A Meet the Candidate night was held at Mark & Sheila Wilkinson's home on Thursday, September 2. Larry Hatch and Robert Kilmer, who are opponents in the race for Morgan County Council at Large Seat A, were present, along with James Montgomery and Lyle Nelson who are vying for the District 2 Council Seat. District 2 of Morgan County includes parts of Mountain Green, Enterprise and Peterson.
Also, in attendance was Blaine Breshears who is one of the two candidates running for the office of Morgan County Sheriff. One of the highlights of the evening was a stimulating discussion by the group about how county government functions.
The Wilkinson's daughter, Allison, was prepared with several excellent and well-thought out questions for the group consider and discuss. The questions focused in on more specific ways in which the county government functions; how Morgan County’s local government is organized, how it is financed, the role of each elected official, and how the county's revenues are spent.
Allison's questions sparked immediate comments and discussion among the night’s participants about governing on a county level. As one topic of conversation was analyzed by the group, the dialog naturally transitioned onto other pertinent topics of concern to all Morgan residents.
Sheila Wilkinson, who is a former Morgan County Commissioner, posed this question to the candidates:
What is your position on accepting federal or state grants to finance county projects?
Robert Kilmer responded that the county should accept the money providing there are no strings attached. He cited an example of a situation currently happening that involves the Sheriff of Arizona, who Kilmer believes is doing a great job. He continued that the federal government is suing the Sheriff because his department had accepted federal money a number of years before. Now, the officials in the federal government do not approve of the way that this Sheriff runs the prison there, nor do they like the way he treats the inmates in the prison and they making it known through their lawsuit.
Larry Hatch indicated that he feels the same way on this issue; he believes that the county should accept money without any strings attached. He expressed his viewpoint that sometimes on projects when the county receives federal monies, that in the end, it costs even more than it would have cost without the use of a grant.
Hatch believes that there are alternate ways to finance worthwhile projects. For example, about the swimming pool that was proposed earlier this year, Hatch felt that there were other ways to fund that project. He said that one of the alternatives would be to establish an endowment fund to which money could be donated by those in favor of the pool project. This endowment could then be turned over to the school district and the pool could be built on land already owned by the county or school district. Operation of the pool could then be handled by the school district and access would be provided to the public at large.
Sheriff Candidate, Blaine Breshears expressed his opinion that he would favor accepting grant money with no strings attached, or if there were only short-term requirements. Breshears followed by sharing with the group that he had been hired on a grant 14 years ago. Then, he added that one thing that has been very helpful about the grant money is that with the funds, the county has been able to get equipment that they otherwise could not afford. He said that before the county accepted any federal grant money, there should be a careful and thorough evaluation of the agreement for any long-term requirements that might be involved.
Lyle Nelson expressed the view that there is no such thing as free money. He added that grant money is not free money. He said that we pay for those grants with our taxes or with borrowed money that has to be paid back. He would like to see the county as a people become more self-reliant and not look to the government to solve all problems.
The conversation then transitioned to a discussion of how we as citizens need to make getting involved in our community a priority. There was broad agreement among the candidates that if county residents want a great place to live, they need to find a way to get involved and do their share to keep it great. The candidates feel that there are many opportunities for service and a place where everyone can get involved in something they enjoy doing-whether it's politics, parks & recreation, the fair, or other areas.
The proposed Special Services District for Recreation was another topic that was addressed. The candidates generally agreed that while recreation is very important, that a Special Services District was not the way to handle it. Robert Kilmer summed up the proposal by relating his view that a Special Services District, once established, takes on a life of its own. He said that it could raise taxes without the consent of the County Council. He also added that those who run the SSD could give themselves a raise. His view is that a SSD is an entity unto itself, another layer of government that is not accountable to the county government.
Some of the citizens in attendance expressed the view that we need to learn to use what we have by better prioritization of our money. They added that if there are things we can do without, then now is the time to do so. Many felt that it is an economic time when we need to make do or do without. The general belief articulated was that common sense should be employed in the decisions about the use of taxpayer's money.
Growth and development was another issue that was discussed.
Lyle Nelson answered that a person who owns property has the right to say how he will develop or not develop his land as long as it meets zoning regulations. He feels that water is a huge issue in Mountain Green and will continue to be an issue that needs to continue to be dealt with. These water issues man that some difficult decisions are going to have to be made.
James Montgomery added that the county needs to determine how much water is in this valley before over building occurs and then there is not adequate water. He commented that development has pretty much come to a stop right now and that there were only two building permits issued in August. He expressed the view that what we need is a broader tax base. Montgomery feels that the county needs to have businesses come in to help the county financially.
Robert Kilmer said that property tax on a home is based on 60% value of the home while businesses are taxed 100% plus the sales taxes from that business.
Lyle Nelson then further added that only a quarter of the county's budget comes from property tax.
The conversation then switched to law enforcement. Sheriff s candidate, Breshears was asked if the number of deputies is keeping up with growth, and if the rate of crime has grown. He responded that at this point in time, we are keeping our heads above water. Breshears said that for the county's population there should be 16-20 deputies, rather than the 10 employed by the county. Breshears related that the calls for services have tripled from 3,000 to 10,000 calls per year. He also added that the county has had a rise in drug-related violent crime in particular.
On yet another topic, Larry Hatch said that in a meeting previous to this one someone raised the question: what should be done about the Council Administrator's position now that Garth Day has resigned. Hatch quipped that it looks like he and Kilmer have finally discovered an issue that they differ on. Hatch stated that he would like to see the county council appoint a temporary administrator to fill the position for a few months and take some time to thoroughly study what duties a "county administrator's" position should include then put it to a vote of the public to approve or disapprove the creation of the position. He further stated that he had spoken to Al Lundgren, who is a member of the current County Council, just prior to coming to tonight's meeting. Lundgren told Hatch that the workload on the council members has quadrupled since Day is no longer functioning in the position of council administrator.
Kilmer offered the idea, as an approach to dealing with the Administrator situation, to eliminate the position and distribute the duties of it among the elected department heads.
Election time is rapidly approaching. Early voting starts on October 19th. Please make sure you acquaint yourself with the candidates. The candidates have expressed a desire to meet with county residents and have invited voters to call them and schedule a time for them to hold cottage meetings. These settings provide the chance to get to know the candidates better personally and ask the questions you may have as well as listen to the answers to other’s questions. Even a small time commitment of half an hour can provide great insight to help in the decision to be made at the ballot box.