Two candidates for county commissioner agree that the county will likely need to cut spending in the future but differ about how to do that.
Republican candidate Ron West believes the county may have to consider offering another early-retirement incentive to county employees, but he also said the county could save money by training employees to do work in other offices.
Democrat candidate Daniel Hardcastle doesn’t want to offer another early retirement or lay off any workers, but he worries that might be necessary in the future if significant cuts are needed.
West and Hardcastle both are running for a seat on the three-member board of commissioners.
The District 3 seat represents the northern portion of Johnson County, including White River, Pleasant and Clark townships. Currently, the seat is filled by Commissioner John Price, but he is not running for re-election because he is running for a state representative seat. All county voters are able to vote for commissioner.
One of the top issues facing their area is the discussion of forming a town of Center Grove in White River Township. Under current state legislation, the three county commissioners are the ones who would make that decision as long as a neighboring city doesn’t block it.
Hardcastle doesn’t support creating a town because he thinks that will increase residents’ taxes. He said he also doesn’t believe the area will be made into a town because of the opposition from residents.
“Center Grove becoming a town is becoming a big topic. But I don’t think it will happen,” he said.
West doesn’t see the need to create a town. Residents are already getting services, including police protection, road work, good schools and a good fire department, he said.
Some residents may want to have more say over development in their area, which is currently decided by county officials.
West supports changing legislation so that residents get to vote on the issue in a referendum, rather than the three-member board of county commissioners making the decision, and he said he has talked with state lawmakers about that issue.
“I was surprised the commissioners had that much say over that many people,” West said.
Both candidates believe their personal and professional experience will help them as commissioner deal with the top issues facing the county, including overseeing projects and cutting expenses when the county faces funding shortfalls.
Hardcastle is retired but went through an apprenticeship as an electrician and has years of experience working with blueprints, road work and construction projects.
With local governments proposing construction projects and the county working on building projects, he believes that experience will help him make sure the county doesn’t overspend on projects and that work is done properly, Hardcastle said.
“I want to make sure taxpayers are getting their money’s worth on projects,” he said.
West owns a business and has been on the county council for 12 years. He said he knows how to manage employees and money and is familiar with the county’s financial issues because he has helped prepare the budget each year.
Part of his experience as a business owner is in managing employees and finding the right workers, West said.
He said one way the county could save money in the future is by training workers to do other jobs. That way, when one office is busy, employees in another department that aren’t as busy could help with the workload. That could save the county money in overtime and part-time expenses.
West said he also wants to look into other cost savings, such as privatizing some county services, but he isn’t sure what those would be yet and needs more time to research that issue.
“I have some ideas and things I want to look at, but it’s easy being on the outside looking in to say what should be done. Once you get inside, and see the issues, it may not be quite as easy,” West said.
Hardcastle said he is concerned about privatizing any services.
He doesn’t want to see taxes increased. But in some cases, tax increases could be necessary to pay for services, such as road funding, he said, adding local roads and streets have to be maintained.
West has been a longtime proponent of a fuel tax, which would charge motorists an extra 2 to 5 cents per gallon of gas, and that money would be spent on local road projects. He favors that tax over the current wheel tax, which charges drivers when they register their vehicle every year, because it is more equitable and charges people based on how much they drive, he said. He hopes that he can work with state lawmakers to get additional funding options for local governments, he said.