The League of Women Voters of Brown County sent questionnaires to all candidates with opposition on the fall ballot in the following races: U.S. Congress District 9, State Senate District 44, State House District 65 (ran 9/28), Brown County Council at large, Brown County Commissioner Districts 1 and 3 (ran 9/28), Brown County recorder (ran 9/28) and Brown County School Board. They will appear in the Brown County Democrat as space is available over the next few weeks. The League of Women Voters of Brown County — a nonpartisan organization — chose the questions. Answers appear in the candidates’ own words, though some were trimmed to fit available space.
NOTE: Brown County Council candidates will debate Tuesday, Oct. 11. See the forum schedule here: http://www.bcdemocrat.com/2016/09/30/candidate_forum_schedule-2/
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Please describe the occupations, training and experience that qualify you for this office.
Cindy Steele (D): I served as a county council member for a four-year term with one year as president. Since 1995 I have published Our Brown County magazine from my home in Helmsburg. My job requires good communication skills, attention to detail and ability to meet deadline/financial pressures. I operate on a tiny budget and look for less expensive solutions to problems. I have a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University’s School of Business that required accounting classes. My son, Evan, is in his second year at IU. I care a lot about the young people of our community and helped found the BETA teen center, a not-for-profit organization that provides free after-school activities. I wrote grants and did fundraising for the group and currently serve as treasurer.
Jeff Harden (D): As an assistant store manager at the Brown County IGA, I have worked on skills I think would help me on the county council. Communication is a key skill that I have learned, because learning how to communicate and making sure everyone understands what is going on and why keeps things running smoother. Also, holding people accountable on every level is important so we as county officials do not do something that will cost the county more money than what we have available. I have never held a seat on the county council like everyone running against me, but I do have the drive and ability to learn everything I have to so we are successful as a county.
David Critser (R): Forty-years-plus a businessperson in Brown County. Nineteen-years-plus on Brown County Council.
John Price (R): Brown County resident of 48 years. Construction business owner/operator for the past 23 years. Brown County council member 2002-2006. Jackson Township Board member 2010 to present.
Glenda Stogsdill (R): I have served eight years on the county council, eight years as recorder and four years as auditor. I am presently serving on the trustee board for Washington Township. Twenty-one years in county government have given me the knowledge to understand the budget process. I also worked in banking for 22 years with the majority of the time in a supervisory position. I have common sense about problems and I look at both sides and make a decision that I think is the best for everyone involved.
Do you support a fire territory for Washington Township and the town of Nashville with its own taxing authority? Why or why not?
Steele: We depend on volunteers for fire protection. It amazes me how so many people are willing to put their lives on the line to protect us for no pay. The Brown County Fire Department needs more manpower and more funding in order to sustain itself. Combining entities to create a fire “territory” with its own tax levy is a solution, but I want to know more about all the alternatives before coming to any conclusion. It is not clear to me how a fire “territory” governs versus how a fire “district” governs. Before the issue reaches the county council, the commissioners need to decide what they want to do with the current countywide fire district. They would have to remove Washington Township from the fire district before a territory could be formed. I think there needs to be more public discussion.
Harden: First off, that is an agreement between the town council and the fire department. I would love to see a few full-time firefighters at each of our fire departments across our county, but I don’t see it ever happening because of the cost. That being said, I do not think it would be wise to add any boards with the power to tax our citizens of Brown County any more than we already are being taxed.
Critser: County council does not make any decisions on this matter. But remember, things start small, then grow ($$$).
Price: My first response to another taxing authority is not favorable. Until all options have been pursued and exceptional efforts have been made to maintain and enhance the current fire protection system — and until the results of those efforts have been presented in public session and a clear and present need is demonstrated — I am not in favor of a new level of taxation.
Stogsdill: I think there is a lot of information that still needs to be answered. We need to know the real amount that the department actually needs to operate. I want to know how much extra it will cost the Washington taxpayers. The town is in agreement with the fire department. The department is obtaining information from the state and I will make a decision later based on that information. I do wonder about the other fire departments and how this will affect them.
We have been spending our county economic development income tax (CEDIT) funds for many county purposes over the years. Do you see a way and a need to apply most of this money to its original purpose of economic development?
Steele: This year, the county council voted to make a growth adjustment to the other local income taxes. That might free up some CEDIT money for other purposes. We need to work on infrastructure. The big high-speed internet companies are not investing in our area. We could attract more home-based businesses if we could get better cellphone and internet service. Roads, water supply and sewer/septic service also need to be improved. If we get sewers in the Bean Blossom area, it will be easier to attract business there. We must also continue to expand the water supply to improve fire protection. We have to have places for young people to live so we can have the workforce to support more business. I think the council should support infrastructure with any available CEDIT funds and should look for grant opportunities. When I was on the council we got a federal disaster recovery grant to repair the storm drains in Helmsburg.
Harden: Any time a county official sets up a fund or has a fund for a specific item, then I believe that is what it needs to be used for, and only used for that item. I dislike it when things are set up and we turn around and start using that money for things, and then are put in a hole when money is needed for the original item. Trust is why we get voted into any elected position and I believe it is time elected officials start holding themselves accountable and begin doing what they say they were going to do.
Price: The greatest purpose of county funds is to maintain services and support necessary to our county in the best interest of our family, friends and neighbors, who provide those tax dollars. Some funds are mandated to a specific line or purpose; others, such as CEDIT, are more useful to us as the areas of development have many needs of support. Economic development is “in the eye of the beholder.” All interests in the direction of these funds are certainly respected and acted upon.
Stogsdill: The state changed the rules regarding these funds about two years ago. The CEDIT fund’s original use was for economic development. This is no longer the case. CEDIT and CAGIT will become one fund the first of the year. The commissioners have historically used the fund for infrastructure and roads. This is necessary for economic development. Brown County does not have the funds that larger counties have. Therefore, the commissioners use the fund to help the general fund budget.
Do you have any priorities that would require the county to borrow money? What are they and why are they important?
Steele: The county commissioners and other officials should come up with a solid plan to address the courthouse problems. If we don’t make improvements soon with the heating, electrical and other physical ailments of the building, problems and costs will grow. There are ADA issues that need to be addressed to prevent lawsuits. The old jail and sheriff building had to be torn down because of severe neglect. There was talk about adding onto the courthouse after that and the plan was shot down. It is important to have public input again before we increase our debt. Grant money from historical preservation groups or state and county agencies might be available. The courthouse is a centerpiece of our tourist community and should be saved and beautified. The sidewalks in front of the courthouse along 135 are dangerous. If that is state property, we need to work with the state to fix it.
Harden: No. I do not want the county to dig into any more holes. I want us to look for answers with what we have and what we are spending too much on. We have an ever-shrinking budget as prices rise on everything, but there has got to be a way to rise if we think outside the box. I also believe when people run for offices with one idea or a personal agenda, then they do everything to try to accomplish that at any cost and usually ends up with the county taking a huge loss. I have only one personal agenda and that is do what is best for the county as a whole. We are one county and need to remember every decision made by our officials affects us all.
Critser: We are borrowing for roads and probably will continue.
Price: Preservation, security, access and other issues still plague the courthouse. Inevitably, it will have to be dealt with, and the cost isn’t going down with the passage of time. Borrowing most likely will be a part of that solution. Borrowing money costs money, that’s a fact, but practical measures can be taken to limit its level. The more input from all of us, the better that project will serve us.
Stogsdill: I have no priorities for borrowing money until we pay off the loans that already exist.
How would you, as county fiscal authority, better oversee the various appointed boards and commissions and ensure that they are all coordinating in furthering a vision common to the county?
Steele: Most boards and commissions are voluntary or are paid a small amount. We are a small community that stretches its volunteers to the max. The busiest people do the most work. Leading volunteers is challenging, and boards leading other boards is even harder. I think the best way the county council can help is to work with independent, outside groups like the League of Women Voters to lead discussions when appointed boards deal with tough issues. The league has a track record of organizing public input, providing education on issues like the new road bills, and producing Vision 2020.
Harden: I would do my best to hold everyone accountable for what they are supposed to be doing and making sure that any money going to the boards is being used the way it was intended to be used. Communicating with each board and listening to the ideas of the people is also vital, because if everyone is involved with input, then people would be more likely to help and make sure that this county is growing for the future.
Critser: Joint meetings by some of the boards would help. Communication is the key.
Price: I trust all boards and commissions understand the advantage of coordination in efforts. From a county council fiscal point of view, a vision we all have in common is an effective use of assets and funds. That is what I intend to communicate to the board and commissions. From a personal point of view, we should all oversee a common vision, whether we hold office or not.
Stogsdill: I think that every board should report to the council quarterly so the council will know what they are working on and if they are accomplishing what the board was created for. They can also ask the council if they have any questions regarding their position as board members. The open meeting would also give the public a chance to ask questions. The appointees represent the council.
The county council holds the financial powers of the county, serving as a check on the board of commissioners. Some examples of the council’s powers and duties are: adopting the annual budget after estimates and data are submitted by the various county agencies through the county auditor; conducting nonbinding reviews of the budgets of other governmental agencies within the county (such as townships and library districts); fixing tax rates for county purposes within the limits of the law and imposing the tax levy; making appropriations, incurring county debt; fixing salaries for officers and employees paid from any county fund; and approving the sale or lease of county property over certain values.