Conversation with the Candidate-Dean Feldmeyer

In my second conversation with a commissioner’s candidate, I sat down with Dean Feldmeyer to talk about his campaign. Mr. Feldmeyer is the Senior Pastor at the Wilmington United Methodist Church. He is the only Democrat running for County Commissioner, and will face the winner of the Steed/Fife primary in the General Election. Here is a synopsis of our conversation:

On county services:

Mr. Feldmeyer said that he believes county services mostly fall into two categories: protecting and enabling citizens. In the first category, he includes infrastructure such as bridges and roads, and emergency services. He stated that in his he is also concerned with the amount of area the Sheriff’s office has to cover with the manpower they currently have and that we need to be assured that they can cover it. Dean was also adamant about protecting Caesar’s Creek Lake, the main source of water for the county. He proposed a study of the areas up to one mile from the lake to assure there were not any sources of contaminants for the lake for the foreseeable future.

As far as the duty of county services to enable residents, Mr. Feldmeyer placed an emphasis on providing health services for the people of Clinton County. Included in this is increasing funding for county trails and parks and providing nutrition and exercise programs for residents, especially those who could not otherwise access them.

On the Council on Aging and seniors services in Clinton County…

This is undoubtedly a major (if not the major) issue of Mr. Feldmeyer’s campaign-his concerns about how the money is being spent from the senior services tax levy. His interest in working closely with seniors comes from his experience with Clinton County Community Action, where he is currently the Board Chairman. He has worked with the group for around ten years, he said, and has seen an increase in needs for services for the growing senior population in Clinton County.

This levy is administered by the Council on Aging, a group based in Cincinnati. Mr. Feldmeyer had an issue with this on its face, because “we are giving money to a group from outside the county so they can tell us how to spend our tax dollars.” During our conversation, Dean expressed three main concerns: the decrease in funds from the levy geared towards recreation and fitness, the carryover of the monies from year to year, and the amount going to administrative expenses. With the first concern, Mr. Feldmeyer believes that seniors need more access to recreation and fitness opportunities, not fewer, for both social and health reasons. His concerns about the carryover of money from the levy stems from his belief that there are immediate needs not being addressed, and that “the levy is not there to create a savings account” but to provide services. As far as the amount going to administrative expenses, Dean says this runs about $80,000 per year, which again stems from his initial hesitation to pay an organization from outside of the county to spend this money.

According to Mr. Feldmeyer, these issues can be resolved by the creation of a local agency to administer these funds. That way, there is a direct link between taxpayers, those receiving the services, and those administering the services. He claims that there is no current system for oversight, even though there is supposed to be a citizens’ advisory committee for the money to work with the Council on Aging.

Feldmeyer continued about his desire to see increased access to services for senior citizens by discussing the current issues with Meals on Wheels. Feldmeyer claims that dozens of seniors have been cut off from services due to changes in certain criteria for the program. He believes that many of the seniors who have been cut off from the services still truly need them. According to Mr. Feldmeyer, these issues could have been potentially avoided with more local controls of the levy money. Instead, Community Action has had to pick up some of the costs from the decrease in funding for the program in order to continue to provide services for those seniors.

On being a Democrat in Clinton County…

Considering the Republican dominance in Clinton County politics, I wanted to know how Dean planned to get voters to look past the fact that he is running as a Democrat. Mr. Feldmeyer said he was focused on targeting issues and values that are universal to all people, and he stated his belief that people will support him. His platform of governing with responsibility, strength, and compassion are what he sees as something a wide variety of people can get behind.

On the hospital money and a community center…

Mr. Feldmeyer views a community center as not a goal, but as a tool to achieve goals. During our conversation, he said that the question that needs to be answered is “how would a community center meet the needs of the community?” Before he would commit to something like the center, he said he wanted to truly see if it was something that would be fiscally responsible and a true community need. Dean pointed out that it could be worth doing an exploratory committee to assess the needs of Clinton County, as well as the short-term and long-term costs. He pointed out that a concern with the center would be operating costs, which it would be difficult to guarantee from the county’s standpoint over the long-term.

With the hospital money, Mr. Feldmeyer noted the importance of the restrictions on its use. His focus would be on health and safety of Clinton County residents. He wants to invest in recreation and fitness opportunities for all people, including parks. Additionally, Dean stated that he believed the county needs to find programs to support the efforts of Judge Rudduck’s drug court. He said that exploring the possibility of a drug and alcohol treatment center in Clinton County could provide a lot of support to residents struggling with those issues and allow their families to provide more support to them while in treatment.

Finally, Mr. Feldmeyer emphasized that we should be using the money we have to address current needs. While he supports the creation of an endowed fund, he said that the county needs to address immediate needs while looking at the long-term. He believes that there are many needs in relation to health and safety throughout Clinton County that the money could be used for right now.

 

As I did after my last conversation with the candidate, I invite all other candidates for a one-on-one conversation about the issues currently facing Clinton County. If you (or a candidate you know) is interested, please let me know!

Wilmington Hampered by Budget Shortfall, Inaction

At the Wilmington City Council meeting on January 7, 2016–the first council meeting of the year–City Auditor David Hollingsworth issued a dire warning to the council. If spending and revenue stay the same, the budget deficit for 2016 will be roughly $1.3 million. During 2015, the deficit was $925,000. All told, the city’s General Fund carryover for the end of 2016 could be down to $416,000 from $2.7 million at the end of 2014 (and closer to $8 million just a few years prior). Hollingsworth expressed concern about what the small carryover could do both for the flexibility of spending for the city and the bond rating for the city. He acknowledged that he is not able to make legislative decisions regarding the budget, but that he was counting on council to decide what happens.

And therein lies the problem…

So, what has city council done? After Mr. Hollingsworth’s presentation, Councilperson Mark McKay said that as the Finance committee chair, this was their number one issue on the agenda. One would assume that Finance committee, led by Mr. McKay, would be exploring all options. However, there is no evidence of this happening. In fact, as of the council meeting on February 18th, there had been only one finance committee meeting the entire year. Reports at City Council meetings from the Finance committee have concerned only the transferring of miscellaneous funds, not updates on the progress towards addressing the deficit as one might hope.

The time for action is now

The proverbial can representing the City of Wilmington’s fiscal issues has been kicked for many years, and we are now seeing the point where it can be kicked no more. The City has been able to use its significant carryover from just shy of a decade ago to allow itself to keep taxes the same while working to cut some expenditures. Unfortunately, this has gotten the city to the point where it is today. Only a few council members in recent history have been willing to stand up and say that there is an issue that must be fixed, and this council’s hand has finally been forced.

The lack of discussion on real issues at the last two council meetings has been disappointing and, at times, embarrassing. A likely non-existent lead problem, bridge issues at the cemetery, an extended reading of a social media post, and a long presentation by an outside group have taken up at least half of the previous two council meetings. I believe that council takes this seriously, but this type of inaction at council makes any decision that council makes difficult to defend.

The Possibility of a Tax Levy

So what can council do? It seems like cutting, cutting, and cutting more has not quite worked. It is difficult for a city to make too many more cuts when so much of its money is geared towards necessary services. I am sure there are small cuts that departments can make, but these could certainly hurt some of the basic services. One option that City Council and Mayor Stanforth need to consider is an increase in the city income tax. There may be no other way around it at this point. However, this will be an uphill battle for council. Unfortunately, some have made ill-advised pledges not to raise taxes. This levy will need support from the city to pass. And it needs to happen soon. If council does not bring this to the discussion soon, they run the risk of rushing it to the ballot, which has the effect of leading to a backlash from the public.

This budget issue will be a focus for The Wilmington Bulletin in the coming months. Council must act to be a bellwether in the fight to balance the budget and help ensure Wilmington’s fiscal stability. If they don’t, it is residents of the city that will likely feel the consequences.

A Conversation with Kerry Steed

This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of conversations with candidates in the commissioner’s race. I am inviting all candidates to sit down for a conversation to expand on their expressed views in both forums.

I sat down with Kerry Steed, current Clinton County Commissioner running for re-election in the Republican Primary against James Fife. We discussed a variety of topics. I will summarize our conversations on each topic.

On using hospital money for a community center:

This was one topic that has been brought up by a variety of residents of the county since the YMCA financial situation became obviously dire several years ago.When I asked Kerry about the possibility of building a community center locally, he acknowledged that it was something that the commissioners had considered. Steed said the main problem with this idea is that “building the center is the easy part, but maintaining operations is where you run into trouble.” He stated that this is what they have been told during discussions with governmental organizations about their centers. He cited the YMCA building repair costs as an example of a potential long-term issue with regards to costs.

On the creation of an endowed fund for the remainder of the hospital money:

For anyone that has read the Wilmington News Journal, the creation of an endowed fund is something that has been discussed for the hospital money. Steed emphasized his belief that an endowed fund is the best way to ensure that the money is safeguarded for the long term. Under Steed’s estimation, putting the $3 million alone into an endowed fund would lead to somewhere between $150,000 and $280,000 available for a committee to give out each year.When I asked Mr. Steed about using the money immediately, he said that any large-scale project would require extensive operating fees, which could potentially negate positive effects from the money in the long-term if those were not viable.

A little later on in our conversation, I questioned Kerry about the apparent lack of action related to the $3 million endowment fund. I compared it to the movie Groundhog Day, where I felt like I was reading the exact same report about every commissioners’ meeting since the beginning of the year, especially regarding the need for more legal counsel in regards to who can sit on a board to give out the money. Mr. Steed explained that there were a variety of legal issues surrounding the investment of the money and who had to be in control of it. Apparently, this had to do with how the money could be invested from a governmental organization.

On the 0.5% sales tax rolloff:

After talking about the investments from the “hospital money,” Kerry and I turned our attention to the oft-discussed potential 0.5% sales tax rolloff. As I had mentioned about the commissioner’s forum, all of the candidates said that they supported lower taxes in principle, but a couple (Mr. Fife being one) reiterated that it was something they needed to examine how it fits into Clinton County’s fiscal future. When I asked Mr. Steed about it, he said that it is something he has been looking at for a few years, and is still looking into. Kerry stated that he views the .5% tax as a “tool to balance the budget.” He also said that he tries to abide by statements by the Ohio Tax Commissioner encouraging local governments to “tax what you need and spend what you tax.” For Steed, this means that governments should not be in the business of collecting tax revenues for the future as much as they should focused on providing services to taxpayers, but that they should not be imposing taxes without a need.

Another important part that I was curious about (this will be covered in an upcoming post) was whether he was worried that allowing the tax to roll off would lead to a situation like the City of Wilmington is currently in, with years of declining revenues and a sizable budget deficit. Here, Steed was bullish on Clinton County’s future, emphasizing that revenues are going up as more businesses are moving in. This, Steed said, has been a factor in the discussions regarding the sales tax rolloff.

On the future of Clinton County:

As I previously stated, Steed was very bullish about the future of Clinton County. Steed told me that according to his figures, Clinton County has 400 jobs waiting to be filled by qualified candidates. He said that we need to continue discussing plans for workforce development so we can match workers with appropriate skills to jobs. In addition, he said that he wanted to see more partnerships like the partnership between Laurel Oaks and AMES with their aircraft maintenance program.Steed was also adamant that, as a county, we have to start looking forward towards attracting more people who work here to live here too. He looks to the construction area as a place that can be a major part of the focus on the future, building spec homes so that when people decide to take a job in Clinton County, they could move her right away as well.

My thoughts

Overall, I thought it was an enlightening conversation with Mr. Steed. I was able to get more of a perspective on local issues and what the commissioners are doing to try to plan for the future. In the future, I believe that the commissioners must do a better job in communicating some decisions. Obviously, this is not all their fault, but it seems that they could avoid criticisms about their lack of long term planning or their handling of the hospital money with more communication with the public.

I hope that more candidates and/or local politicians are willing to sit down for a conversation. We are at a crossroads locally, and it is vital to have an informed electorate. The invitation is open to all candidates-I would be happy to hear from you!

EDITORIAL: Unanswered Questions in the County Commissioner’s Race

With such a loud and vicious Presidential race, in many ways it is a pleasant change to see a gentler tone in our local County Commissioner’s race. However, the race is lacking something that could be beneficial: real, concrete plans to help the county solve problems and continue some of the success it has seen. Here are 3 questions I would like to see the candidates address and why I believe they are important:

  1. Being as specific as you can be, what would you like to see done with the hospital money in both the short-term and the long term?

This has been the $3 million question over the last few years in the county, along with the money that the county will be receiving in the coming years. The current commissioners seem to be dragging their feet over the issue, and are still lacking a concrete plan to move forward with the money currently in the coffers, much less the money that will be coming in. The most recent, glaring example of this is the issues surrounding the creation of a separate board to control the money. It seems that so many commissioner meetings have been rehashing the same conversations surrounding the issue, but is anything being done to cement a long-term plan for that money and the money that will continue to come in?

2. Should the 0.5% sales tax roll off? If so, do you see a need for the revenue loss to be countered?

The tax roll-off is an interesting fiscal issue for the next few years in Clinton County. The county is in good financial shape, thanks in part to the sales tax that has been in place for just over a decade. The sales tax was originally set up for five years, but has since been extended by the commissioners. The current commissioners have said that they support this roll-off, as did many candidates at the forum. The candidates should be prepared to say whether or not they would replace this revenue stream or if they believe that the county does not need to replace it.

3. What are some specific ways you would address public health in Wilmington?

This could go hand-in-hand with the question of the hospital money. Many residents of Clinton County will remember the saga of the YMCA from just a few years ago. Part of the discussion around the YMCA was the idea that Wilmington needed a community recreation center of some type as a public health necessity. Obviously, this has not happened. Some candidates for commissioner have mentioned that they believe Wilmington should build a community center, but the conversation has not gained significant traction recently on a large scale.

Obviously, another side to the public health issue in Wilmington is the apparent rise in drug-related health issues, including death by overdose. This issue has people concerned throughout the country, and many are wondering how to best address the problem. Education and availability of after school programs for youth seem to be steps in right direction, and it would be exciting for Clinton County to be seen as a progressive force towards a healthy citizenry.

 

There are many more important points in the election that people would like to see covered, but these are issues where commissioners could come out with more specific plans. The candidates have certainly been working on some specific points for their campaigns, but when a campaign is so localized scale, I had hoped we would her more about specifics at this point.

Experience, Fiscal Responsibility Key Issues at Commissioner’s Forum

Experience, fiscal responsibility, the drug epidemic, and pending sales tax legislation dominated the discussion today at the Clinton County Republican Party’s County Commissioner Forum. Seven candidates, five for one seat and two vying for another, answered questions from audience members and others about a variety of issues.

Kerry Steed, an incumbent running against James Fife in the primary, was the first candidate to give his opening statement. He focused on his experience as county commissioner, saying he was “the only one with a proven track record of making difficult decisions as a commissioner.” Steed was also able to discuss the creation of an endowed fund for the money from the sale of Clinton Memorial Hospital.

After Steed, three candidates for the open commissioner seat were up for their opening statements. Scott Holmer told the crowd that he used his late mother-in-law, Darlene Myers, as a role model as he works to help the community. Holmer then discussed his experience as a banker and non-profit leader as examples of his experience with fiscal responsibility as well as community service. Mike McCarty touched on some of the same subjects as Holmer, emphasizing his experience in public and community service with organizations such as the Clinton-Massie School Board and the Clinton County Foundation. According to McCarty, his love for serving others is a driving force behind wanting to be commissioner. He ended his opening statement with a call for addressing the drug issue and workforce development issues in the county.

Greg Grove was next, and his opening statement was more generally focused. He described himself not as a politician, but as a “patriot.” He emphasized his belief in lower taxes and small government, and that governments should spend within their means. James Fife, who is taking on Kerry Steed in the primary, started his opening statement by underlining his lifelong residency in Clinton County. Fife stressed his experience with local government as a Union Township Trustee, as well as his business experience as an administrator with the Ohio Department of Transportation. He stated that he believes it is important to protect taxpayer money, and that he would do so by moving the county to a zero based budgeting system. This plan drew a small reaction from the crowd.

After Fife, two more candidates running for the open seat finished out the opening statements. Brenda Woods spoke to her experience as clerk of commissioners and fiscal officer of Wayne Township as important experiences that would help her as commissioner. She emphasized that a “commissioner is elected to serve” and should focus on fiscal responsibility and accountability to taxpayers. Terry Habermehl talked about his family and their importance in his life as well as his dedication to service. He served in the military and says that the choice to do so was driven by the desire to serve others. Additionally, Habermehl claimed that his experience as a responsible Clinton County Auditor would make him a suitable candidate for the County Commissioner position.

Following the opening statements, the candidates were asked several questions. The first was a question on what they believed was the most important issue in Clinton County. Many candidates focused on fiscal responsibility, but Scott Holmer added that he believed it was most important to keep a safe community. Mike McCarty gave the opinion that the county should be looking at workforce development and the drug issue, insisting that those problems go hand-in-hand.

The next question was about what makes the candidates most qualified. Grove answered first, stressing his experience as a leader making difficult decisions. Steed, Fife, Habermehl, and Woods all focused on their experience working in their respective areas of government, especially as it concerns budgeting. Holmer and McCarty talked about their experience in the private sector as well as with non-profits.

Following that question, candidates were asked about difficult decisions affecting someone that worked for you. This was perhaps the weakest section for all candidates, with many giving answers that didn’t really answer the question. The star of this section was Holmer, who had perhaps the line of the morning when he said “a slow no is worse than a quick no,” meaning that it is important to be decisive and straightforward when making a tough decision or giving someone bad news.

The third question saw a question about the drug epidemic in Clinton County. The candidates focused on coordinated efforts and collaboration, with Woods, McCarty, and Steed focusing on education. One issue that could come up for some candidates is their support for the DARE Program, which is a much maligned program among researchers due to growing research about its ineffectiveness. Holmer said that the county should emphasize support for Health First Clinton County, for which he serves on the board, as a way to continue to grow a group that has been at the forefront of much of the public health discussion in Wilmington.

Finally, two of the last three questions were about the potential 0.5 percent sales tax rolloff for the county, an issue which has been supported by the current county commissioners. All of the candidates emphasized their belief in lower taxes, but most said that they needed to do more research. During this question, Habermehl was able to show off his experience as auditor by noting that many of the candidates did not know the numbers that were being put before him, but that he had studied it extensively.

The candidates’ closing remarks were shorter than their opening remarks, but very similar. Steed reminded voters that they voted for him overwhelmingly four years ago, and that he had followed through on campaign promises. Holmer and Woods both emphasized that they would be full-time, engaged commissioners. McCarty told those in the audience that he loves to serve and loves to help people. Grove boiled his campaign down to leadership and trust, with those being important facets of an effective commissioner.Fife told the audience that he wanted to develop a team atmosphere, where voices are heard through the county. Habermehl closed with a reminder of his success in instituting changes and making tough decisions as Clinton County Auditor shows that he is ready for the job.

Analysis

This forum showed once again that from an ideological standpoint that there is not a significant difference between any of the candidates. The focus on fiscal responsibility and the drug issue will certainly remain a focus for the next month of the primary race. Each of the candidates tried to emphasize how their own life experiences make them the best candidate for the position. I wonder if this will be a deciding factor for voters. If the candidates continue to speak to non-specific plans, they will likely have to bank on the tried and true method of door-to-door campaining to encourage Clinton County residents to vote for them.