New trustee preps to take office

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SUGAR CREEK TOWNSHIP – Jayson Combs isn’t going far as he prepares to step down from one elected position and start another.

The Republican Sugar Creek Township Advisory Board member ran uncontested for the township’s trustee role this year and starts Jan. 1. As he gets ready to take office, firefighter staffing, the township’s park and taking a common-sense approach are at the front of his mind.

Combs will succeed current township trustee Robert Boyer, who did not seek re-election.

Combs has served on the township board since 2017, when he was appointed to fill a vacancy. He’s a retired firefighter, serving most of his 24-year career with Marion County’s Decatur Township on Indianapolis’ southwest side.

While an injury in 2020 forced him to step down from firefighting last year, he wants to continue serving the public.

“I hope I can do the best for the township taxpayers and residents, and not only that – my friends – because I have a lot of people that live out here,” Combs said. “The biggest thing you don’t want to do is take on a job and become a failure. I have a big challenge ahead of me.”

Sugar Creek Township spans Hancock County’s southwest corner. The trustee and advisory board oversee a fire department, poor relief, a park west of CR 700W and south of U.S. 52, and several pioneer cemeteries.

Combs said the township’s fire protection and ambulance service make up his top priority.

“In this day and age, you have to take care of your people first so that you can have these people respond,” he said.

He plans on hiring three more firefighters than what the department currently has, bringing the staff to a total of about 53 or 54, he said.

Combs recalled often hearing from firefighters about the need for more personnel when he started on the advisory board in 2017. Then, one day he was at a stoplight watching a fire engine head to a run with only two firefighters on it. He learned more about the township budget’s reserves and how it’s important to maintain that stockpile, but also take advantage of the opportunities it offers as well.

“We had at that point in time a $5 million reserve and we’re sending people out the door with two people on an engine,” Combs said. “That made no sense to me. I got fired up.”

He estimates the fire department has made 15 or 16 new hires since he joined the board in 2017.

“I won’t take all that credit, obviously Bob Boyer did the approval for it, but it wouldn’t have happened if I wouldn’t have been prodding and pushing,” he said.

Combs plans to keep Brandon Kleine as the township’s fire chief.

“We get along great, we have a lot of the same ideas,” Combs said.

Close behind fire protection on Combs’ list of priorities is Sugar Creek Township Park and working to ensure it’s maintained, something he feels has been lacking. One of his first duties as trustee will be filling two recent resignations on the park’s three-member board.

“I need to have people that are willing to get their hands dirty – not just digging holes – but have a thought process,” he said.

Combs thinks the park will need a maintenance worker one day, something he feels would ultimately be more cost effective than the mowing costs the township currently pays. The park will also eventually need restrooms, he continued, adding he thinks the township has squandered opportunities in the past by turning down entities offering to pay for a well that would make such an addition possible if the township took care of the rest. He plans on keeping up with the county’s exploration of starting a parks system to see if there could be possibilities to mutually benefit as well.

Combs said he intends to start going into the township trustee’s office unpaid Dec. 1 and handling as much as he can in preparation for the role. The office’s current assistant is leaving in January, whom he’ll have to replace and find a way to adapt to the loss of institutional knowledge she’ll take with her.

“I believe it’s really a common-sense approach,” he said of his leadership philosophy.

He balks at what he described as an attitude of “we’ve always done it this way” toward responsibilities he feels are lacking, including keeping on the park’s trash pickup provider despite poor service. He also plans to sell about an acre and a half the township owns off CR 700W, which he said no concrete plans exist for.

“I’m planning on getting rid of stuff that we’ve been sitting on forever that we’ve never used and we’re never going to use and we’re still paying maintenance fees on,” he said.

New Palestine, like many communities on Hancock County’s west side, has been drawing hundreds of new homes over recent years. Combs said he plans to watch development closely to ensure the fire department is prepared.

“We’ll have to explore where we are gaining growth, where are we gaining more runs at, and at that time is when we’ll have to look at some of those numbers,” he said.

He thinks the township will eventually need a third fire station, but not anytime soon.

“We’ll have to adjust with the growth that’s coming,” Combs said. “And let’s face it – it’s coming. We are a bedroom community out here. We have some retail, we have some light industrial stuff. … We’re due to get some stuff up and down (CR) 600, or up and down (U.S.) 40, and I expect that to happen.”

Combs plans to attend New Palestine and Hancock County government meetings to keep abreast of the growth. He often attends county meetings with Buck Creek Township Trustee-elect Micki Simunek.

Helping Combs lead Sugar Creek Township will be the three-person advisory board made up of fellow Republicans Matt Holland, Mark Mattes and Marcia Parker, all of whom also ran uncontested this year for their spots.

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