Budget, taxes key for council

The candidates for the board that controls county government spending, such as on roads, parks and the sheriff’s office said that no additional county taxes are needed, and some are suggesting lowering what property owners pay.

Johnson County has some pressing needs. More spending on roads and infrastructure is needed, county leaders have said. The jail has reached numbers at or near overcrowding. And the unincorporated White River Township area has continued to grow, and residents often ask for additional amenities.

But six candidates running for three at-large Johnson County Council seats are loathe to say taxes need to be increased, and some have instead called for taxes to be reduced.

Three Republicans and three Libertarians are squaring off for three council seats. No Democrats filed to run for county council. The three county council members elected will serve four-year terms starting in 2017.

Johnson County property and income taxes are already high, and if officials can’t make do with the tax revenue currently coming in, then officials need to examine how they are spending the county’s funds, Libertarian candidate Rodney Benker said.

“The county shouldn’t be adding on to the tax burdens of its citizens,” Libertarian Damion Stanziano said.

Others said property tax dollars should directly benefit the people the property owners who are paying the bills.

Property tax dollars should be spent supporting the area that was taxed, Republican candidate Joshua Turner said. If the county wants to raise funds for infrastructure projects, for example, that money should come from the people who use the roads.

“I’m hesitant to put in any new taxes unless I see a direct benefit to the voters and my constituents,” Turner said. “Unless there is a dramatic and pressing need, the government should not burden the taxpayer with another tax.”

With the wheel tax in particular, the county needs to ensure all of the funds raised from it are being used to fix roads, Stanziano said.

Republican candidate Josh McCarty, a former member of the county council, called the wheel tax, an additional $15 to $40 in registration fees on a vehicle or trailer, a huge help in improving county roads. However, more financial assistance from the state legislature in providing local governments money for road repair is needed, he said.

Raising taxes for infrastructure projects would be a last resort, Libertarian candidate Brian Thueme said.

When considering amenities, such as park and trails, especially in the unincorporated White River Township area, the county needs to look to private donations and grants as the primary source of funding, Republican incumbent John Myers said.

The problem, candidates said, is how to ensure taxpayers don’t get stuck with additional costs.

“Everyone wants to live in an area that is beautiful and has access; it’s about doing it without additional costs to taxpayers,” Thueme said.

County officials need to keep in mind how much it will cost to maintain any new projects. Running a park or trail can often require additional funds each year beyond what was paid to build it, Benker said.

When spending is cut, money should be returned to the taxpayer, not used for other new projects, Thueme said.

One way the county can lower spending going forward is by evaluating its staffing levels, Turner said.

As people retire or move on to other jobs, the county should consider if the position can be removed or consolidated, he said.

But the county budget doesn’t have room to cut, Myers said. County council members should review the budget closely for any spending that could be cut, but county government already does a good job of spending only on what it needs, he said.

The county has worked hard to maintain a balanced budget without raising taxes the last several years, Myers said.

McCarty said the budget is already reviewed line-item by line-item.

Open lines of communication with county staff is critical to managing the budget, he said.

At a glance

Johnson County Council

Represents: Three at-large seats representing the entire county are up for election this year

Duties: County council members approve the county’s budget, including how much should be spent on roadwork and sheriff’s deputies, and can approve new taxes

Term: four years

Pay: $8,109.57 per year in 2016

The Turner file

Name: Joshua Turner

Joshua Turner
Joshua Turner

Party: Republican

Family: none

Job: Marketing and communications liaison, circulation clerk; Johnson County Public Library

Education: Ivy Tech Community College

Past political experience: none

The Stanziano file

Name: Damian Stanziano

Damian Stanziano
Damian Stanziano

Party: Libertarian

Family: None

Job: Owner and operator of Stanziano Farm

Education: Masters of public health, University of South Florida; doctorate in exercise physiology, University of Miami, masters in exercise physiology, University of Akron; bachelor’s in natural science, University of Akron

Past political experience: Libertarian candidate for State Senate District 41 in 2014.

The Theume file

Name: Brian Thueme

Brian Thueme
Brian Thueme

Party: Libertarian

Family: Wife, Rebekah and son, Christian

Job: Account executive for Innophos

Education: Masters of business administration, Baker College; masters of library and information sciences, Wayne State University; and bachelor’s of science, Northern Michigan University

Past political experience: none

The McCarty file

Name: Josh McCarty

Where They Stand - Josh McCarty Johnson County Council on Thursday at Daily Journal. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Josh McCarty

Party: Republican

Family: Wife, Jennifer and children Jacob, Zachary and Grace

Job: Owner, McCarty Mulch & Stone Inc.

Education: Attended Vincennes University & Purdue University agriculture course

Past political experience: Johnson County Council 2004-2012 and past president and chairman of Johnson County Recycling District

The Benker file

Name: Rodney Benker

Rodney Benker
Rodney Benker

Party: Libertarian

Family: Wife Bethany and children Jorja, Avery and Nolan

Job: Digital media director, Greenwood Christian Church

Education: Associates degree, digital media; bachelor’s degree, business

Past political experience: none

The Myers file

Name: John Myers

John Myers
John Myers

Party: Republican

Family: wife, Almeda; son Ethan, 11, Daughter Myra, 5

Education: graduated Greenwood Community High School, Indiana law enforcement academy

Work: Greenwood police officer

Past political experience: current county council member

Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.