By Gretta Becay
At their first meeting of the new decade, the Dodge County Commissioners welcomed Rhonda Toquam as the first ever female Chair of the Board of Commissioners. She will serve as chair for one year. She has served as the representative for District 4 since her election in 2016. Prior to that, David Erickson represented the district for many years.
Toquam and her family have lived and farmed in and around Dodge County all her life.
What does she see as the biggest jobs facing the county in the coming year?
“I’d like to see the ideas that came out in the Comprehensive Plan being pursued,” she said. “A lot of work went into that plan. There were extensive interviews and meetings with different community groups and leaders to get ideas for the county’s future. A lot of good data and ideas came out of that entire process.”
She also talked about the moratorium on new solar farms that is currently in place.
“As part of our work in revising those ordinances, we must protect our rural lands. When solar farms aren’t properly cared for, invasive weeds can get a hold in the county and that is bad for everyone, but especially surrounding farmers who take good care of their land.”
“Also, we must continue to ensure the health of our livestock operations and carefully guard against any of the contagious diseases that threaten livestock in other parts of the world.”
She talked about the need for providing affordable housing and about how the county had joined with SEMMCHRA last year for the first time in many years.
SEMMCHRA – Southeastern Minnesota Multi-County Housing and Redevelopment Authority – strives to “provide affordable, decent, safe, and sanitary housing to elderly, disabled and [lower income] families,” according to their website. SEMMCHRA has access to federal and state funds that the county cannot access except through such a housing and redevelopment authority.
Rhonda said she is very excited about the rebuilding of the portion of Highway 14 from Owatonna to Dodge Center from a two-lane to a four-lane road. When the project is complete, the county will assume the responsibility of maintaining about 12 miles of the abandoned two-lane roadway.
By far the biggest challenge facing the county is the roads, she said. As a primarily rural county, there are hundreds of miles of roads and numerous bridges that must be maintained throughout the seasons and there is always a shortage of funds to properly take care of those.
Last year in particular, the constant snow and rain caused road damage to many parts of the county and more and more work on the roads is needed to keep them passable.
In closing, she noted, “It’s a great group of commissioners to work with. We may not always agree but we always come up with solutions to the challenges we face. And we work with great county staff members who are very responsive to us and who are very effective in their jobs.”