VERNON — Both of the incoming Jennings County commissioners have the same priorities: fixing up deteriorating bridges and eliminating recent changes to the Jennings County Animal Control Board.
Republicans Bob Willhite and David Lane will succeed Democrats Jeff Barger and Jeff Day in January. They will join GOP incumbent Matt Sporleder as the top executives of Jennings County government.
About a dozen bridges in Jennings County either have been closed or had stringent weight limits placed on them by the state, Willhite said.
“We want new bridges,” he said. “We want the school buses to be able to run over them again and not have bus drivers go out of their way to pick up kids. Right now, some of the kids are picked up at 6 a.m., and don’t get home until 5 p.m. That’s too long to be on the bus.”
Lane agreed that the county has to get those bridges repaired or replaced so they can handle heavier loads.
“The weight limits imposed on some of them are just horrible,” he said. “The bus drivers have to go out of their way, and they don’t get paid anymore. It’s costing them, too.”
Both Lane and Willhite said they disagreed with the decision made by the current commissioners to replace the seven-member appointed Animal Control Board with a three-member group made up of elected officials.
“The commissioners and city council members have a lot to do,” Lane said. “They can’t be on every board.”
However, the new commissioners are not in agreement with how many appointees should be on the Animal Control Board.
“We’ll reorganize the seven-member board and see if we can’t get it going back like it was before,” Willhite said.
But Lane feels seven members might be too many, while three is not enough. He said he’s leaning toward having a five-member board.
Sporleder said he believes a consensus will be reached early next year, and that both Lane and Willhite are ready to lead.
“I’ve already met with both of them three times,” Sporleder said. “They are already up to par, so they can hit the ground running.”
For Willhite, the position is a bit of a homecoming. He served two terms as a commissioner before he was defeated by Barger in the 2008 election.
“I’ll probably take over where I left off and try to continue to do things as before,” Willhite said. “We’ll get cooperation from the County Council. But we’ll have to watch how much we spend and make sure our money is invested wisely.”
Lane said he’s been told the responsibilities of being a Jennings County commissioner have increased over the past few decades.
“The job just isn’t roads anymore,” Lane said. “It’s everything. But I always look forward to a challenge.”
Willhite said he’s optimistic that better economic times might be coming for Jennings County.
“I’ve been told that there may be some new industries coming into the county,” he said. “If so, that will give us more jobs and more tax revenues.”
Lane said it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Jennings County is starting to emerge from the recession.
“That’s the way America is, isn’t it?” Lane said. “We always have to go through the down times; and eventually, we work our way back.”