Next mayor has big issues to tackle

When North Vernon Mayor Harold “Soup” Campbell announced that he would not seek re-election, the decision ensured that residents would elect a new city leader on Nov. 3 in the municipal election.

Voters will choose between Democrat Matthew J. Hurley and Republican Mike Ochs. Both are members of the North Vernon City Council.

Campbell said the mayoral winner faces major issues, such as good water, sanitation and downtown renovation. The search for good water has been going on for more than 15 years, he said.

“We need to secure the source for a large quantity of high-quality water for the community’s future. Each year that issue grows more important,” Campbell said. “We have already located several possible locations to use as a water supply, but we have not yet been able to negotiate a good price. The new mayor will need to lead negotiations for a fair price and also find more revenue.”

Campbell also said that water drainage and sewer disposal are citywide problems.

“We need a whole new infrastructure for drainage. Our sewer and drainage system is very old and in very bad condition. It will have to be replaced; and in order to do that, there will have to be more revenue than we have now,” he said.

North Vernon’s multimillion-dollar renovation projects under the Stellar Program will bring challenges for the new mayor, Campbell said. Named as a Stellar Community in 2011, North Vernon received millions of dollars in funding to renovate several sites in the downtown area.

“We still have a lot to do with Stellar. The engineering and planning is complete, but the projects are only about 50 percent completed. It will be a job to complete everything by this time next year. Of course the burned-out area in downtown also complicates that issue,” Campbell said.

“When it is all finished, North Vernon will be very beautiful but there will still be a lot of work for the new mayor to complete.”

Matt Hurley

Member of North Vernon City Council

Employed by Duke Energy

He and wife, Kathy, have three children, Monica, Jessica and Matt.

Michael Ochs

Member of the North Vernon City Council

Jennings County sheriff’s deputy

He and wife, Connie, have three children, Chad, Michelle and Jeremy.

Where they stand

Mayoral candidates Michael Ochs and Matt Hurley were asked about certain challenges they would face if elected mayor and their ideas about the issues. Their responses follow:

Water, sewage issues

Ochs: One of the major projects that the city of North Vernon is facing is the quality of water. The current city administration has proposed purchasing an old stone quarry. The city would then pump water out of the river into the quarry, then out of the quarry to the treatment plant. The quarry has not been purchased.

The more logical and cost-saving water solution would be to have Jennings Water supply the city. The city is already hooked up to Jennings Water. Jennings Water’s source is from an aquifer in Jackson County. The water is a much better quality of water. The water is healthier to drink and could save the taxpayers and ratepayers millions of dollars. The cost of Jennings Water would be approximately a little over $1 million. With just a little upgrade, North Vernon could have really good water and keep the cost down. This option needs to be fully explored for the long-term health and savings benefits to the people of North Vernon.

Hurley: The goal of North Vernon is to secure a guaranteed source of water. The next administration will be tasked with studying multiple sources to develop a plan for the future. The future of any community depends on having a solid water source. For our future, this may include multiple water sources.

Currently, Jennings Water supplies the new annexation area, our golf course and the airport, which will not change. Our future will depend on thorough studies to come up with a solution and will take the engagement of many players to complete this plan. This plan will take time and cannot be rushed. Our future water source relies on reviewing all of our options, and making the right choice.

Starting in 2016, our utility board will need to re-evaluate the stormwater ordinance and then develop a 10-year master plan. We are currently in the process of constructing a weather treatment facility at our water plant that will handle a 10-year/one-hour storm. We will need to continue to repair our older collection system and start developing a design for our annexed area.

The future mayor, the North Vernon City Council and the North Vernon Utility Board will be key components in the development of our city over the next several years.

Stellar project completion

Ochs: The Stellar Project was and is another project that was rushed through with poor planning. The people of North Vernon may have had town meetings, but the thoughts and wishes of the people of North Vernon were never followed. Poor planning, cost overrides and lack of vision has plagued this project from the beginning.

Hurley: Completing the Stellar Projects will be a major issue for the future mayor of North Vernon in 2016. The Plaza on Madison Avenue is under construction and should be opened before the year is over. The other project that could be completed by the end of 2015 is the city parking lot, located next to the police station, weather permitting. The Fifth Street design and the walking trail will be started in the spring of 2016.

The walking trail is one of my favorite Stellar projects and will be a wonderful enhancement to our park and recreational system. This new trail is one part of the master plan for the City of North Vernon and Jennings County. When all of the Stellar projects are completed, the city landscape will be drastically transformed into a functional and usable area for many different venues.

Early voting information

According to Brenda King at the Jennings County Election Office, early voting for the Nov. 3 municipal election has been slow.

“Everything is very quiet so far but there is time for that to change,” King said.

North Vernon residents can vote early at the Jennings County Courthouse, 24 N. Pike St. in Vernon, from 8 am until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The office also will be open for early voting on two Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 24 and 31.

Applications for an absentee ballot must be filed with the County Clerk’s Office by noon on Oct. 26.

Absentee ballots must be returned to the clerk’s office by noon Nov. 2.

There is one change to voting locations on Nov. 3. Persons previously voting in Districts 2A and 2B at the Carnegie Building will now vote at the Bethel Baptist Church at 77 Norse Ave. in North Vernon.

For additional information, contact King by calling 812-352-3080.

Other contested races

In addition to mayor, North Vernon voters will decide four other contested races:

City Council District 1

Jack Kelley, Republican

David Shaw, Democrat

City Council District 3

Baron Wilder, Republican

Connie Rayburn, Democrat

City Council District 4

Brian Hatfield, Republican

Bobby Stearns, Democrat

City Council At-Large

Jerry Lamb, Republican

Allane Colbert, Democrat