Clinton County Election Review

A quick review of the 2016 Primary Election Results for Clinton County

County Commissioner-Open Seat

Winner: Brenda Woods

Mrs. Woods ended up winning with almost one-third of the vote, with Mike McCarty and Terry Habermehl finishing second and third, respectively. Woods ran an impressive campaign, with well-designed signage and campaign literature. Additionally, she received broad support from community leaders, including current Commissioner Mike Curry and President of Wilmington City Council Randy Riley. Woods performed well in precincts throughout the county, including some in areas that figured to be strongholds for other candidates. She will bring years of experience in both county and city government to her new post.

 

County Commissioner-Kerry Steed’s seat

Winner: Kerry Steed, Incumbent

Steed won a very close race with Fife. Steed ran a strong campaign with good social media presence and advertising. Fife kept this race close, despite an apparent lack of campaigning beyond his statements to the Wilmington News Journal and his participation in the candidate forums. Steed will have to get by Dean Feldmeyer in the General Election, where he will need to answer questions about transparency with the usage of the hospital money.

Republican Presidential Primary

 

CC Winner: Trump
Ohio Winner: Kasich

Neither result is really surprising. Trump was strong in a place that has seen difficult financial times and is overwhelmingly white, doing particularly well outside of the city of Wilmington. Kasich did take the state, however, slowing the apparent Trump juggernaut.

Democratic Presidential Primary

CC Winner: Sanders
Ohio Winner: Clinton

Clinton winning Ohio after her loss in Michigan wasn’t a surprise, but it was certainly a disappointment to those who still think Bernie Sanders has a chance of winning the Democratic Primary. Sanders winning Clinton County, however, was interesting to me at first glance. I do wonder if it has to do with the strong pacifist Quaker community here and Mr. Sanders’ history of strongly pacifist rhetoric. Either way, Ohio was part of a fantastic night for Clinton, and it would be a shock for her to not get the nomination at this point.

 

Conversation with the Candidate-Terry Habermehl

A couple of days ago, I sat down with current County Auditor and commissioner candidate Terry Habermehl for a conversation about the race and his ideas for Clinton County. Mr. Habermehl is running against Scott Holmer, Brenda Woods, Mike McCarty, and Greg Grove in the Republican Primary.

On the senior services levy…

After the forum at the senior center, senior-specific issues have been on the candidates mind. Mr. Habermehl, having just come off of a talk at the senior center, was no different. Habermehl countered some of the information that has been discussed about the contract with the Council on Aging. While some have talked about the amount of money spent on administration of the levy that is paid to the CoA, he has said that their administrative costs may well be lower than if the county tried to administer the grant themselves. He said that when he first came on as county auditor a few years ago, there were discussions between Job and Family Services and the county about the grant being locally administered(Community Action had also inquired about this). According to Habermehl, they decided that there would be too many new positions that would need to be created in order to fulfill the expertise that would be needed to administer such a levy.

However, Habermehl did say that there were some things he would like to see done regarding the levy. He said that there is not enough input from seniors right now that is shared with the Council on Aging, which could include independent surveys. Additionally, he said that he would like to keep the administration local if it were a feasible option, which would need to be researched more.

On the 0.5% sales tax rolloff

Habermehl said that he is cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a sales tax rolloff. He believes that the rolloff should happen because it was passed as a temporary tax to begin with, and from the data from the last few years it would be fiscally acceptable. Mr. Habermehl added that the county has actually seen a rise in sales tax revenue over the last few years, with each of the last 3 years showing an increase from the previous year. According to Habermehl, as commissioner, his focus would be to continually explore long-term reports for revenue and expenditures to work to avoid re-adding the sales tax.

On moving from auditor to commissioner…

One of the questions I had for Mr. Habermehl was what inspired him to run for commissioner after spending the last several years as auditor. He said that he desires to work more closely with the people of Clinton County, which is not afforded to him as often in his role as auditor. He added that as auditor his role is providing information, but that in the commissioner’s role he could help people solve problems.

On the “hospital money”…

As with every candidate, the money from the sale of Clinton Memorial Hospital is an important consideration for Habermehl in the campaign. In his opinion, long-term planning is the most vital piece for using that money. He believes that money should be spent on infrastructure where possible, especially where it increases productivity in county offices and helps save money. With much of the rest of rest of the money, Mr. Habermehl believes that a legacy fund through the Clinton County Foundation should award grants with the interest earned on the money.

On efficiency in county government…

One of Habermehl’s passions for county government is increasing efficiency and collective action among the individual departments in the county. One of his interests is increasing the information technology infrastructure of the county government, which he claims is inadequate right now. There is currently no full-time IT person for the county, and most individual departments are responsible for their technology needs. Habermehl believes that this is an area where the government could be more efficient and save money, because departments would be purchasing items and services together rather than separately and could therefore increase their bargaining power.

On the possibility of a community center…

Mr. Habermehl said that one question that is not answered in specifics is “what is the definition of a community center?” He stated that this needs to be answered before anyone moves forward with it, because the services it provides will affect the support of it. One thing Habermehl said he may explore is the possibility of putting it to a vote, perhaps with the additional piece of a levy for operating costs. The operating costs, he said, were his biggest concerns in the long run.

 

This was another interesting conversation with a commissioner candidate. Thank you for reading, and I hope to talk to more candidates before the primary on March 15th.

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!

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!