Seven individuals are seeking three at-large seats on the Bartholomew County Council, with full slates of Republican and Democratic candidates, and a Libertarian joining the mix. Voters across Bartholomew County will be deciding which ones take office.
Matt Miller won his place on the Nov. 8 ballot by garnering the second highest total of five GOP candidates during the May primary. The other two Republicans, Bill Lentz and Evelyn Pence, are incumbents.
Two of the three Democratic challengers, Lynne Fleming and Pam Clark, were also on the May ballot. The third, Diane Hawes, was chosen by her party to take the place of Gabrielle Cheek, who pulled out of the race too late to be taken off the primary ballot.
The seventh candidate is Libertarian Joshua Brown, who announced his candidacy in early summer.
From annual budgets and salaries of county employees to establishing tax rates, the seven-member council has the ultimate decision-making power regarding fiscal affairs. In contrast, matters of policy are handled by the three Bartholomew County commissioners, who are also responsible for roads, buildings and infrastructure maintenance.
In recent years, the council and commissioners have occasionally clashed during annual budget talks. In addition, cost-cutting measures regarding health insurance premiums and deductibles has created animosity among elected officials and some of the 400-plus county employees.
Three of the candidates — Libertarian Brown and Democrats Clark and Hawes — have listed improved communications throughout county government as a major priority.
Despite significant drops in state-controlled funding, as well as unfunded mandates and other unexpected expenses, Lentz and Pence have steadfastly voiced opposition to raising taxes.
Miller expressed similar views, insisting there are ways to make county government more efficient without further burdening taxpayers.
However, the Democrats support a different view, one shared by many county department heads — including Sheriff Matt Myers and Bartholomew County Auditor Barb Hackman _ that county government is already operating on barebone budgets.
Democrats Clark, Fleming and Hawes said they want to develop a sustainable level of funding over the long term to support county programs and services.
Besides new or higher taxes, Hawes said additional funding can be obtained through more aggressive grant-writing efforts, as well as seeking private-sector quotes on health insurance.
Other than better communication and creating new revenue, improvements to public safety were also cited as a major priority for three candidates — Hawes, Fleming and Lentz.
Both Brown and Fleming also see a need for long-term planning by the council, while both Lentz and Brown say maintaining or improving transparency in county government is among their top concerns.
While both Lentz and Brown advocate five-year financial plans, a number of current elected county officials said fluctuating income levels and changes in state mandates makes long-term planning ineffective.
Some specific proposals made by the candidates includes Clark’s suggestion that the county develop an inventory of all real property — land and buildings or other structures — owned by the county and a maintenance plan and budget for each of these.
Hawes is advocating for an umbrella personnel policy regarding all county employees.
Election officials have been reminding voters that ballots must be individually cast for at-large council candidates. Pulling a straight-ticket ballot won’t cast ballots in at-large races.
Coming Tuesday: Preview of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. school board District 3 race.