GREENFIELD — All four newcomers vying for the open at-large seats on the Hancock County Council promise to be conservative in spending and transparent to the public.
In the final local debate before the Nov. 6 election, Republicans Kent Fisk, Marc Huber and Debbie Bledsoe and Democrat Earl Smith agreed on nearly every issue before a crowd of about 30 at the Hancock Public Library.
Voters will choose three candidates as at-large representatives on the council for the next four years. The seats are being vacated by Republicans Rosalie Richardson, Brian Kirkwood and Joe Skvarenina.
“You usually hear about liberal, liberal, liberal Democrats,” said Smith, the only Democrat among the candidates. “Growing up on a farm, you learn to save money and not waste it.”
Smith, a self-proclaimed “conservative Democrat,” encouraged the group to give him a chance.
Asked what he thought of the Republican caucus for county officials planned earlier this year but then called off, Smith said, “It’s really not a Democrat or a Republican issue, it’s a government issue. The government needs to be open when they’re dealing with taxpayers’ money.”
“I would absolutely refuse to go to (a Republican caucus),” said Bledsoe, a New Palestine housewife. “We’re representing the people. The people need to be there.”
Fisk, a member of the Greenfield-Central school board and owner of Fisk Services, said even though the public may distrust federal officials, he trusts local elected officials more than ever.
“When things did go wrong, when people went astray, we acted quickly and solved the problems fast,” Fisk said. “Proving we can live within our means year after year and not raise taxes builds trust.”
The seven-member county council oversees the budgets of the county’s highway, sheriff’s and bookkeeping departments and also may raise or lower income taxes. Property taxes also partially fund the county’s budget.
All four also said they are generally against issuing bonds for every-day expenses. This month a $2 million bond issue that would have mostly purchased 12 new trucks for the county highway department was voted down by the council.
While the move would have freed up more money to maintain county roads, the candidates said they would want to work with state legislators to find alternatives for more flexible road spending.
“I wouldn’t say I’m opposed to bonding, but I think if you’re going to bond it needs to be for a capital project,” said Huber, owner of the trucking company Huber Enterprises. “I don’t think you need to bond for things like just a dump truck, or things that depreciate real quick.”
Fisk said he hopes over the next four years the amount of debt the county has will decrease. Yet he’d be in favor of looking at all options, and if interest rates are low enough it may be beneficial to borrow money for certain expenses.
“If it saves a lot of money, I might vote ‘yes’ for that,” Fisk said.
Another source of money the group oversees is the innkeepers tax, which guests pay when they stay at hotels in the county.
Huber, Smith and Bledsoe said they would not be in favor of using innkeepers tax money to fund a new welcome center for the county. Fisk said he would like to look into the issue more and hear from tourism and economic development officials on the merits of such a center.
The candidates also said before approving property tax abatements for new businesses to locate in the area they would work with the Hancock Economic Development Council to learn about what the company could bring to the community.
“We’d want to encourage them to try to hire people here from the county if at all possible,” Huber said. “That only adds to the betterment of this community.”