Greene County will have a new commissioner after voters decide Nov. 6 between County Treasurer Dick Gould, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent Susan Lopez, director of the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Family Resource Center.
Lopez not only has Gould as an opponent, but also battles history in traditionally conservative Greene County, where voters haven’t elected a Democrat to the board of commissioners for more than three decades (1976-84 Tom Blessing), said Llyn McCoy, board of elections director.
The two candidates both won in the May primary. Gould defeated incumbent Alan Anderson for the GOP nomination, and Lopez beat Steve Bujenovic for the Democratic nod.
The election day winner will serve a four-year term on commission, earning an annual salary of $55,970 and receiving the same benefits offered to county employees, including health insurance.
As part of the Dayton Daily News’ 2018 Voters Guide, the two candidates weighed in on some of the key issues facing the county — controlling growth, bringing in jobs and addressing jail needs. They also discussed avoiding costly litigation the current commission is involved in.
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Greene County taxpayers will pay for attorney fees and other costs for two legal cases in the Ohio Supreme Court. The commission is a party in a dispute between Domestic Relations Judge Thomas O’Diam, and General Division Judges Stephen Wolaver and Michael Buckwalter. The county must cover the costs for all parties involved, an estimated $150,000 expense, according to county officials.
Commissioners are also named in a lawsuit with the city of Xenia over the city’s attempt to annex Central State University.
Both Gould and Lopez say litigation could have and should have been avoided in both cases.
“The county has had some strained relations with many of the jurisdictions in the county … Conversations about the issues could have kept this from becoming a court case,” Gould said of the dispute with the city. “If the disagreements had been discussed beforehand, and the petition proceeded, in spite of that, the commissioners would have had to ignore their legal counsel and the county engineer’s findings in order to approve it.”
Lopez said commissioners should have “listened and mediated a decision versus forcing taxpayers to pay legal fees.”
“I believe much of this could have been avoided by … finding out what the intended result would be for Xenia, Wilberforce and for Central State, then discussing this with all parties,” Lopez said. “A large part of my life’s work is collaboration and building community and relationships. Our municipalities deserve a good working relationship with the Board of County Commissioners.”
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The county has hired a consulting firm to assess the needs for a new jail and how a new facility will operate and function. The cost for a new facility is estimated at $40 million or more, and Lopez said the county should aggressively pursue federal and state monies and set aside rainy day funds to “reduce the burden on taxpayers as much as possible.”
“I would evaluate the opportunity to utilize the current jail locations, as well as the Greene County Career Center location as they have plans to build elsewhere,” Lopez said. “Any comprehensive plan for the jail must incorporate a long-term rehab component; it saves taxpayer money and is a proven effective practice.”
Gould said a new jail or renovating current facilities will be costly, but commissioners shouldn’t let construction cost be the primary factor.
“Modern jails are designed to require a much lower staffing for the same number of prisoners,” Gould said. “If properly designed, the cost, over the long term, will be lower due to reduced operating costs such as wages and benefits and energy savings.”
In terms of controlling growth and attracting new employers, Gould says commissioners should push for more projects through the Dayton Development Coalition, which can facilitate large-scale projects through the JobsOhio program. He advocates creating a countywide vision committee.
“The various entities could hold local meetings and solicit resident input to determine what they desire. After those are complete, the groups could come together at the county level and again solicit resident input to develop a long-range vision plan. This would be the road map into the future,” Gould said. “I would identify businesses and industries that we want to bring to the county and then educate them about the benefits of locating here.”
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Lopez says she would advocate for state law reform to empower counties and townships to resist annexation attempts by municipalities. Lopez sees a need for a “smart growth strategy” to result in jobs while maintaining the county’s rural character.
“Research has shown the educational attainment level of a population is the single most important factor shaping regional economic success,” Lopez said. “Therefore, we must champion our educational institutions while also concentrate on Workforce Development to assure our county has a steady stream of trained people to fill existing jobs.”
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