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.
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!