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Council hopefuls differ on spending

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GREENFIELD — The county council’s longest-serving member is being challenged by a tea party activist, and with opposing views on how tight to hold the county’s purse strings, voters will have plenty of issues to weigh come Election Day.

Incumbent Tom Roney is being challenged by Carolyn Flynn for the Republican nomination May 6 for the District 2 seat on the Hancock County Council. If no Democratic or minor party candidates file in the summer, the GOP winner will serve the next four years.

District 2 covers the west-central part of the county, including Buck Creek Township, part of Center Township and McCordsville.

With differences of opinion on borrowing money, long-term projects, taxation and more, Flynn says she will bring a fresh perspective to the county council.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two are their opinions about big-ticket expenses that will likely come before the county council in the near future. The connection of the Pennsy Trail between Greenfield and Cumberland could require a countywide vote on higher taxes, as could the building of a new fairgrounds and exposition center.

While both are tepid on the trail project, Roney says the new fairgrounds is the biggest project he’d like to see accomplished.

The idea of building a fairgrounds on the county’s property just east of Greenfield resurfaced recently after failing 10 years ago. While plans are still preliminary and no cost estimates have been announced yet for public or private funding, a new exposition center and fairgrounds could be built in an area where agricultural businesses could also eventually locate.

“I’ve got the past experience, and I have a real affinity for making that thing go this time,” said Roney, who served a decade ago on the fairgrounds committee. “I think there’s a really good chance in it succeeding this time, or at least get it started.”

Flynn, on the other hand, says county officials first need to set priorities before spending public money on projects such as a new fairgrounds or the Pennsy Trail connector.

“I’m not saying I’m against enhancing the community with great things like that… But the roads are in bad shape,” Flynn said.

The candidates also don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on bond issues in general. The last three years, the council has voted to borrow money for miscellaneous expenses.

Roney, who voted for two of the three bond issues, says he weighs each one on its own merits but hopes the county doesn’t make it a practice to borrow money every year. Flynn, on the other hand, has publicly opposed every bond issue.

“When I look at the balance sheet, how much money they actually have sitting there, as far as I’m concerned it’s double taxation to people because they have paid their money into various fund balances,” she said. “It’s like giving your kid money for lunch and the kid puts money in his piggy bank, and he says, ‘Mom, I’m hungry.’ ”

But Roney says the county needs its cash reserves to remain fiscally healthy.

“I’m quite frankly pretty happy we’ve got the reserves that we have,” Roney said. “We’ve had a time there where, I wouldn’t say we were in trouble, but we didn’t have a lot to fall back on.”

Roney said he voted “reluctantly” in favor of last year’s bond issue to pay for several miscellaneous expenses. The year before, he wasn’t at the meeting when the council turned down the bond that would have mostly been used to buy new trucks for the highway department. But Roney said he would have voted against that bond, and as a general rule of thumb the county should only borrow money for big expenses.

“If we’re going to do a bond issue, it’s got to be something like a fairgrounds or a jail or some substantial investment that can’t be addressed any other way,” he said.

Instead of bonds, Roney added, the county should look more toward income taxes to raise additional revenue for county expenditures. The county economic development income tax could be increased, he said.

“To me, that’s one way to avoid these bond issue things. To me, a bond is stupid if you’ve got money otherwise,” Roney said.

But Flynn says the county has enough money right now, and taxes don’t have to be touched at all.

Flynn, 60, is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and attends county council meetings regularly, voicing her opinion and asking questions of the council.

Roney, president of Tuttle Orchards, says he is the lone representative for the agricultural community among county elected officials. Roney tried to find another farmer from his district to run but filed for re-election when he couldn’t. He said he’ll continue to serve to make sure the farming community is represented, but he’d soon like to find a younger farmer to take the reins.

“It’s not as much fun as it used to be, just because there are so many more divisive issues,” said Roney, who has been on the council more than two decades. “The council and commissioners have less and less real control of what we do and what goes on. The state Legislature tells you what you can and can’t do, so it’s difficult to work under that environment when they change the rules.”

But Flynn says getting on the council will be a good opportunity to voice her concerns to legislators about local funding issues. Flynn would like to see tax increment finance districts tweaked to allow schools and townships more say, for example, and being on a county council could give her more of a voice to state lawmakers.

Flynn also stresses the importance of planning ahead for county budgeting. A capital improvement plan has been discussed by the council and commissioners for years, but there’s still no formal document in place. Without such a plan, Flynn said, it’s hard for the council to make decisions on spending.

“I’d like to use the council position to elicit from the commissioners a capital improvement plan, because we really need the guidance,” she said. “The guidance needs to come from commissioners to know where and how to spend the money.”

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