The candidates taking part in a forum in Spring Valley last week — the only public forum in Fillmore County this election cycle — tended to agree on most issues raised, with only subtle differences in opinion. Since the questions came from the public, it would indicate there are no burning issues that are separating citizens, or candidates, in the county. For those divisions you have to get more local to items, such as the referendum in the Rushford-Peterson school district or the actions of the Wykoff City Council regarding its previous mayor.

Our news reporter covered the forum and the details on a few of the issues raised are reported in her story. However, there are a few interesting observations that have nothing to do with judging the qualifications of a candidate.

A couple times Third District commissioner candidate Fred Scheevel mentioned that the scope of county services will change as Fillmore County transitions from a rural to a more urban or suburban county.

The county has already made quite a transition. Although the county’s population hasn’t increased significantly over the past couple decades, other factors have changed the county greatly.

For example, a couple decades ago, only a small percentage of the population commuted to work. Today, a comparison of jobs in the county to the number of people employed show that more than half the residents in Fillmore County commute outside the county, many of them to Olmsted County, likely as a result of the expansion of Mayo Clinic, which will continue in the next two decades with its Destination Medical Center initiative.

The latest census shows the mean travel time to work for Fillmore County residents is 26.1 minutes, which is higher than the state mean of 22.7. That’s something no one would have predicted a couple decades ago.

The most visible change is the crowded highways during peak commute times and the influx of commuter buses serving local residents. However, more subtle changes are the fewer people during daytime hours, affecting local businesses, the schools and even community functions.

Our towns haven’t become bedroom communities, but they have significantly changed in nature and will continue to do so.

The other Third District candidate, Harry Root, answering a question about transportation, pointed out that the county has 481 miles of county roads and 474 bridges. That explains why the commissioners’ recent decision to enact a 0.5 percent transit sales and use tax had so little criticism from residents in the county.

The extra 0.5 percent tax added to sales made within the county starting Jan. 1 will bring in revenue to fund road and bridge improvements identified in a capital improvement plan.

The county has four bridges that are closed and 61 that are on the county’s 10-year replacement priority list, according to Fillmore County highway engineer Ronald Gregg.

The 474 bridges don’t include those on state or federal highways, such as U.S. 63 or Minnesota 52. An advocacy group that had a more restrictive definition of a bridge, counted 336 in Fillmore County on state and county roads with average annual daily traffic of 159,136.

Broken down more, that is 6,631 an hour — or broken down even more, close to 20 vehicles per hour per bridge in the county.

That shows not only the mobility of our population, but also the importance of maintaining our bridges as well as our roads.

There is an anti-government, anti-tax segment of our population, but both commissioner candidates freely admitted that they would vote to raise taxes if the county wasn’t able to provide key services to residents. They would both look to make sure government is operating efficiently first, which they think local county government already is doing. But, they also realize that sometimes there are unusual circumstances, such as an incredible number of bridges or, perhaps, even shifts in demographics, that require solutions that aren’t always popular.

As noted earlier, these observations aren’t to differentiate the candidates. Rather they point to how our county today differentiates from other counties and even from previous times.