The crowd was sparse Sunday afternoon for a Marion County Commission candidate forum, but the conversation at times was lively as four candidates squared off for two open commission seats.
Incumbent commissioners Dan Holub, a Republican from District 2, and Randy Dallke, also a Republican from District 3, defended decisions made by the commission as Democratic candidates James Herzet, District 2, and Aaron Allen, District 3, challenged them.
Voters will decide Nov. 4 if Herzet or Holub will serve them in District 2 and Allen or Dallke will serve them in District 3.
One disagreement was the amount of money spent for jail architects.
Allen said $100,000 had been paid to an architect for a plan but operating expenses had not been determined. If the jail bond issue passes and a sales tax is implemented, that tax would only cover the building and equipment.
“Property taxes would have to pay everything else,” Allen said. “Nobody has been able to guarantee us that there are funds to cover operational expenses.”
“We have not spent $100,000 with this consultant,” Dallke responded. “We spent $100,000 with another consultant. This consultant (Law Kingdon Architect) has a proven record.”
Dallke continued that Allen was right — if there aren’t prisoners from other counties to help pay expenses, the county will have to cover those expenses with property tax revenue. Contracts cannot be sought until the jail is built, he said.
“Taxes would have to be raised to pay for staff, make the jail operational, and hope other prisoners are coming to help offset those expenses,” Herzet said. “There’s only way to do it, being a taxing entity. I don’t want to do that.”
Holub said he wanted to clarify that the architect was not paid $100,000 for marketing the project.
“We took a long look at the project. We took a look at Sumner County and changed architects at that point,” Holub said. Some funds were used to pay for improvements at the county jail to keep it operating.
“It’s important to understand that additional staff will have to occur whether or not we have a new jail,” he said. “About the same num--ber of staff taking care of 11 prisoners could be used to monitor 70 inmates in a new jail.”
After the comments were made, Allen asked if he could respond.
“I know that $45,000 was paid to BG Consultants and $50,000 to Law Kingdon whether the jail happens or not. The architect will be paid a percentage if the jail is passed,” he said.
Prior to the definitive opinions related to a new jail, moderator Greg Bowers asked the candidates to respond “Yes” or “No” to the question, “Do you support a new jail?”
As expected, Holub and Dallke responded “yes,” Herzet and Allen responded “no.”
“What would be your number one focus as a commissioner if elected or re-elected?”
Holub: “We need to identify revenue sources other than taxes. We can’t keep taxing and taxing. It hurts. I pay taxes, too. That’s why we’re looking at a larger number of beds to offset expenses.”
Allen: “We need more people contributing to the tax base. The county is not taking advantage of opportunities because of the focus of a new jail. Taxes will drive away people. I promise to bring no less than two new manufacturing businesses to the county by the end of my tenure if I’m elected which is my top priority.”
Dallke: “The commission has brought issues to the public for votes — casino issue, jail issue. My focus is to continue to bring issues to the public and let the public decide. Now we have another issue. Trash. My focus is the long-term effects on the county which has to be decided by constituents.”
Herzet: “Roads need to be structured and fixed up to support new businesses. The county economic development professional needs to work on bringing in new businesses. We have to stop raising taxes. I’m unsure about the jail project. If it is such a good deal, Sedgwick County would be building one.”
“What county department needs a cut in budget?”
Allen: “That’s a very challenging question. What we have to do is look at every department. We have to take waste out of government. I have evidence of a road that was capped and sealed and now is scheduled to be ripped up and replaced with a new bridge. We need to be more efficient in how we do things. There have been 23 raises given in the past three months. That’s not going to happen if I’m on the commission. We’re going to develop a system to evaluate employees which will be done by the public and then give those deserve raises will receive them.”
Dallke: “We work with department heads and make them prove how their doing their doing their jobs and why it takes the number of people hired to do the jobs. If they don’t prove what needs to be proven, then we look at reasons why to keep the department as it is. We need to make sure everyone does their job.”
Herzet: “Would have to take a long, hard look at everything from custodial to road department. We need to streamline operations to save tax dollars. There are some cuts that could be made.”
Holub: “During the budget process, every department head presents their budgets and what they need to operate every year. We look at every line item. It takes a period of several weeks. We can’t just cut one department. They all provide services. If you cut budgets, you’ll cut services.”
“What department needs more funding?”
Dallke: “The cost of doing roads has increased. We will have to spend more time and money to maintain roads.”
Herzet: “I feel the same as Randy. It takes a lot of money to maintain roads. Fuel, material, and labor have all increased. It takes money to keep employees on hand to do the job. There are other departments that could use more money but not like road and bridge. It brings business to the county.”
Holub: “I agree with Jim and Randy. Roads are primary infrastructure. It impacts every single one of us in the county. It’s our largest budget item as it is. We don’t want to shortchange other departments but we have to look at what affects other people and has the largest impact.”
Allen: “This is where there’s a clear difference between me and the incumbents. We have to be more efficient. Roads are an embarrassment. The road and bridge department needs a plan. Raising the mill levy is not the answer. There are more pressing priorities out there besides bridges and roads that may not need to be replaced. We need to hire a new leader in the road and bridge department who is qualified. We need to live within the budget.”
Time for the job
“How much time do you have available and are willing to devote to county business?”
Herzet: “Unlimited time. Whatever it takes.”
Holub: “I have had to miss meetings at times but have made efforts to be there. I’m available to meet with people, one-on-one. I make myself as available as possible.”
Allen: “I see constituents as customers. I want to change the meetings to night meetings to get more people involved. I run an aerospace manufacturing business. I’m trying to achieve career goals but am willing to schedule conferences with constituents. I cannot attend day meetings as easily as evening meetings. I don’t have to be sitting at the desk to make decisions. Time would be constraint but would be available as needed.”
Dallke: “I am open to the public any time — day or night. I have met with constituents three or four times (referring to Allen). It takes that when it’s in your district. If a constituent has a problem I try to meet with him. They pay taxes, too. You’re their voice in the meeting. Time is the number one thing I devote even though I have a full-time job.”
Future of EMS
“What direction is EMS (Emergency Medical Services) heading in the county?”
Allen: “I don’t have a lot of experience with local EMS. I would sit down with the leader of the EMS department. I would rather see smaller entities take care of themselves instead of the government doing it.”
Dallke: “EMS is a plus in the county. We need volunteers. It’s what Marion County EMS runs on. EMS personnel have to take a four to six-month course. Someday if volunteers decline, the commission may have to consider other options.”
Herzet: “As long as there are volunteers to staff it, it will be fine. There may come a point and time and when volunteers aren’t available. Then the county will have to staff it, 24-7.”
Holub: “We have a nice system. It’s working. The county facilities sites and ambulances. You can’t say enough about the volunteers — their time and personal investment.”
“What is your stand on countywide recycling? Should it be mandatory?”
Dallke: “Recycling is an issue that we may not see in our lifetime but it’s coming and it’s here. Peabody implemented a plan where recycling is picked up every other week. It’s a very easy system. It costs $2.25 per month and every homeowner has to pay. Our larger cities, Hillsboro and Marion, need to go to it, too. Someday we’re going to have to do this to help us survive. The less we put in the ground, the better off we’ll be.”
Herzet: “I don’t know if Marion County is ready for mandatory recycling. In some of the larger towns it would help to reduce the amount trash taken to the landfill. If recycling become mandatory, I’m afraid there may be more trash dumped in ditches.”
Holub: “Mandatory recycling may have a place in the future. I’d like to try voluntary recycling first. I would like to recover recycling fees within the $81 per year taxpayers currently are paying. I’m also in favor of selling recyclables to produce a revenue stream. It would be helpful if we could recycle cardboard, paper, and other items from schools and businesses.”
Allen: “I’m for recycling. We have to make the incentive work to do recycling. Some people aren’t onboard with the green initiatives that are out there. We need to pursue that. We need to generate more revenue but I am not in favor of mandatory recycling.”