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Candidates share ideas on growth, budget

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By Janet Robb

Two incumbents, three others vie for county commission

TELL CITY - Job growth and development of northern areas of Perry County were on the minds of county-commissioner candidates at a political forum Tuesday evening.

Hosted by the Perry County Chamber of Commerce and Perry County News, the forum let Democratic county-commissioner candidates vying for seats in Districts 1 and 3 tell the public why they're the best choice. Republican Brian Steen, who is unopposed in next month's primary, offered a short introduction and will be profiled in a future issue of The News.

District 1 incumbent Don Sherry said in his opening remarks the biggest differences between him and his opponents, Brent Herzog and Bill Amos, is his "spirit of cooperation and the spirit of optimism." "I don't think there's anything, together, we can't overcome," he said.

Even though, he went on, the county will lose close to $200,000 by 2010 thanks to property-tax caps adopted this year by the state legislature, he said that is not a number so encumbering that the county can't work through it.

"We will have to become more prudent with the money we do have," Sherry added. "Now is not the time to jump ship or waiver."

A former marine, Herzog said his military and leadership training obtained through his job at Southwire and as an Eagle Scout leaves him confident that he can lead the county into the future. "Our community needs leadership, leaders who are willing to work as a team and not just for a status symbol," he said. Providing the best future for the children starts now, Herzog added.

The county needs to make its hospital and sheriff's department better. Too many local people drive 30 or 40 minutes away to get medical care rather than staying here, he said. Where Perry County has six sheriff's deputies, Spencer County has 12 and the only difference he said was that Spencer County is about 15 square miles larger. "Our community needs a vision, a vision for the future of our community, for ourselves and more importantly for our children and grandchildren," Herzog concluded.

A member of the Perry County Recycling advisory board and former Willamette Industries employee, Amos cites his years helping with budgets, staffing and negotiating three contracts for a union as why he would best serve Perry Countians.

District 3 voters will only have to decide between incumbent Jody Fortwendel and Bradley Lynch May 6.

"If given the privilege to serve another term as county commissioner, I pledge to keep an open mind on all issues," Fortwendel said. "I pledge to continue the tremendous efforts put forth by Perry Countians to bring more competitive, good-paying jobs to the county."

A self-employed barber, Fortwendel said he has daily contact with citizens, which gives him the opportunity to listen to concerns and make decisions for the betterment of the county. His only agenda, he said, is to keep an open mind on any issue that comes before members. Fortwendel said he envisions a future where his children and grandchildren can continue to live in Perry County in a safe and wholesome environment.

"Together, we can ensure Perry County's future without adding to the tax burden," Fortwendel added.

A Taswell native, Lynch said his father was from the Doolittle Mills area and he spent much of his childhood at Lynch General Store. He moved to the area in 1999 and would like to help create and retain jobs as a commissioner.

Who's Got the Time?

The forum's moderator, News Editor Vince Luecke, kicked off the questioning by asking about each candidate's stance on the time-zone issue, which created debate throughout the county, and whether the county is on Central Time to stay.

"Whether or not to reintroduce a petition?" Sherry asked. "No. We went through this quandary quite a while and we heard both sides." His first job as a commissioner, he said, is to enhance the lives of the working people and when he was approached about switching to the Eastern Time Zone, he felt it was in the financial best interest of the county to switch.

Many people wanted to stay in Central Time, he continued and "gave great proposals on why they should," adding that he never discounted the merit of any proposal. "Every citizen has the right to petition the federal department of transportation ... the reality is the federal department of transportation decides to make that decision on one thing, commerce," Sherry said adding that's the only reason why there are time zones. The public incorrectly believes the commissioners dictate what time zone the county is in, he continued.

Herzog said he doesn't believe there was enough effort put forth to see what the majority of the county wanted. "I think the situation could have been taken care of better," he said, adding that there should have been more education on what was going on. Also, he said even though the county had input for the decision, it wasn't accurately projected when the petition was put forth.

Amos provided a simple answer stating that members should have checked with the public, made up their mind and stuck with it.

"The time zone was a debacle from the beginning," Fortwendel said. "It was something we didn't create at the local level. It was passed down from the state." Personally, the whole state should be in the same zone, whether it's Central or Eastern, he continued, and when this issue came up, he was for Eastern because that's what most of the state was in. The commissioners wanted to put a referendum on the ballot and let the county decide, he said, but state law doesn't allow it. "As far as I'm concerned, until we're allowed to vote on it, we will stay on Central Time," Fortwendel concluded.

The time zone affects Lynch directly, he told the audience, since he lives in Central and works in Eastern. "No matter what you decide, you're going to make half of the county very unhappy," he said.

The soonest the county could consider another change would be in 2009 but by that time, Lynch continued, Perry County would have been on Central time for a few years and by changing again, it would cause more disruptions. "I don't believe that would be a good course of action" to change again, he said.

In his rebuttal, Sherry said he wanted the public to understand that the commissioners "took every possible measure to get (the time issue) on the ballot" and that they followed up on every possible contact. "We wanted nothing more than to let the people of Perry County settle this by themselves, but the state wouldn't allow it," he said. "It was beyond our control."

Perry County's Future

One of the main issues Herzog said he would like taken care of is the sheriff's department. The jail is outdated and the county needs more deputies, he said, adding that the county needs to find out where the money is being spent. "We need more (deputies) to take control of the meth problem and carry out other tasks," Herzog concluded.

A goal of Amos would be to "cut the fat off the budget" and get that in order first.

Fortwendel said he would focus on things currently in the works like the tourist building at Eagles Bluff and promote rural development in the northern part of the county by extending a sewer line there.

Preparing for possible consequences of future legislation is what Lynch said he would like to do if elected. He said he'd also like to keep the employment base active in the community.

"It's been my experience that there are two things that get an individual up and running and that's a dinner bell and a good job," Sherry said. So he said his vision of the next four years is getting an employer in the old General Electric building in Tell City to create more jobs for citizens.

Population Growth

Candidates agreed that creating and keeping good jobs in the county can not only help bring people to, but also keep people in Perry County. Fortwendel also noted that families aren't having as many kids as in the past, saying couples now only have two or three compared to 11 or 12 in the past.

Metro areas are much more expensive to live in, Lynch said, offering that the county should advertise and promote itself more on how the cost of living is lower and the lifestyle better in Perry County. This may bring people to live here but commute to work.

It's a simple equation, Sherry said, fewer young people mean fewer new families. The county needs a combined effort between not only county government but city governments to draw in a diversified job market that is better than outside of the county.

"Not just bringing young people in but we have to keep those in the county because there are so many leaving," Herzog said. The river and Interstate 64 are good resources for the county, he added. "We need to use these as selling points for industries to bring them here."

One County Executive Instead of Three Commissioners?

An Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform report, also known as the Kernan-Shephard report, published last year suggested each county should have one county executive instead of three commissioners. Luecke asked the candidates what they thought of the commission's plan and what's the biggest complaint about government they hear.

"I have a lot of problems with that," Fortwendel started. "There wouldn't be equal representation throughout the county and the one person would have the power to appoint the treasurer, auditor and sheriff. To me that sounds like a dictator."

Financially, it could also cost more for a smaller county than for a bigger one that has full-time commissioners. As for complaints, Fortwendel said, there will always be complaints.

Lynch agreed with Fortwendel, reiterating that it makes more sense for Evansville but for a rural county, it's not wise. There's no merit to it, Sherry said, adding the real intent of the report was to distract from what's really hurting taxpayers.

It's a bad decision and it doesn't represent the whole county, Herzog added.

"I don't think the people of Perry County would ever vote for one commissioner," Amos said.

County Development

All candidates agreed development in the northern part of the county is a must, but lack of adequate sewer and water need to be addressed before it happens.

Lynch said the area is well-suited for light industry, restaurants, gas stations and hotels.

"For the most part (Indiana 37) is a through way not a destination," he said. Most people use the road to get to Tell City or to French Lick.

"I believe we could utilize that area for something that is low volume on sewer, water and electricity," Sherry said, adding that ordinances passed recently, including one prohibiting adult-oriented businesses in certain areas, were passed for order and growth purposes.

Branchville Correctional Facility draws a lot of visitors, Herzog said, so restaurants, gas stations and hotels would do well in the area.

"Small businesses could feed off that," he added.

"We have taken basic adequate steps for that area to develop," Fortwendel said. "We can't keep adult businesses out but we did take the steps to make sure they have to be built in certain areas."

He said he would love to see something like what Corydon has but probably won't in his lifetime.

"Development is very important," Lynch concluded. "We would all like to see development with what we have available to us."