Council candidates debate issues
Tuesday, April 29, 2014 10:00 PM
The Montgomery County Council candidates were plain spoken and a little less polite at the Republican debate Tuesday night than they were at the League of Women Voters/Chamber of Commerce forum. The debate was sponsored by The Paper of Montgomery County.
"There are a couple issues we need to address," said District 1 incumbent Richard Chastain during the debate at Crawfordsville High School. "There is a very, very serious rift in the Republican Party."
Chastain said it was all right for Republicans who disagree with incumbents to run candidates in the primary election on May 6 but, "running the county chairman (John Pickerill) against the incumbent of his own party (Jim Fulwider) is not right. That is not a level playing field. The party chairman is to make everything equal for the party candidates."
That statement drew an audible gasp from Stacy Davidson, wife of Mark Davidson, candidate for the District 4 seat.
District 3 incumbent John Frey lost no time identifying his opponent in the primary.
"I listened to last night's (county commissioner candidates') debate on the radio while I was on the tractor today," Frey said. "The Tea Party candidate doesn't understand the issues and I assume the other Tea Party candidates don't, either."
Frey is running against Gayle Lough in District 3.
Frey also called out the Tea Party during his closing comments.
"It sounds all well and good," Frey said. "If you say this council has been wasteful, you're just trying to get votes. The Tea Party believes in setting back and business will break down our doors. Do we want prosperity? We must build a road map."
Frey said he took a few members of the council to meet a large developer in Boone County.
"He said developers want to locate in a community that is going somewhere," Frey said. "He didn't care about regulations because his competitors have the same rules."
Davidson said the current discussion about zoning did not originate with the Tea Party. It originated with County Councilman Aaron Morgan.
After the meeting, Morgan said he is on the Montgomery County Plan Commission as a representative of the county council.
"I said it is time for us to think about zoning," Morgan said. "People say a lot of things but sometimes they don't listen because they are talking."
Lough said he understands both sides of the question but, "Do I really want more government control in my life? Do you really want more government control in your life?"
A question was asked about financing a study on zoning.
District 1 candidate Neil Barclay said a zoning ordinance is not needed because the county commissioners do that job.
He pointed out the situation that arose when a wind farm was installed in the county. County commissioners passed ordinances dealing with requirements to protect the county, Barclay said.
District 4 incumbent Howard Rippy Jr., Davidson, Lough, Frey, District 2 candidate Don Mills, Chastain and Barclay said they opposed such a study.
"It depends how much we're talking about," said District 4 candidate Richard Holtz Jr. "A million dollars? Probably not. Not if it takes money away from essential services."
"We need ample research into it," Lynne Ringis said. "It could require a small investment to research the question."
When Davidson said county employees have gone five years without a raise and said that could lead to poor morale and loss of productivity, Frey fired back, "We gave each employee a stipend. I think it was $1,000 last year."
Frey said the council did not think money would be available for pay raises but when they learned the county could afford the stipend, it was given.
Davidson replied, "I know the difference between a raise and a bonus. They are not the same things."
Davidson read from a Tea Party publication and from the Indiana Republican Party platform. They sounded much alike, he said.
What are the biggest issues facing the county?
Money and services was the answer given by all the candidates except for Frey, who advocated a master plan for the growth of the county.
Ringis agreed, saying, "Visualize what you want Montgomery County to look like in the future. To quote Winston Churchill, to fail to plan is to plan to fail."
After Barclay announced the county has a $50 million decrease in assessed valuation, Ringis and Frey said they went to the assessor's office and learned there is actually good news about the A.V.
"The assessor said today our A.V. is up in agriculture $49 million, residential homes up $46 million, personal property up $15 million," Ringis said. "So the A.V. is trending up."
However, she said, commercial and industrial assessed values are trending down.
The candidates were asked about support of 4-H. They all agreed it is a good program and they think the county should support it.
When asked about plans for the courthouse parking lot, the candidates agreed it is essential to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and security is important. They agreed it would be nice to make the parking lot attractive but the plans, as presented, can be scaled back, depending on available revenue.
When asked if it is more important to only spend available funds or to be proactive to grow the community, opinions were divided.
Barclay, Chastain and Mills said they favor doing the best they can with available funds.
Frey said the county budget has been repeatedly slashed and the answer is to find more revenue.
Davidson, Lough and Holtz all favored looking for revenue, while seeking to live within the county's means.
Lough said he was concerned supplementing revenue would mean raising taxes, which he opposed.
After the meeting, State Sen. Phil Boots, who served as moderator said the candidates did well.
"They expressed their opinions on many subjects and issues," Boots said. "I commend them."