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Allen County Council candidate questionnaires

All six candidates seeking the three at-large seats on the Allen County Council were asked to complete a candidate questionnaire. Five of the candidates returned the questions with the exception of incumbent Robert Armstrong who did not.

William E. “Bill” Brown

Age: 61

Occupation: Executive Director and Interim President of the Downtown Improvement District

Education: Saint Francis College and IPFW

Previous political experience: Allen County Commissioner

What campaign activities are you doing to raise money or attract votes?

Attending various neighborhood association meetings, candidate forums, making telephone calls, requesting contributions from supporters and walking door to door.

Why are you running for Allen County Council?

I am running to continue to use my background in the business, community, government and not for profit sectors to help control costs and guide resources to attain maximum impact for the citizens of Allen County.

What are the top three issues facing council and how would you address those issues?

•Shrinking revenue. The only real way to grow revenue is to increase incomes and property values. Allen County Council, as the fiscal body, plays a limited role, however insuring businesses are incentivized to grow and prosper help promote our county as business friendly and encourages investment. I believe in tax abatements to help grow the tax base and create jobs.

•Aging infrastructure. Allen County has a long history of quality infrastructure, however annexation has decreased income tax revenues to unincorporated Allen County, stretching the remaining dollars thin. By working closely with our state legislature and the governor’s office we can increase our share of road and bridge revenue. I would advocate that all gas taxes be spent on roadwork.

•Community and economic development. These two areas are tied closely together; a poor community is a weak home for economic development. Fortunately, our community is growing stronger in many ways and our economy is holding its own, however we are still losing jobs. The Allen County workforce is remarkable in many ways and I would look to the elected officials and department heads to continue looking at innovative ways to manage and conduct business in Allen County government. I would encourage innovative approaches such as Community Corrections, Drug and Re-entry Court, Work Release and job specific employee training as ways to help relieve some of the rising costs for Allen County government. One can only imagine the medical costs at the Allen County Jail if programs like these were not in place. At the same time our elected leadership needs to push back at State and Federal unfunded mandates that drain our capped financial resources.

What specific budget cuts or increases should the council consider?

I would advocate that a portion of our cash reserve be used for business development, specifically meeting private sector leadership and entrepreneur’s solid business proposals with low interest loans, not grants, in conjunction with banks and owner investment. This helps to establish that Allen County is a place that encourages small business development, especially when financing is extremely difficult for many start-ups and businesses trying to grow and add jobs to the local economy. We have proven models with the Community Development Corporation, that show these economic incentives work and the cash reserve grow over time.

I would also encourage elected officials and department heads to bring forward programs and concepts that could be short term funded with reserves and reduce costs over time. Energy saving equipment and training for better methods of operation are a couple of examples.

Why are you the best choice for Allen County voters?

I have several decades of experience working all over Allen County in the areas of business, community and economic development, not for profits and government. I have demonstrated a genuine interest in the lives and betterment of my fellow citizens. My willingness to serve and approach innovative processes has added value in many ways to many people. I would like to have the opportunity to continue to use my background in business and finance as a member of Allen County Council.

Gina M. Burgess

Age: 40

Occupation: CEO, Recreational Rentals, Inc.

Education: A.S. Paralegal Studies, Ivy Tech (1995); B.A. Political Science, IPFW (incomplete); B.A., Business Administration, Trine (2014)

Previous Political Experience: None

What campaign activities are you doing to raise money or attract votes?

Present campaign fundraising and vote attracting strategies are confidential, but will be disclosed after the election. Prior to receiving the survey, campaign finance strategies have included asking for cash and in-kind donations and hosting a FUNdraiser. Regarding past vote attracting strategies, past strategies have focused on building name recognition and encouraging folks to check out my website and Facebook page. I’ve attended every parade in the County, from New Haven to Zanesville. At each parade, I’ve made sure to have a strong interactive presence on the parade route, blending visual boldness with entertainment, but one that delivered a real message that folks could relate to by using song’s like Josh Thompson’s “Way out here”. This song includes lyrics about how “We won’t take a dime if we ain’t earned it. When it comes to weight, brother, we pull our own….” (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0sYnro_3Rc)

With every parade, my campaign team would put forth their all, first by entertaining folks on the parade route and then canvassing neighborhoods afterwards. Sometimes, we’d patronize a local establishment, have lunch or some pie and talk with the locals. We’d take pictures of the parades and other activities, post them on Facebook along with commentary on what we’ve been doing on the “campaign trail,” and that helps to keep folks engaged.

We’ve also participated in every candidate forum we’ve been invited to. While I’m answering either introducing myself or answering questions, my team is working hard behind the scenes. For example, at the YLNI Candidate Meet & Greet, I was having a really off day as I’d spent the last week recovering from bronchitis, was feeling really tired and lethargic at the event, did not present myself in the strongest and best way possible. To make up for my illness-caused deficiencies, my team made sure there was signage, fliers, and copies of a recent article about me inside the room where socializing would be taking place. My team also made it a point to have signage available outside the building (Andorfer Commons at Indiana Tech), canvassed the parking lot with fliers, and had two vehicles decked out in campaign signage strategically parked at both entrance ways to take advantage of in-bound and out-bound traffic.

I’ve tried to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can as they’ve come along. Sometimes, when there are more than one event going on, I split up my campaign team to maximize coverage and exposure. I’ve also done some things a little outside of the box, like offering to help with the first aid station at the Allen County 4-H Fair, which gave me really good exposure to rural farming families, which is a voting demographic typically not pursued by Democrats.

Why are you running for the Allen County Council?

Initially, I decided to run because I had been asked by several people to do so. People are frustrated with the way things are being done and don’t understand where their tax-dollars are going. Some people are frustrated with the way their tax dollars are being spent. With my candidacy and election, I’m hoping to bring about more transparency, accessibility and accountability in local government. Upon getting more engaged and more educated, I realized that I needed to run because spending needs to be reduced, hard choices need to be made, and that isn’t likely to happen when you have a political body made up entirely of one political party.

What are the top three issues facing the council and how would you address those issues?

Your question is a little ambiguous. I’m not sure if you are asking are three important issues facing the council or what the top three issues are facing the council. This distinction is important because each constituent determines what the issues are facing Allen County is and each constituent defines that challenge differently according to his or her needs. For example, an individual or resident constituent is, generally, more apt to be concerned with having access to more jobs and/or higher paying jobs and has come to expect, rightly or wrongly, that government will somehow provide or create those jobs. In contrast, a corporate constituent is more apt to be concerned with government staying out of the way of business except to create an environment that’s conducive to economic growth, such as providing relief and/or incentives via tax abatements, or creating an environment that helps stimulate sales of products or services, such as through use of tax holidays, and/or helping stop the flow of money out of the community by creating and/or promoting “shop local” initiatives. In the case of media, top issues change with trends and controversies to keep news current and fresh. Otherwise, media risks losing readers/viewers and diminish their ability to sell premium space for revenue producing ads.

In my opinion, a top issue is how county government has to continue to operate with variable revenue (which increases or decreases according to the value of real estate, the value of other tax revenues and the rate of tax collections and distributions) while at the same time operating with increasing costs and finding ways not to pass the buck to the tax-paying public. The only way to handle this is with specific budget cuts and that starts with a good hard look at the individual habits of the different departments (i.e. what can be trimmed, are they getting the best bang for the buck, how do they control their own spending or what dictates how they spend, can the department utilize different methods or tools to do their job in a way that is more efficient or less expensive, etc).

Reviewing these habits is made easier when there’s more transparency and more eyes on the pie. Because of this, in my opinion, transparency is another top issue. In terms of addressing the issue of transparency, I would work to employ methods currently being utilized by Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and work to improve upon those methods rather than re-invent the wheel.

Another top issue, in my opinion, is economic development and what can council do to make Allen County more attractive to companies so that more good-paying jobs can be brought to the area. In dealing with this issue, we need to first stop the flow of jobs from out of our community. For example, the area is losing 200 jobs because Lincoln Food Service is consolidating its Allen County, Indiana operations with its Cuyahoga County, Ohio operations. On face value, it doesn’t make sense why Lincoln Food Service is moving from the Right-to-Work State of Indiana to a non-Right-to-Work State of Ohio, from a newer facility to an older facility, and to one place with a real estate tax rate comparable with the other place. But when you take a closer look, you discover that the personal property tax rate is high in Indiana than in Ohio and that by moving its operations, most of its workforce will stay behind—which allows Lincoln Food Service to hire new employees at a lower wage. If the company lowers the wages of 200 workers by a $1 per hour, the company will save $416,000 over the course of a year, for each subsequent year. This begs the question as to why something wasn’t negotiated with the employees? Why move out of the area? No one in a position to ask that question has asked that question, and so I would be one of those people to ask these type of questions if I get elected.

Three other issues have repeatedly come up on the campaign trail: abatements, city-county consolidation, and the ability for the public to hold elected officials accountable. Regarding abatements, I’m generally not for them as they tend not to accomplish the jobs that get promised before the abatement is rewarded. I would also like to see a way to tie the abatements to job promises, like giving employers the option of not having to pay the employer-part of COIT or CEDIT. That allows employers the ability to earn more credits (or save more money) based on their hiring habits and wages given. Simply put, the more people they hire and the more money paid these employees, the less money companies have to pay as a result of COIT or CEDIT.

Regarding consolidation -- I am in favor of consolidation. I favor consolidation because of its benefits, like savings due to efficiency, less bureaucracy and increased streamlining of government (reducing duplication of efforts while increasing technological capacity), more accountability and transparency (with “shared responsibilities” no one is responsible), elimination of intergovernmental litigation, increased opportunities to create public policy on a countywide basis, and increased regional clout—you can leverage all the area’s assets, which can be very helpful in terms of economic development. I am also in favor of consolidation because too many residents do not understand the current structure of county government and often confuse it with the City of Fort Wayne’s structure of government and policies. It’s hard for residents to hold their county government responsible and accountable when they don’t understand how it works, which is due to county government’s unique and uncommon structure.

Regarding holding elected officials accountable – the Paul Moss drinking and driving twice has kept this an issue alive and well on the campaign trail and there is nothing county council can do in regard to this.

What specific county budget cuts or increases should the council consider?

First, I think its important to recognize that the County can only approve a requested amount or an amount smaller than the requested amount. Council cannot vote to approve an amount higher than requested.

Second, with regards to budget cuts, I don’t think there is a one size fits all formula. What holds true in 2012 for the 2013 budget may not hold true in 2013 for the 2014 budget. I don’t know what the economic conditions will be in the fall of 2013 and those conditions will dictate the 2014 budget.

Speaking in more general terms, I’d like to see more county departments offer services that are user-fee supported so that the departments themselves---the ones that can---be self-supporting. The Allen County Recorder’s Office is a good example of this as are the Assessor’s and Auditor’s Office. In county departments that are less likely to be able to support themselves via user fees, such as the Sheriff’s Departments, I would like to efforts be made to find cost savings by way of logistical processes. In other words, how can the same or substantially similar services be provided more cost effectively. In both scenarios, user fee supported or improved cost-effective logistics, the goal is to reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars needed to operate county government.

One department that I would like to see make some dramatic logistical changes is the Allen County Election Board. The past two election cycles have seen record decreasing voter turn-out and yet ACEB expenditures are over $900,000. The cost to administer voting is way out of pace with the actual number of votes cast. I would support the change of moving away from precinct voting to voting centers (similar to Colorado) and add more weekend voting to the voting centers (similar to Louisiana, parts of Texas and parts of Delaware), however that is a legislative matter for the ACEB and Allen County Commissioners to champion.

Why are you the best candidate for Allen County voters?

I’m the best candidate for Allen County voters because I am not afraid to ask questions, find answers and challenge the status quo to try to find better, more cost-effective ways of operating in the hopes that these changes will result in lower taxes. My business and legal experience give me a better insight into how government can and should operate, in terms of transparency and accountability. I have a better understanding of government structure and function than candidates with the same political experience as me and I have fresh eyes and a fresh perspective when compared to candidates who have more political experience than me. I have a history of working across party lines and of challenging my own party when the situation warranted such a challenge. I have an eye for detail, have a better understanding of a broader range of constituents (rural, suburban and urban) than many of my opposing candidates, and am the most accessible local county council candidate, online. I have the understanding that once I’m elected, I no longer just represent people from my own party or people who agree with me, but that I have a duty to represent those for other political affiliations whose ideas I may or may not agree with and that part of my job is to listen to those I disagree with just as much as those I agree with. My understanding and willingness to do this helps to make me the best candidate for Allen County Council At-Large.

Roy A. Buskirk

Age: 68

Occupation: Right-of-Way Buyer for Road Construction

Education: Associate Degree in Business Administration and Finance, International Business College

Previous political experience: I am currently serving my tenth year on the Allen County Council.

What campaign activities are you doing to raise money or attract votes?

On the raising money issue, I have talked to several individuals on a one-to-one basis, asking for funds to support my campaign. On attracting votes, I have been passing out my world-famous emery boards and attending public functions, to meet with voters and answer their concerns.

Why are you running for the Allen County Council?

Working to control government spending. This can be done in several different ways, one of which is to improve better communications between various departments, to use assets more efficiently.

What are the top three issues facing the council and how would you address those issues?

The three top issues are jobs, jobs and jobs, to improve the livelihood of every citizen in our community. About a year ago, I saw the need to improve the permitting process for the County and the City of Fort Wayne. With my persistence, a joint permitting oversight board was formed, which I currently chair. This committee has purchased the Accela-Enterprise license, which is a jumpstart to use new technological improvements so that plans, permits and other information can be transmitted electronically. Clarion & Associates has been retained to review and make recommendations of the City and County ordinances, so that they may be parallel with each other. The committee has also retained the services of an ombudsman, who is working with permit applicators who are having difficulty in working through the current permitting process. Briljent Incorporated has been retained to be the overall manager of the project, and also providing technological suggestions for improvements to speed up the permitting process. We are making progress, and will be announcing soon of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Site Development Portal (http://sitedevelopment.acfw.net). I have also served on the tax abatement subcommittee to review the current policies of the County. This subcommittee also worked with Fort Wayne’s tax abatement subcommittee, to make a better policy for the County and the City. There remains some difference between the County’s and Fort Wayne’s, in that the County is not allowed by State statute to give a tax abatement to a retail establishment. The City of Fort Wayne, under certain circumstances, is able to provide that incentive to retail growth. The tax abatements are determined by a number system, giving credit for number of new jobs and retention of jobs, along with amount invested in machinery, buildings and the wages being paid. In order to retain and capture higher-paying jobs, a super bonus was incorporated to attract higher-paying jobs. Along with the aforementioned, one must improve transportation access with better roads and streets, and also utility availability, such as water, sewer and electrical.

What specific county budget cuts or increases should the council consider?

Very interesting question, since the 2013 budget hearings are wrapping up. One needs to look where budgets can be cut, and not affect the service to the citizens of this County. One area is a regional 911 system, in which surrounding counties (currently 11 counties are being approached) would turn their 911 revenue from the State over to us. In return, we would provide 911 service to the county. Because of recent equipment purchases, we have the capability of taking on additional counties. This could be a win/win situation for both our county and their county. Another area is possible merging of certain County and City departments, such as the Human Resource department. On the increases, hopefully there will be very few, with the most important one being wages. The simple fact is that we can not spend more than we take in. At the beginning of this year, we had over 18 million dollars in our rainy-day fund. Because of capital expenditures, such as the new upgraded 911 system, we now are down to 12.5 million dollars. We know that we will be having some additional capital expenditures, and that we will more than likely have to dip into the rainy-day fund again. Some of the expenses include telephone update for 911, moving the 911 location and there is always a surprise or two.

Why are you the best choice for Allen County voters?

As a child, Mom said I asked, “Why?” way too many times. Guess what – I still ask, “Why?”. I have, and I will continue to ask the hard questions when it comes to spending the taxpayers’ money. Thank you for your support.

Dennis (Denny) Sprunger

Age: 58

Occupation: Public school teacher

Education: BA degree, Goshen College / Masters Degree, Ball State

Previous political experience: 1988 – Candidate for State Senate, District 13, 1984-1987 elected president of the East Noble Teachers Association, 2001-2006 elected president of the Southwest Allen Teachers Association.

What campaign activities are you doing to raise money or attract votes?

Raising money as a candidate for County Council has been a difficult task. Family and friends have donated to assist my mostly self-funded campaign. I was selected by UPSTAR ( formally, Fort Wayne Realtors Association) as a candidate they support. To attract votes the Dennis (Denny) Sprunger for Allen County Council campaign has been pulling a light-weight utility trailer all around the county with a 4 x 8 sign and a sound system advertising vote for Denny Sprunger. As a candidate, I lead by example. Dennis (Denny) Sprunger has pledged: Denny Sprunger won’t clutter our beautiful county intersections with yard signs! – Every time you see a yard sign remember- Elect Sprunger for Allen County Council – Sprunger doesn’t use yard signs.

Why are you running for Allen County Council?

I have been serving people for most of my life:

•As a 3rd grader I began delivering the Journal Gazette to my neighbors. Providing good service by keeping the paper dry and on the porch,

•After I graduated from college, I volunteered to serve in Bolivia, South America – starting a school in a small rural village,

•As a teacher, I have served in the public schools – helping students, parents, other teachers, principals, and school boards to seek the best options to enhance the lives our children within the budgetary constraints set by Indiana’s State Legislature.

My dad always told me, “Don’t be afraid you’re going to do too much”. I guess Dad’s words stuck. I am running for Allen County Council to offer my experience of working and advocating for our local Allen County budgets. I bring experience in working through tough decisions by finding common ground and using common sense to best meet the needs of all the people of Allen County.

I am asking for your vote, for Denny Sprunger, to allow me to serve on Allen County Council.

What are the top three issues facing the county council and how would you address those issues?

•JOBS. Allen County must attract good paying jobs. The County Council’s main tool for attracting jobs is tax abatements. To me, tax abatements are a partnership between Allen County citizens and businesses to bring good jobs to our county. Using this partnership, Allen County’s abatement investment in new and existing businesses will enhance and promote positive economic growth for all of Allen County.

•Budget concerns. We are experiencing a diminishing rainy day fund in Allen County. This means we are spending more than we are collecting. Recent changes in state law, in Indianapolis, have been a detriment to Allen County budgets. Serving on County Council I will push all departments to “think outside the box” to find savings while striving to provide the very best services possible.

•State government. Laws passed in Indianapolis have overlooked the needs of county government. Our Sherriff’s Department must pay for pre-existing medical conditions of inmates. This law is a huge drain on our county’s budget. Abatement laws do not provide for in depth reporting to track the county’s benefit from awarded abatements. I will advocate for Allen County in Indianapolis with our elected representatives and senators to level the playing field and provide county government a fighting chance to meet the needs of our citizens.

What specific county budget cuts or increases should the county consider?

In this time of declining revenue, all budgets must continue to trim wherever possible while maintaining all the essential services to all of Allen County.

Why are you the best choice for Allen County voters?

I bring a new perspective to Allen County Council because of my professional and personal experiences. I bring the ability to absorb, share and communicate the needs of Allen County citizens and the skills necessary to pursue budgetary solutions.

As a teacher, I have served for more than 20 years in our public schools. As an education leader, I help students, parents, other teachers, principals, and school boards to seek the best options to educate and enhance the lives Allen County’s children.

I like what Mayor Scherer said in the early 1900’s, I believe it applies to me, Dennis (Denny) Sprunger: "I am from the common people and I appeal to the people as the people’s candidate."- Henry P. Scherer, Mayor, Fort Wayne, IN, 1897-1901

I believe in individualism and I believe in community and the balance between the two that lets them both prosper.

Sharon Tucker

Age: 40

Occupation: Office Manager – Insurance

Education: Senior Indiana Tech

(Pursuing double degrees BA – Management & BA – Human Resources. (3.8 G.P.A)

Previous political experience: None

What campaign activities are you doing to raise money or attract votes?

In order to attract votes, I have participated in multiple parades throughout the summer, walked door to door with other candidates and alone. I’ve attended a few neighborhood associations meeting, gone to various ribbon cuttings and spoke at a large array of meetings in our community. I’ve done a tour of local church and invited other candidates to join me. (Joe Donnelly, John Gregg, and Kevin Boyd are three candidates that joined me.) I have mailed letters to households in targeted areas and have been placing phone calls asking for support. Along with all of the local activities, I’ve visited Grabill, Monroeville, Woodburn and Huntertown just to visit local spots and talk with voters. Over the next few weeks I will be doing additional postcard mailings, billboards will be going up and commercial spots will run on cable television. I am proud of the effort and success my campaign has experienced.

My efforts for raising funds have also been successful. Immediately following the primary I went into fundraising mode. I mailed letters to local unions, business owners, family and friends asking for financial support. I made at least a hundred phone calls and sent even more text messages, all in an effort to secure a sound war chest. I have had 2 fundraiser hosted by my committee, one by Karen Goldner former City Councilwoman and one by Cindy Henry, which was a huge honor for me. Year to date my campaign has raised roughly $10,000 (including in-kinds).

Why are you running for the Allen County Council?

I am running for Allen County Council because I believe in our community. I believe in people and I believe that every person deserves a voice of representation at the council table. I believe Allen County is a great place worship, work and to raise a family.

What are the top three issues facing the council and how would you address those issues?

The most important issue facing the council is limited tax revenue. The council will find itself working with a tighten budget each year until jobs are created, individuals are employed and able to contribute to the taxing structure. Watching every line item, questioning all abatements and measuring all tax effects will be necessary to maintain a balanced budget and a sensible rainy day fund.

The second issue which should be addressed is that of communication and transparency with the citizens of Allen County in relationship to abatements and tax relief. There are simple fixes for this issue; implement evening meetings once a quarter and increase the speed to which meeting minutes are posted to the county’s website.

Finally the last issue faced by the council is that of rubber stamping. In reviewing the minutes from prior council meetings one would find an average voting history of 7-0 or 6-1 (when all members are in attendance), which indicates that the council has an opportunity for improvement. The solution to this issue starts with asking additional questions and considering the benefits and residual effects to the county’s budget. I find it hard to believe that every request brought before the council can be passed with little or no debate.

What specific county budget cuts or increases should the council consider?

Currently, there are no specific budget cuts or increases I would like the council to consider. However, I am concerned with future budget projections. It is imperative that we consider forthcoming funding. In a county were property taxes have been capped and tax revenue is stagnate, future projections of our budgeting should be at the forefront of council’s thoughts. County Departments cannot continue to operate at full capacity with minimal funding. As stewards of the county’s budgets it becomes the council’s responsibility to foresee future risk and shortfalls to mitigate the impact on the citizens of Allen County.

Why are you the best choice for Allen County voters?

I believe that I am the best choice for Allen County voters, because I am a true representation of the voters. I am a single mother, African American, Student, former business owner and business professional. I understand the challenges of working within tight budgets and being able to get the best value for the dollar. I am a hard worker and I am not afraid to ask tough questions and make hard decisions.

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