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June 5, 2014

Clark, Floyd commissioners sound off at luncheon

Opportunities for synergy between two counties discussed

CLARKSVILLE — Clark and Floyd counties may be neighbors, but the attitudes of their leaders on some issues couldn’t be further apart.

The commissioners of the two counties came together Thursday to answer the questions of One Southern Indiana members at a 1si luncheon held at the Clarion Hotel Conference Center Louisville North. The questions, which were submitted by members and posed to the commissioners by moderator and 1si CEO Wendy Dant Chesser, touched on the challenges each county faces, the philosophies and opinions of the commissioners and the possibility of streamline services to save money.

One of those streamlining measures was a proposal originally found in the 2007 Kernan-Shepherd Report, which calls for counties to be led by one county executive instead of three commissioners. The Clark County contingent was against such a proposal, while their Floyd counterparts were interested in seeing if it could work.

Floyd County Commissioner Steve Bush said one full-time executive could be more effective than three part-time commissioners, but Floyd Commissioner Chuck Freiberger saw hurdles to making it work, noting that the one executive would need to be compensated more than all three part-time commissioners currently make.

The Clark County contingent was united in its opposition to such a measure. Clark County Commissioners President Jack Coffman said he and his peers on the board benefited from their diverse backgrounds and found it easier to manage the responsibilities of the office together.

“I don’t know how one person could keep up with it all,” Coffman said.

Dant Chesser asked the commissioners whether unifying city and county government would be a viable way to save tax dollars in their counties, and the representatives of the two counties again found themselves in a difference of opinion.

Clark County’s size and the number of municipalities within it would make such a merger nearly impossible, said Commissioner John Perkins, who called such a proposal “tantamount to civil war.”

“In a smaller county, that may work,” Perkins said. “In Clark County, I don’t think it has a prayer.”

But it wouldn’t be that big of a stretch in Floyd County, Bush said.

Floyd Commissioners President Mark Seabrook noted that several agencies in Floyd County are co-funded and run by the city of New Albany. Seabrook said getting through the process of combining them would be tough, though.

“On both sides of that, you get some territorial issues,” he said.

Though both counties are dealing with their own financial issues, the commissioners were of two minds on the possibility of offering abatements to businesses on county taxes. With Clark County $7.1 million in the red and the necessity of judicially mandated tax rates to make ends meet, Perkins said the notion was “pretty much impossible.”

“Unless somebody starts printing money in the basement of the courthouse, I don’t see it happening,” he said.

The commissioners expressed excitement over infrastructure improvements underway in their respective counties, with Coffman noting that there is roughly $50 million worth of road projects either underway or in the engineering stages in Clark County. Bush discussed improvements along U.S. 150, and said it was set to become a commerce corridor.

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Jamie Collins, Scottsburg, works on lesson plans in her classroom at Scribner Middle School on Monday afternoon. Collins was the recipient of a $100 gift card to the Your Educational Supply Store from the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. Education Foundation. All first-time teachers in the school system received a gift card to help them set up their classrooms.

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