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6 seek Wells commissioner slots 

Wells County officials are discussing two proposals to build wind farms in the southern part of the county. The plans have resulted in heated debate, strong opposition and a lawsuit regarding one proposal’s approval by the area plan commission. Each candidate was asked to comment on the issue.

Credit:  Benjamin Lanka | The Journal Gazette, www.journalgazette.net 27 April 2012 ~~

Two incumbent Wells County commissioners each face two opponents in this spring’s Republican primaries.

Commissioner Paul Bonham in District 2 is being challenged by Daryl Elliott and Blake Gerber, while Commissioner Kevin Woodward is being challenged by Marty Adams and Tamra Boucher in District 3. Candidates must live in their commissioner districts but are elected countywide.

Scott Elzey will also appear on the ballot in the District 3 race but withdrew from the race and no longer wants the nomination, according to numerous reports.

No Democrats have filed for the positions, but the party can fill ballot vacancies by this summer. The winner of the four-year term will be paid $21,408 annually and serve on the three-person board that acts as both the legislative and executive branch of county government.

District 2

Commissioner Bonham said that with questions arising about how best to pay for road and bridge maintenance, among other county responsibilities, his experience would serve the county well.

“I want to continue to make Wells County a safe, viable place to live,” he said.

The commissioner, who previously was auditor, said he has built good relationships with other government officials and even took a leadership role in a regional county organization for commissioners. He said the county is in a good position to grow as long as it keeps pushing for economic development.

Gerber, a real estate developer, decided to make his first run for political office this year because of concerns over how the county was handling a few issues. For example, he said he didn’t feel the county was properly using its economic development income tax money on purchases such as laptop computers.

While the county can legally spend the money on anything, he said it should be dedicated to its namesake: economic development, such as building new bridges or extending utility lines.

He also expressed concerns with how the county handled the creation of a regional sewer district, which could force some homeowners using septic systems to pay more than $100 a month for sewer service. He said the county delayed acting on the problem for years, and missed opportunities he presented in the early 2000s to use a sewer line he was installing.

“We could have possibly had a non-issue,” he said. “The representation needed to be for the homeowners.”

Elliott, an operations director at a Bluffton retirement community, is serving his second term on the Bluffton-Harrison School Corp. board. He said he decided to run for commissioner after becoming concerned that changes were needed in the county’s elected officials.

“There are some things I believe we can do better,” he said. “It’s just time for a progressive change.”

For example, he said he was concerned with how the county was spending its economic development money, noting that a dispute with the commissioners prompted the county’s economic director to leave. He said jobs and growth have to be a top priority for the community.

District 3

Commissioner Woodward said he wants to use his experience to help continue improving life in Wells County. He said he is proud that the commissioners and county council, on which he once served, have developed a good working relationship.

With increased federal and state budget constraints, he said, he is able to use his network of relationships to save the county money while also gathering expertise on important projects. For example, he was able to talk to contacts he made while serving on the courthouse preservation board to save about $50,000.

“You have to be more frugal with your dollar,” he said.

Woodward said he understands the concerns being raised about the county’s regional sewer district, but he said he was pleased the state legislature approved House Bill 1117, which provides representation to the people affected by the changes. He said the county is working to secure grants to reduce homeowners’ costs to connect to the system.

“The last thing we want is financial hardship on these individuals if we can help them,” he said.

Adams, a retired tool-and-die worker with Roembke Manufacturing & Design, said he decided to make his first run for office after helping Ossian Development Corp. work to attract and expand local businesses. He said economic development is critical to a community’s growth.

“The more business that you have increases your tax base, which in turn increases money available to accomplish things in a county,” he said.

He said the county’s economic development income tax revenue was originally intended to create infrastructure to attract new businesses but has essentially just been used to maintain existing infrastructure. He said there should be a difference between economic development and maintenance.

Boucher, who works in marketing for Bluffton Regional Medical Center, said she is running because of concerns over a lack of leadership in the community. She said she perceived a lack of commitment to economic development and a mishandling of the regional sewer district.

She said the sewer district problem was left unattended for years by county leaders unwilling to tackle it. Now the community faces a mandate to fix the problem, which likely will be more expensive than it otherwise would have been and won’t allow the county to create its own plan that best serves its residents.

“When you can address it on your own terms and involve people affected, it is always better than responding to a state order,” she said.

Boucher served two terms on the Markle Town Council and as president of the Wells County Chamber, where she worked to create a new economic development contract with local governments in the county.

Wind power

Wells County officials are discussing two proposals to build wind farms in the southern part of the county. The plans have resulted in heated debate, strong opposition and a lawsuit regarding one proposal’s approval by the area plan commission. Each candidate was asked to comment on the issue.

Boucher said the wind farm issue has become overly divisive because county leaders didn’t do enough to encourage public participation early in the process.

When creating rules for wind farms, she said, the commissioners should have gone out of their way to seek input instead of simply voting on rules in a public meeting. After the rules were created and a proposal was pushed, there was public input and opposition, she said, but that is too late.

“Now we have a very divided community, a lot of anger and a lawsuit,” she said.

Adams said the wind farms are a difficult question for him. He said he is concerned that the county’s rules don’t require enough space between a windmill and a neighbor’s property line – at least enough so that the neighbor’s ability to do something on his or her property isn’t affected. Adams also said something as controversial as the wind farms should have been studied by an independent firm.

Woodward said the process used to vet the wind farm ideas was legal, proper and fair. He said the zoning is in place for a wind farm to locate in the area, which could generate some revenue for the county, although he wasn’t sure whether it will even happen.

“I question whether it will become a reality,” he said.

Elliott said his main concern with the proposals was that the county did not share enough information with its residents. While he saw some value in supporting development, he said the wind turbines could reduce the quality of life for thousands of residents.

“I think they just didn’t listen to the citizens of Wells County,” he said.

He also questioned the viability of any technology that is financially dependent on federal subsidies.

Gerber said while he supports lower energy costs, he believes the county rushed into agreements for the wind farms. He noted that hundreds of people attended a public hearing to oppose them.

“It should have deserved more critical thinking, more time for study,” he said.

Bonham said that with a lawsuit pending, it might not be appropriate for him to comment on the issue. He said he has generally been supportive of the plans and is hopeful the situation will “rectify itself.”

Source:  Benjamin Lanka | The Journal Gazette, www.journalgazette.net 27 April 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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