HANCOCK COUNTY — The candidates running to be District 1 commissioner say they support a proposal to build a new county fairgrounds.
But on what entity should oversee the project and fairgrounds in the future, they disagree.
Tuesday’s election pits Republican John Jessup against Democrat Brandon Perry in the District 1 commissioner race; the election’s victor will replace Tom Stevens, who is not running for re-election, on the three-person board.
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For more than a year, county officials have been debating building a estimated $18 million new fairgrounds on county-owned land. Last month, the project hit an impasse after the county commissioners and Hancock County 4-H Agriculture Association couldn’t agree on which entity would have final say during planning and construction. The groups aren’t planning to meet again until next month.
Perry, a McCordsville resident who works as a security officer, said he can’t criticize any of the parties involved in the fairgrounds proposal because they’re all doing the best they can to protect their interests.
But the project, which he supports, has stalled until the groups can reach an agreement.
He recommends the county consider forming a new organization of at least three people, with one person representing the commissioners, one representing the agriculture association and a third person unaffiliated with either group, to oversee the project and everyday operations at the fairgrounds once it’s built.
Other counties have created similar groups, Perry said, and they works well and might eliminate some of the conflict occurring now.
“It makes it fair to everyone,” he said. “It gives the commissioners a voice; it gives the ag association a voice. … Not one person or one organization is controlling the project.”
Jessup, a Shirley resident who works as a construction project superintendent, currently sits on the county council and last year voted in favor of asking state lawmakers to increase the county’s food and beverage tax — paid when people dine a local restaurants — to help pay for the project.
But he admits he wasn’t totally supportive of the original project, which was estimated to cost $40 million and has since been scaled down.
Building a new fairgrounds will support the 4-H program, which helps children become productive members of society who usually end up giving back to their communities, he said.
“Four-H is probably the best investment we can make in our youth,” he said.
He still is supportive of using food and beverage tax funds to build a new fairgrounds, but if taxpayer money is going to support the project, county officials need to oversee it, he said.
County officials need to make sure the project stays on track and the money is being used responsibly, he said. The only way to ensure that is to have elected officials involved in the process because taxpayers can hold them responsible with their votes if they disagree with how the process is handled, Jessup said.
The board of commissioners is on the right track by demanding a seat at the decision-making table, he said.
Building a new fairgrounds is going to take compromise on all of the group’s part, and so far, the commissioners have been fair, he said.