Two visions for the future

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Judge Executive candidates present their plans for Spencer County

By Brent Schanding

Challenger for Spencer County Judge Executive Bill Karrer-R says a community center could potentially be realized in the next four years, if private partnerships are forged to help offset large operational expenses for the recreational facility.

Incumbent Judge Executive David Jenkins-D says voters should decide the contentious issue of a city-county merger if a court ruling allows the issue to advance.

Both candidates for the county’s top office sold their vision for Spencer County at a forum last week hosted by the Taylorsville-Spencer County Chamber of Commerce and the Spencer Magnet. Each responded to eight pre-screened questions on topics ranging from tourism, taxes and job creation, before fielding a few questions from the public.

A full transcript from the forum follows:

1) Is the current tax structure sufficient for the county to operate over the next four years or will there likely be a need for increased revenue?

DJ: I feel the tax structure is sufficient for the next four years. Four years ago, I told you that (existing) property taxes, would not lead our community where it needed to go. Property taxes are just one form of tax. We can do occupational tax and insurance premium tax. We chose to do that, and spread it around so property owners are not the only ones paying for county services. It’s important that we have kept property tax rates the same for the last three years. I hope to do that —  or even lower those.

BK: The current tax structure is more than adequate. Whenever you’re looking at tax income and revenue you should look at how well we are spending the taxpayer’s dollars. Are we spending them effectively and efficiently as possible? Government doesn’t typically do that. It sees itself short on money and will raise taxes. As a (former) business person, I know that doesn’t work because my customers voted on my prices everyday. And if they were not in line and I wasn’t as efficient and effective, they went elsewhere. You as a taxpayer can’t do that as easily. We must increase our tax revenue through growth.

2) How will you use technology to run county government more efficiently and increase transparency?

BK: As a business person, I used technology extensively to make the business as competitive as possible. Goverment needs to do the same thing. As far as transparency: We need to have more of our financials and information from county government online quickly. And not only look at the expenditures —  but be able to drill them down. As an example, if I look online, I can see that the county expended X many dollars at Chase Card Services, which would be a credit card. But where were those moneys spent? You can’t tell. We should be able to drill down and find out where those moneys went.

DJ: We have already taken on that role of offering more technology to our citizens. We have the minutes (from government meetings) online. Sometimes that takes a little while because they have to be approved so people know they truly reflect the meeting. We’re moving into an era where our tax structure and collections has been computerized. It is inducing efficiency in the sheriff’s office. We’re also looking at online payments for taxes and other services that are offered in the county to make it easier for our citizens to do business with the community.

3) How will you improve the ability of the tourism commission to bring about the revitalization of Spencer County?

DJ: A statute sets up the tourism commission. It is given a set of rules to work by. We can help foster, guide and support the tourism commission, but they are given a strict rule of guidelines to work in and what they can spend their money for and what they can’t spend their money for.

BK: The tourism commission is restricted on what it can do. As far as its income — which comes primarily from hotel tax — last year it was just under $10,000. This year it’s going to fall quite short of that —  at least that’s where it looks right now. It limits them on how many dollars they have to spend. A lot of that could go to advertising. The state would co-op and pay back 80-90 percent of their expenditures. One area where fiscal court could help is funding the original purchase and recouping that money when the state returns the co-op funds.

4) What steps would you take to attract and foster new and existing businesses to increase the economic viability in Spencer County?

BK: One of my core issues in this campaign is bringing more jobs to Spencer County. Of course to do that you have to foster new business... We make ourselves more inviting and when county officials work with the EDA and chamber of commerce to bring people together... We have poor broadband service. We have poor cell phone service. We have essentially no sewers outside the city of Taylorsville. We have no natural gas. When we bring that infrastructure closer to inline...we will make ourselves more inviting to ... new jobs and the business community.

DJ: We have already taken steps with the EDA and other entities to bring new businesses. We must work with existing businesses to keep them here and foster entrepreneurship. That’s the key right now in these economic times... There is very little growth in business... We need to help those who want to start a new business and be there as a resource with governmental relations and anything we can do to make it an easier process. We need to ... get the technology they need to be able to compete in a global market.

5) What do you see is the biggest challenge facing Spencer County and how would you address it?

DJ: The economy is the biggest problem not only facing Spencer County, but the world.We must hold on to what we have. We can’t allow businesses to fail. We need to foster them. We need to move forward with technology and infrastructure, roads, sewers . . . in order to make businesses viable.

BK: We must answer the question first: Do we wish to fully participate in this recesseion or do we want to do everything we can. . . to avoid the pitfalls? Have we been prepared to make business ventures more viable? Unfortunately, I have to say no. To mention infrastructure — whether it’s sewers, or roads, or broadband, cell phone —  have we done our best to bring those things up to speed? Unfortunately, I do not think we have. We must start. It’s from the day you start, to the day you stay with it. You get the job done.

6) How would you improve the county’s working relationship with the local tourism commission, local chamber of commerce and surrounding counties?

BK: Tourism should be — if not the largest employer — one of our largest. It is on a downslide unfortunately. When we lose things like restaurants — and the Settler’s Trace Grocery and the Rolling Hills Campground — that’s not a boost to our tourism industry. It’s a downfall and we need to address those things. We need the EDA, tourism committee, chamber of commerce. . . The county judge needs to be involved in all of those things and a monster cheerleader —  if nothing else — to get those folks working together.

DJ: We’ve begun taking steps to foster those relationships. We have started a monthly morning meeting where the EDA, tourism commission, the chamber, the mayor... to start taking on projects that will help our community work together and help us progress. We have to have communication between all of those entities. That will make our community grow and prosper. We’ll all have a better life because of it.

7) What is your vision of the future of Spencer County over the next four years?

DJ: I’d like to continue working on projects that we’ve started. We’re nearing the end of our water projects. We have virtually a lot of the community that’s covered and has availability to water. The city and county has come together to make that dream a reality. I’d also like to keep working on our parks. Our parks systems is so valuable. We attracted a national baseball tournament this year. I think we’ll continue to see more of that as our parks grow. Our community will have more tourist-related activities, if we can get those people staying overnight.

BK: One of my key elements in my campaign is bringing more jobs to Spencer County. There’s so many things that have to happen along the way in addressing infrastructure needs. We must work on those projects to help better ourselves... it helps our residents and invites new growth. It’s a big priority for my administration.

8) What do you see as the top priority upon being sworn into office?

BK: Looking at our county government structure on how we operate to spend your tax dollars efficiently and effectively. We need to make sure we’re doing the very best job we can to be a good county government. If we aren’t efficient and effective, we’re not going to be good at helping the rest of the community.

DJ: I’ve been here for the last 12 years. My priorities would be to keep fostering the relationships with the leaders in the federal and state governments and to make those relationships pay off for Spencer County. [We need] to keep our dollars rolling in here. Over the last 12 years we’ve had over $8 million in grant money that’s been brought to this community that’s helped foster parks, waterlines, sewer projects... if we don’t continue to do that, our community will go backwards.