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County council contenders communicate concerns

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Democrats describe issues they deem important

TELL CITY - Democratic contenders for county-council seats converged in the Schergens Center Tuesday to tell attendees at a candidates forum, through opening remarks and by answering questions, why they're seeking election or re-election.

Sponsored by The Perry County News and Perry County Chamber of Commerce, the event was moderated by News Editor Vince Luecke and broadcast live by radio station WLME 102.7 FM.

James Adams, Tom Hauser and Bob Ramsbottom are seeking election to the county council. Because the three Republicans are vying for the three available at-large positions, they'll be unopposed in the May primary, and will be profiled in a later issue.

Incumbent Merle Doogs was first to present opening remarks, and said he was born and raised in the Leopold area. He and his wife, Lois, made Tell City their home for the last 41 years until she died last year, he continued, and their three children currently live and pay property taxes in Perry County.

"I'm not going to stand up here and promise this or that," he said, "but will promise to perform my duties to the best of my ability."

He retired from a banking career, and said experience gained there, his 12 years on the council and common sense qualify him for the at-large position he hopes to retain.

Local governments throughout the state will see dramatic changes in operating balances come from recent legislative action, District 1 candidate Steve Goodson said in his opening remarks, and "great uncertainty" lies ahead concerning tax revenues.

The legislative session that ended in mid-March brought a budget bill that changed the way property taxes are calculated. The state's sales tax was increased in an effort to replace dollars lost through that action, but officials at the state level haven't yet determined how the latter will be disbursed, leaving counties with questions about how much revenue they'll get.

The county needs council members with intimate knowledge of the county budget, Goodson said, noting he's been involved in planning and administering the last 11. He said 373 new jobs were created through efforts to encourage businesses to locate facilities here or to help existing businesses expand.

"I want to continue helping Perry County to grow," he said, urging the audience to vote for him "so we can continue to build on our progress together."

Also seeking an at-large seat, Ron Crawford Sr. boasted he, too, is a lifelong resident of the county except for a year he lived in Indianapolis and two years in the military. He said his involvement in many organizations provide the skills he'll need and he has been attending council meetings to help him prepare for the job.

"I'm dedicated, I have the time and I want to give back to the community," he said. He knows money could be short in coming years, but said he's prepared to meet that challenge. The county budget was $3.8 million this year, "and there's not always money to go around," he noted, "but we need to separate needs from wants." Can the county save money by keeping a truck another year, rather than replacing it, he asked as an example. He said he'd rather "forget the negative," like shortages of money, and focus on what resources are available.

"I promise I'll work as hard as I can for all of the people of Perry County," he said.

Terry Lock, the other Democrat seeking an at-large county-council seat, was unable to attend the forum due to work commitments.

Luecke asked the candidates to explain council duties, for the benefit of anyone uncertain about them.

Doogs said paying and prioritizing the county's bills are their main job, but council members are sometimes called upon to approve tax breaks to help businesses move into the county or grow.

Goodson agreed the budget, which funds the county's various offices, is their main duty.

"We provide the essentials Perry County needs," he said. "We have to make the budgets work. Times are going to get tough," he continued, meaning the council will have to watch its priorities. "We have to get every cent out of the tax dollar we can."

Crawford said he talked to a number of people, and found "there isn't a job description" for council members. "But we have to have a balanced budget," he said, "and we have to have it now." He returned again to the theme of separating needs from wants and said he intends to provide county offices "what they need to serve the people of Perry County."

A local-option income tax may be imposed to help make up for lost property-tax revenue, in addition to county-option and economic-development income taxes county residents already pay. Luecke asked the candidates about that alternative.

"Nobody likes paying taxes," Goodson said, "but that's the only way we'll move forward. We have to get that money somehow." He also noted the entire country is suffering "an economic slowdown or recession," so uncertainty goes to the national level.

"Nobody knows," he said. "Hopefully the sales tax will raise enough money."

Crawford responded by saying, "there may be some services we can cut, but we may have to bite the bullet and raise taxes." It may be possible, he added, to make changes "to get by with the money we have."

Noting no one knows how much sales-tax revenue will come to the county, Doogs said a shortfall of $200,000 is projected for Perry County by 2010.

"There may be no option left but a local-option income tax," he said.

Some local tax money now goes to support economic-development efforts, including funding of the Perry County Development Corp., Luecke noted in asking whether it could be better spent on issues such as county infrastructure.

Crawford admitted "this is a new area for me," but said tax money has to go to its intended purpose, and common sense must always guide decisions.

Doogs thinks tax abatements that helped lure businesses here have been "money invested wisely," and noted the amount of tax the recipient companies pay increases over the 10-year lifetimes of the incentives. In the end, "you have more tax money coming back" into the community, he noted.

Goodson estimated the county has paid the development corporation $460,000 over the last four years, and pegged the return at $114 million.

"I have and will support PCDC," he said. " For that kind of return on our money, you bet I'll support PCDC."

Luecke asked the candidates about negative comments they hear from county residents and what challenges they think the county faces.

"As I go about the county, eyesores in the county and cities bother me," Doogs said. He encouraged county residents to use the recycling-management district and other county resources to "clean this place up."

"There are always challenges," Goodson said. "I would like to see higher-technology jobs that will help bring our younger people back. We have a great work force in place, but if you can accomplish that, we'll be on the road to success."

Crawford said meth and other drug problems pose the greatest challenge.

"It gives Perry County very bad publicity," he said, "and it's a growing problem."

He also agreed with Doogs about unsightly properties. Some older homes in Tell City are being torn down and cleared off, he said in noting "some things are being done, but there's room for improvement."