Five Republicans, all with some form of political experience, are vying for the party’s nominations to represent all of Adams County on the county council.
Councilmen Dennis Bluhm and Randy Colclasure are being challenged by Tony Mellencamp, a member of the South Adams School Board; Patrick Norton, a township advisory board member; and Rob Noetzel, the county GOP chairman, for three nominations.
The winners of the primary will face winners of the three Democratic nominations – four Democrats are running – in the fall election. The council is the fiscal body of the county whose members serve four-year terms that pay $9,014 annually – the council’s president makes an extra $1,000.
Colclasure is seeking his fourth term on the council because, he says, he is an accountant and watching over the county finances fits perfectly with his skills. He is controller for Tyson Foods in Portland.
His biggest concerns facing Adams County are the unfunded mandates and revenue restrictions pinned on them by state and federal government. He said it seems the state is trying to exert more and more control over local governments, which is concerning, especially after the state recently discovered an accounting error that kept $200 million from local communities.
A lot of counties do abuse the system, he said. But Adams County is fiscally secure; very solid. We look out for every dollar.
Colclasure said the county is rightly looking at the possibility of a new courthouse and jail.
Bluhm, a retired pharmacist, said his first four years on the council were a great learning experience and he hopes to use that knowledge in a successful second term. With the county facing tight finances, he said it should look to consolidate services with Decatur and sign agreements with all the municipalities to share costs.
For example, he said he supports a joint effort to house Decatur and Adams County offices in a single building.
County council can be an agent of change by influencing a number of areas of economic development and consolidation of services, he said.
Bluhm, who served on the Adams Central Schools Board for 20 years, said that experience helps his oversight of county finances.
Mellencamp, owner of East of Chicago Pizza in Berne, is serving his second term on the South Adams School Board, a position he would have to vacate if he wins a seat on the council.
He said he chose to run for the council because it would allow him to use the expertise he’s gained on the school board and in business to serve the county. He also believes difficult financial times await the county and his fiscal conservatism would serve the community well.
Economic development is a key issue for Mellencamp, and he said one of the best ways to advance growth is for all the communities in Adams County to work more cohesively.
I’d like to see economic development be something all the towns in the county work together on, he said.
He said property tax caps will force local governments to raise other revenues or cut services, and he believes his skills will help find those solutions.
Noetzel, a Parkview Health computer professional, is the county’s Republican chairman but decided to seek his first elected office as part of the council. The move would be an extension of his involvement in the community, he said, adding he would like to see more long-range planning at the county level.
For example, he said the county has failed to properly maintain its jail, which he said is out of compliance with state standards.
To help improve the county, Noetzel said leaders should push economic development programs as well as trying to make the county a more attractive place for people to live, noting Adams is not currently growing in population.
Unless you can get people to an area, you’re not going to have economic development, he said.
To do this, he said it will take a large collaboration of all civic and government leaders.
Norton, the IT director at Ear Nose and Throat Associates, is serving his second term on the St. Marys Township Advisory Board. He said he is interested in politics and the county council position is a next stop to become involved. He previously was the IT director for Adams County.
I have a good understanding of processes that exist for the county, he said.
The county has been fortunate financially, he said, but it will soon need to look at making significant cuts or raising taxes. Before doing that, Norton said the county should do everything it can to consolidate services with other communities. For example, the county and Decatur are sharing emergency dispatching services, so why not expand to see whether that could be shared across county lines.
With local governments facing financial constraints, state officials have slowly pushed several government reform efforts. Some of the ideas include eliminating townships, reducing the number of commissioners from three to one and making the county council serve more like a city council, in that it would have the authority to pass laws.
Norton said it seems the public enjoys having multiple representatives but acknowledges it would make no sense for a corporation to have three CEOs.
He said residents should be allowed to vote on whether to have one commissioner and allow the council to become a full legislative body. He said he would support pushing for those changes.
Noetzel said changes in government structure have merit. While he personally liked streamlining local government, he said it should be left up to individual counties and if Adams County residents supported it, he would push for it.
Mellencamp said he does not want to see a change in county government structure. He said it is appropriate for all areas of the county to at least have a chance to represent residents as a commissioner and the council. This provides more input into government, he said.
Bluhm said he understood the state’s desire to have a more corporate structure in county government, but he said he wasn’t sure it would be well supported in Adams County. While he said a county CEO structure wouldn’t save money, as that person would be paid more, he said it could create a more efficient government.
There is a lot of redundancy in county government, Bluhm said.
Colclasure said going to a single county executive makes some sense but added he thought the current system was working well in Adams County, even if that meant butting heads on occasion.
It’s a nice little check and balance, he said.
He said he’s against eliminating township government because it provides a good service at a low cost.