve jobs and plan for our future. I think The Mining Journal's repeated praise of this board's competence and teamwork (after years of discord), speaks to the tone of respectful discourse that I and my colleagues have established.

"The height of my political ambition is serving the community in which I live and work and doing so with wisdom, compassion and integrity. I understand that I owe the people of Marquette County nothing less."

Pence detailed his top three priorities as the tax base, trucking routes and the future.

On the tax base, Pence said: "Taxes support schools, law enforcement and other vital services. This year, the county board is assisting Marquette Township, as its tax base is threatened by big box stores (who claim their property should be valued as if their buildings stood vacant). The impact on local revenues would be staggering. It is much like a previous battle, when the Eagle Mine tried to change the rules to lower its tax obligation. The board's financial support for outside legal expertise facilitated compromise, reducing the loss to Marquette County. The board has offered the same support to the city, in the challenge by Wisconsin Electric to its property taxes."

For trucking routes, Pence said: "This county board has fostered development while working to minimize negative impacts on the community. Recently, a new mine came into this region. Unfortunately, planning for traffic routes to accommodate large trucks did not satisfactorily address all local concerns. I have worked to give these concerns a voice, encouraging the city of Marquette, Marquette Township and the (Marquette County) Road Commission to find a solution which does not place all of the burden on any one entity."

For the future, Pence said: "I see an aged, inadequate jail with a capacity issue, methamphetamine clean-up costs and retiree legacy costs as budgets remain tight. But I also see new businesses, a flourishing university, a new medical center and an ever-vibrant community. The future is challenging, but bright. I believe my 11 years of experience in county government will serve the community well."

DePetro described his background saying he is a third generation and lifelong resident of Marquette. He served in the U.S. Navy beginning in 1965 and was honorably discharged in 1969, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam. DePetro worked 32 years at the city of Marquette Department of Public Works and retired in 2004. In 2005, he was elected to the Marquette City Commission, elected as mayor pro tem from 2009 thru 2012 and elected mayor from November 2012 until November 2013. He could not seek re-election after eight years on the commission because of term limits.

On why voters should choose him, DePetro said: "Having served eight years on (the) city commission, residents know they can contact me 24/7 by phone, texting, email, while I'm shopping or stopping by my home. Voters know that I am available and willing to listen to their questions, concerns and their issues. They also know I have the time to personally bring them to the proper county departments, to get the correct answer to their concerns. I have always maintained a passion to serve residents, visitors or tourists with respect and dignity whenever they contacted me with their concerns.

"While serving as mayor, my fellow commissioners and I balanced the 2014 budget with reduced revenue sharing from the federal and state government, without any union members or city staff being laid off during my eight years on the city commission. I'll never miss any meetings due to vacation or work taking me out of town."

DePetro detailed his top three priorities, if elected.

First, he said, would be "the probable reduction of $148 million in true cash value. We Energies has filed a petition appealing its property tax valuation for the Presque Isle Power Plant, which has a true cash value of $210 million, which We Energies wants to reduce to $61 million. Also, there is the probability the Presque Isle plant may still close and lay off the 178 full-time employees within two years, if the company can't find a buyer."

Second, DePetro said: "As a county commissioner there is great concern and this issue will have to be addressed with priority by the 2015 county commission. Should the big box stores in Marquette Township be granted a reduction on their property tax liability to a dark store status? Marquette Township and Marquette County could lose over 1 million dollars in tax revenue yearly."

Third, DePetro said: "Looking at the Empire Mine and the loss of over 600 full-time employees by 2016, it is time the county commission looks at supporting the Marquette County Economic Development Corp.'s revolving loan fund whose goal is to create or retain jobs. Applicants can apply for funds to strengthen the local economy through job creation, purchase of land, buildings and machinery. This could become something very compatible working with the creation of the Smartzone program, that is taking people who haven't made any money yet but have great ideas and have a potential for building jobs and providing them with the skills and resources to actually make money and create jobs in the community and the county."

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.



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