Curt Rossow, Pine County Commissioner of District 4, is retiring effective January 2017. His last board meeting as a commissioner was on December 20. John B. Mikrot Jr. was elected the District 4 County Commissioner in the November 8th election and will begin his term in January.
In an interview with the Pine County Courier, Rossow shared some of the ups and downs of his time as commissioner as well as his advice to the board as they continue on in his absence.
Rossow has had ties in rural Minnesota from early on which likely originally drew him to run for county commissioner. Born in Faribault, Rossow moved at 2 years of age to rural Owatonna where he was raised and would eventually graduate from high school. His mother was a homemaker, raising Rossow along with his two sisters, one older and one younger. His father was a bulk gas truck hauler.
After high school, Rossow continued his education at the University of Minnesota where he earned a degree in forestry. He graduated on a Saturday in June of 1970, and the following Monday was drafted into the Army to serve in Vietnam in the infantry. He went to Vietnam in January after completing his basic training and there served as a legal clerk.
Upon completion of his military service, Rossow returned home and was greeted by a letter from Governor Wendell Anderson asking if there was anything the governor’s office could do for him. “I got a real nice letter from the governor,” recalled Rossow. “So I called his office, and the aid just about fell off his chair when I actually took him up on the offer. I told him about my education and that I would like a job. He directed me to the DNR building in St. Paul and there I took a test to be a conservation officer.” Rossow was offered a job and would later become a game warden in Austin, Minnesota.
It was in Austin where he met his wife of 44 years, Martha, and where his first daughter was born. The family moved to Willow River where they had three more children and where Rossow worked as a conservation officer.
Rossow spent three terms on the school board in Willow River and recalled his time there as being the hardest job he ever had. When he retired as a state conservation officer, he then ran for county commissioner.
Rossow has seen a lot during his nine years on the county board. When reflecting on some of the changes, Rossow stated, “The new courthouse seems to be working out well. And we have excellent administration and department heads in place. We also have an excellent sheriff, county attorney and auditor-treasurer. We have a great board in place. The four other commissioners use common sense and are fiscally responsible. Politics doesn’t play a role.”
“The county attorney is doing an excellent job of prosecuting people,” added Rossow. “And I think there is a trickle down effect in that the deputies now know that if they arrest someone, they will likely get prosecuted.”
Of his time as a commissioner, Rossow stated, “It’s been a lot of work. There have been certain times where you lay awake at night and just think about what we should do. Our job is to spend all the money that taxpayers give us and use it wisely, not spending it frivolously just because it’s there. We talk every year about the budget and levy. And we have employees who want and deserve pay raises and health insurance. We try to reach a balance there but also aren’t afraid to cut positions that aren’t needed. If positions can be tied together with more efficiency and save money in the process, that makes sense.”
Rossow said he will occasionally get a call from an individual who has a problem with a road or something else. “Mark LeBrun is nothing but good. He has a lot of road projects going and manages them well,” said Rossow. “We experimented with a wheelage tax and decided to go to a half percent sales tax increase to recoup money from people coming through. Just about every county I go to has it.”
On economic development, Rossow commented, “We would love it if we had more businesses and stores in Pine County. We did hire Robert Musgrove. There is progress being made, but it is a slow thing and takes awhile. We’re looking into ways to encourage businesses and economic growth. One of the things I looked at and thought was interesting was the former Willow River tree nursery. They were self-supporting and employed many local people. But politics got involved, and a state legislator that didn’t like the competition got it closed, but we are working on getting it back up and running.”
Rossow has never been one to mince words. When asked about the effectiveness of his candor on the board and who on the board might fill his shoes in this role, Rossow responded, “I really believe that the four board members we have are straight shooters. You find out real quick that it doesn’t pay to say what people want you to say. You just say it the way it is, and people like that honesty.” A benefit to being a “straight shooter,” Rossow added, is that he never has to worry about what he said to the last person on a given subject.
When asked if he had any advice to give the current commissioners or future commissioner, Mikrot, Rossow responded, “I would say, keep your eyes on the goals, which are to provide the services that county residents want at the prices they can afford. Ideally, if we had a deputy sitting in everyone’s yard 24/7, that would be great, but we can’t afford that. It is also important to try to prevent just a few people from influencing your decisions. Keep it light, and don’t be afraid to have a little fun even though it’s serious business.”
As far as future plans, Rossow’s eight grandchildren will keep him hopping he said. “I will do a little wood-working and make some doll furniture. I still like to hunt, but the killing is not as important. I had a ruffed grouse in my yard, and it would have been easy to shoot, but I didn’t this time. If I was 25, I would have,” stated Rossow.
In closing, Rossow stated, “It’s been fun but a lot of work and headaches, too. I have much appreciated working with the current board. They have common sense and are honest and moral, which is important.”