HANCOCK COUNTY – The candidates in the upcoming election’s only county government race may be from different political parties, but they agree on at least one thing – the biggest challenge their district faces is growth.

Democrat Frank Rock Jr. is running against Republican incumbent Mary Noe for Hancock County Council District 2. The council is the county’s fiscal body, and District 2 includes Buck Creek Township, McCordsville and part of Center Township.

Both participated in a candidate forum last Friday night organized by the League of Women Voters of Hancock County. Aaron Kennedy, editor of the Greenfield Daily Reporter, moderated.

Midterm elections are known for drawing less voter interest than their presidential counterparts, and that was perhaps the reason for the crowd of only about 20 that turned out to hear Noe and Rock speak. Still, they gained plenty of insight into the candidates’ takes on tax breaks, fostering jobs that pay livable wages and balancing budgets.

Noe served on the council in the 1980s and 1990s before serving as Vernon Township assessor and then Hancock County assessor. She rejoined the council in 2019.

Rock is a U.S. Air Force veteran and retiree of the Department of Defense, where he worked in accounts and audits while also holding union leadership positions. He’s currently president of the homeowners association for the Autumn Woods neighborhood.

Buck Creek Township has drawn the bulk of western Hancock County’s warehouse surge over the past several years, forcing officials to weigh development incentives, infrastructure needs, strains on public services and opposition from rural residents. Most of those buildings are planned speculatively without tenants yet secured, leaving leaders little indication of what kinds of jobs and wages will fill them.

Noe and Rock were asked how they stand on big businesses getting tax breaks, which many of the warehouses have received.

Rock said there’s a disparity he’d like to work toward remedying between the way businesses benefit as far as taxes and how residents do.

“You have to balance it out,” he said.

Noe estimated she’s supported tax breaks for speculative buildings about 50% to 60% of the time.

“I understand the need for growth,” she said. “The infrastructure it takes to get to where we’re going is hard. It’s growing pains, and I understand that, I wish there was an easier way to do it, but with this growth comes the opportunity for jobs.”

She also pointed to the application process for tax abatements she created with the county’s financial advisor, which requires those seeking the breaks to provide information – including estimated wages – that officials review when determining whether to grant the incentives.

Noe added she won’t vote for tax abatements for projects that don’t provide living wages, which led to a discussion on that topic regarding county government employees. Noe was part of the county’s salary study committee for 2023, whose work ultimately resulted in the council approving a 5.5% raise.

More could be done in that area, Rock said.

“The county should be the role model for the rest of the population, especially businesses, as far as living wages, but unfortunately that’s not how it currently is,” he said, pointing to some county 911 dispatchers who make less than $40,000 a year.

When asked how the county could plan better for its growing pains, Rock referred to more cooperation among officials, commissioning studies on needs and for public feedback to be implemented more into a county comprehensive plan that’s up for adoption.

Noe emphasized the council’s role is to respond to financial requests, many of which come from the county commissioners – county government’s executive body.

“We cannot create projects,” she said. “…But we can then respond to the commissioners, who are in charge of those requests.”

The candidates agreed parts of the county budget should not be cut. Rock pointed to public safety and services that protect human life.

“We have to make sure our judicial system is working,” Noe said. “We have to make sure that our basic needs of our employees are met. … [W]ith the amount of growth that our county’s incurring, it’s creating more dollars, but with that it’s creating more needs, and we know that.”

Both also agreed the county could benefit from a more robust public transportation system.

Rock said the county’s budget could be more transparent and easier for the public to understand.

When asked what qualities make a good council member, Noe said being a good listener.

“There’s a lot of information coming towards them they need to be not afraid to ask,” she said. “We have a lot of financial data that comes to us.”

Rock touted transparency.

“You should be able to know my inner thinking as far as how I think about my community and what I want to do for my community,” he said.

While Rock and Noe make up the only county government contest in the upcoming election, there are other races for McCordsville Town Council and Buck Creek Township Advisory Board, as well as Mt. Vernon and Southern Hancock school boards.

Election Day is Nov. 8, and early voting starts next week.

Hancock County Annex early voting

111 American Legion Place, Greenfield

11 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays Oct. 12-Nov. 4

8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5

8 a.m.-noon Monday, Nov. 7