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May 3, 2012

Clark County Council hopefuls crowd field

Experienced ticket vying to be among three moving on to November

CLARK COUNTY — Six Democratic candidates will face off in May’s primary election for the chance to gain one of the three open seats on the Clark County Council.

Three at-large council seats — the remaining four council members represent districts — will be up for election in November. Before the candidates make it to the general election, they will have to fight their way through an experienced and crowded primary field.

All but two of the candidates have served on the Clark County Council previously and one of those candidates is a former Clarksville Town Council member. The field also includes two incumbents.

David Abbott, 54, served two terms on the county council, including one term as the council president. He said that experience sets him apart from the other candidates.

“You learn from the good times and the bad times,” Abbott said. “I feel like I’ve been through it.”

The small business owner said he decided to run for a council seat again because he enjoys serving the people of Clark County.

“My plan from day one is to look over all the budgets [and] spend our money wisely,” Abbott said.

To help improve the position of the county financially, he said he would work with the state to try and increase the county’s revenue.

He added, in addition to trying to improve the county’s financial position, he would like to see improved communication between community office-holders and the county employees.

“There’s been a lot of things taken away from them,” Abbott said of the county employees.

To ensure the county doesn’t get in a more financially distressed position, Abbott said he will ask questions of requested appropriations.

“I think I do make a difference on the council,” he said. “I’m not a rubber stamp. We need to keep people informed of how we’re spending our money.”

Charles King, 64, has not served on the county council before, but did serve one term on the Clarksville Town Council in the 1990s.

However, he said he has years of experience dealing with budget issues as a principal for Greater Clark County Schools. King explained that in preparing school budgets there were often things that were desired but could not be paid for, and difficult cuts sometimes had to be made. King said if he is elected to the council, he will help the county operate on the funds that are given, subsequently avoiding mandates.

“I think that’s my No. 1 priority: do away with mandates,” he said. “That’s a way of raising taxes in a covert way.”

To help the county improve its financial state, King said the county needs to look toward economic development. He said a valuable resource in Clark County is River Ridge Commerce Center and its economic development could help the county reset its rainy-day fund.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” King said. “It’s something that will eventually evolve over time.”

He explained that with business relocation and growth, eventually people relocate to be closer to their jobs and would serve to increase the county’s tax base. King added that he would like to see better interaction between the council, the Clark County Commissioners and the other county offices. He said he would like to see those entities schedule meetings together and would like to see mandatory training sessions for officials entering into county government.

Susan Popp, 52, served on the county council from 1996 to 2001, and that experience, as well as an in-depth understanding of budgets working in the financial sector, sets her apart from the other candidates, she said.

“I feel like I have a working knowledge of the different departments and how they interact with each other and I could be ready day one,” Popp said.

Taking that business experience, Popp said she would like to apply it to how the government is run.

“One of my main goals is to bring more of a business approach to county government,” she said.

She added that she is not interested in micromanaging individual departments, but the county should look at the departments collectively to see if it could save money by centralizing purchasing, by making sure the county is not duplicating  services and by offering more equitable spending between the individual offices. To further improve the financial condition of the county, Popp said she would consider fee increases to the services individual offices provide rather than increasing taxes.

She added that the council needs to be more accessible to the public and to other county entities, possibly having joint meetings with the commissioners instead of setting policy through individual meetings.

“When you’re making a budget decision on central alarm, you need to go spend a day or a half-a-day at central alarm,” she said.

To be more accessible to the public, Popp said the council should meet in different areas of the county.

“We should meet up in Henryville, we should meet in New Washington, we should meet in these other places in order to be present, because we’re a county council, not a Jeff[ersonville] council,” she said. “I want to make this council much more accessible.”

Brenda Ross, 46, is a controller for Independent Piping Inc., and is seeking her first term on the council. She said in her News and Tribune questionnaire — as she did not return calls requesting an interview for this article — that her experience managing multimillion dollar projects helps prepare her for a county council position. Ross added that her background and work experience in financial planning and management sets her apart from her opponents.

To ensure the county is managing its expenses, she said that she will work to encourage economic growth in the county.

“I want to encourage growth and opportunity that will allow Clark County to retain its citizens without exorbitant costs,” she wrote in the questionnaire. “I want to encourage businesses to relocate here and to expand our present ones. We must continue to recruit and retain good jobs in Clark County. I want to continue this plan that involves the development work of River Ridge and One Southern Indiana.”

She also offered that her plan of action, if elected, would be to closely examine each individual budget, examine the previous year’s spending versus appropriations, listen to the county’s needs versus wants, eliminate unnecessary spending and produce a realistic budget.

If the county is short funding again, Ross offered that the county should cut its expenditures. To avoid future mandates, she said that communication between offices needs to improve.

Perry Smith, 62, has been a county council member off-and-on since 1984, is one of the current at-large council incumbents running for reelection and is a long-time employee of E. M. Coots Funeral Home.

He said, “my experience on the council and my common sense,” are what sets him apart from the other candidates.

To help the county ensure it has enough funding to cover its annual expenses, Smith said he would try and use all of the funds from the different county offices and monitor spending.

“The only thing we can do is go for what we can go for,” he said. “We just have to be careful of what we spend. We’ve got to decide what is needed and what is not.”

Smith said he would rely on office-holders to tell the council what is needed.

“I think the office-holder really knows what they need better than we do,” he said. But he added, “the office-holders will have to live within their means; we do too.”

Smith said the county has not been operating off a realistic budget; the approved 2012 budget totaled $14.5 million. He said the county needs to make the move to try and operate off of a more realistic budget.

In addition, Smith said the county council needs to have more communication with the commissioners and office-holders to help designate funds and monitor spending.

“[We need to] keep spending down and the tax rate down,” he said. “[And] I hope I’m serving the people.”

Kevin Vissing, 55, is another incumbent wrapping up his first term in office and is running for re-election. He as well said his experience differentiates him from the other candidates running for office.

“I find county government fairly complex,” Vissing said. “It takes several years to understand what’s going on and I have that experience.”

To help the county manage expenses, he said the county council is tasked with being told what is available and then having to cut budgets to make the amount approved by the state fit.

“It’s really year-by-year,” Vissing said. “You don’t know what curveball is going to be thrown at you.”

He referenced the tornadoes that struck the county March 2, and although federal aid is helping pay 75 percent of the expenses, the cash-strapped county will have to come up with money to cover the remainder of the costs. Vissing said ideally the council wants to replenish it’s rainy-day fund, but it is unable to do that now.

“All those things will catch up with you,” he said. “I don’t foresee any extra funds anytime soon.”

To help manage the county in the meantime, Vissing stressed working together with the other county offices. He suggested possibly holding more meetings or holding workshops prior to the county’s regular meetings.

“I don’t know if there’s a will to do that,” he said, referring to other county officials.

Vissing said he will return calls, go to meetings throughout the county and attend all the council meetings to stay in touch with Clark County residents.

“I’m not just someone who shows up on election year,” he said.

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