Voters got perhaps their last chance before Election Day to see Erie County commissioner candidates Tom Ferrell and Mike Printy square off to answer questions Wednesday night.
Democratic incumbent Ferrell and Republican challenger Printy fielded questions from the public during a 90-minute “Q & A Live” online chat.
Ferrell said he has the “vision, experience and leadership” to guide Erie County through challenging times.
“I’ve lived here my entire life. I know Erie County,” he said. “And I’m willing to listen to any new ideas that our citizens may have to help make Erie County the best little county in Ohio.”
Printy said commissioners must cooperate with other officials inside and outside the county. The co-owner of a consulting firm, he said he’s had the experience in his professional life to move Erie County past “turf wars.”
“You have to set a new agenda, you have to be a very credible and supportive administrator to all parties involved,” he said.
There will be no progress on centralized dispatch, the NASA airport or jail overcrowding without cooperation, Printy said.
Ferrell said commissioners are working to solve the jail overcrowding problem and noted the recent hire of a monitor for an ankle-bracelet program. A video conferencing system will also aid the county’s legal system, he said.
“We have to be inventive and ready to accept new technology in the legal profession,” he said.
Printy said the overcrowding problem is a complicated one due largely to costs.
“Programs such as the ankle bracelet program and close circuit TV are effective, but they are not the solution for jail overcrowding,” he said.
Printy said the county should focus on creating jobs in both tourism and manufacturing.
“While our tourism and our service industry does not always bring us the wages that our citizens would like to have, they do truly employ a lot of people, and they bring vibrancy to our economic condition,” he said.
Ferrell said with Cedar Point, Kalahari and other attractions, tourism will take care of itself, and the commissioners need to put more emphasis on high-tech jobs.
“I’m working on building a new future for Erie County, one that incorporates manufacturing jobs, high-skilled technical jobs and tourist jobs,” he said.
Ferrell’s top priority, he said, is to continue serving constituents and to create a new, economically vibrant Erie County that keeps young people here.
Printy listed his priorities as “living within our revenue, influencing measurable results in economic development, and getting all delayed projects on track.”
Erie County commissioner candidates Joe Hayberger and Pat Shenigo will be at the Sandusky Register at 7 p.m. Thursday for the final Q&A Live session.
Below is the transcript from the Q&A Live.
Q: Why is the county trying to fix emergency dispatch when it's not broken but leaders refuse refuses to address chronic problems such as jail overcrowding, economic development and a host of other unresolved issues?
The dispatch issue was raised by the firefighter's association and Erie County. They felt that the service that is provided by the current system was inadequate and once they left the station they had no way to communicate again with the dispatch center. That was the impetus for going toward a centralized dispatch. The reason we're looking at a centralized dispatch joining five of the most populated areas is it will save tax dollars, save lives and provide a better system to the citizens of Erie County. The new centralized dispatch system would include mobile data terminals, a countywide records management system and what's called computer-aided dispatch in which the dispatch would know where every vehicle in Erie County would be at any time.
Every political leader today realizes that providing regional services and eliminating duplication will become an increasingly important issue to reduce costs and provide greater efficiency. The dispatch issue is a perfect example because the technology is becoming increasingly more expensive and the process is very similar in every city and township. The other issues you mention are extremely important to address. I feel we would have made more progress with these other issues if a greater emphasis would have been placed on solutions that incorporate a consensus building approach.
Q: Okay, time to get serious. I want both Ferrell and Printy to address the idea of a county-wide recycling program so that all households are required to recycle cans, bottles, plastics etc...I would like their thoughts on how "green" citizens might get this in front of the county commission to review the idea.
I fully support curb side recycling as you are suggesting. I also know the reality that curb side recycling will come with some costs. Whenever the County provides a service that will bring additional costs to the citizens, we must be mindful that many citizens cannot incorporate additional costs into the life. As a result, we must blend the recycling program with other activities such that the recycling program can be cost neutral to the citizens. I have not found the other support activities that would allow curb side recycling to be cost neutral result, but with suggestions and help of many people, I am sure we will find a solution.
Actually, countywide recycling is under jurisdiction of the Solid Waste District Board. Under that board a solid waste policy committee is established, which compromises almost all the political subdivisions in Erie County, the Health Department, trash haulers, and it will take a cooperative effort from all of these groups to move countywide recycling forward. As Erie County commissioners we've established the most effective rural drop-off program in the state of Ohio. The drop-off site at our Columbus Avenue facility is the highest-used drop-off container in the state of Ohio. This committee is working on moving toward countywide recycling, but we don't want to put small, independent businessmen out of business, so it will take a cooperative effort. What we're looking at is countywide trash pickup and recycling at the same time so we don't have umpteen-dozen trucks backtracking through different neighborhoods. That's the program we want to work toward because we value our small, independent haulers. We realize the need for recycling but want to protect our small, independent businesspeople. Currently, we are working with Barnes Nursery on a couple of experimental programs that will help remove waste from the landfill to a recycling program.
Q: Alright then....both candidates, please spill out your heart here and tell us why the heck you want to get involved with politics. And please, don't say its because you love God, country and Mom.
In returning to Erie County, it was very clear that better progress should have been made over the past number of years. As I entered the race in December of 2007, I felt that my experiences in other locations of the Country could be a benefit to Erie County. After ten months of campaigning, this has become so important to me that I must follow through with this. I know the challenge will be great, and the job will become totally consuming. If I can accomplish some of my objectives, I will find that very satisfying.
I've got a long tenure as county commissioner. I've dedicated my adult life to serving the citizens of Erie County. We have a huge number of accomplishments that can be felt throughout Erie County. And as we're sitting here this evening, I can look out to the skyline of downtown Sandusky and see the Erie County office building and the multilevel parking garage that was my idea and has served as the buliding block of the revitalization of downtown Sandusky, i.e. the Chesapeake building, the Murray building. We've worked to keep jobs in Erie County and to attract new jobs to Erie County, and I think anyone that has been involved in local government as long as I have truly must love it and the people that I serve. As we approach 2009, we know our county will be facing some very serious challenges financially due to state budget cuts. I feel my experience having lived through these types of ups-and-downs in the economy give me the experience to meet these challenges.
Q: What can either candidate do to eliminate the turf wars that define Erie County politics?
Throughout my professional career, I have been transferred into a number of business organizations where turf issues were predominant. You have to set a new agenda, you have to be a very credible and supportive administrator to all parties involved. In every case, you have to help department managers, staff, and elected officials to accomplish the objectives that are important to them. When that is accomplished, you then have to ask those individuals to participate in the common goals and common agenda and leave the turf wars behind.
Boundaries are imaginary lines drawn on a map. They do not reflect the relationships that I have forged with any of the political subdivisions located within Erie County. I think the relationships as demonstrated recently with the five major population centers of Erie County supporting Erie County centralized dispatch program is evidence of our communities working together, not only to save tax dollars but to improve the quality of life for our citizens. I also think that the regional water program that involves the city of Sandusky, Erie County and the citizens of Huron is another fine example of commuunities working together to solve common problems and to provide the best possible serivce to our citizens at the lowest possible price. Also I think Erie Regional Planning is a compilation of all the poliitical subdivisons working together and having input how each community within Erie County moves forward toward development. So I think the turf wars are long dead, and we have to be respectful of each other's elected responsibility and keep in mind that what's good for one township or city is good for all of Erie County. Just last evening I was at a function with the mayor of Vermilion and we were specifically talking about this issue and how she feels that Vermilion is now participating in economic development, not only in Vermilion but throughout Erie County.
Q: What is the deal with the county home? aren't they already subsidized? don't they get money from the people they take care of?
The citizens that reside at the Erie County Care Facility are the poorest citizens in Erie County. They receive Medicaid and Medicare. That is how that home has operated since its origins. The issue that we're facing is that both federal and state government have frozen the Medicaid and Medicare rates for the past three years. Just imagine how your costs have gone up at home and the troubles you have trying to run a household. That's the same predicament that those citizens face out there. The workers at the care facility have been giving concessions in regards to their health insurance benefits to help the financial condition of the care facility. And we greatly appreciate them working with the county commissioners to help solve the problems the care facility is facing. Most other county homes located in Ohio have their costs offset by a levy. We do not. That's why we put the levy on the ballot. Because we feel that citizens of Erie County will support the elder poor that reside at Erie County Care Facility. Keep in mind most of these residents would not meet the financial qualifications of many of the other care facilities located in Erie County. We are their last stop. That's why we feel it's very important to keep the care facility open. And we ask for your support on the levy.
The County Care Facility is set up to be self funded through private pay, Medicare, and Medicaid programs. The government paid programs have been restricted, so these payment programs have not kept up with operating expense. I am certain as we go forward, the government programs will continue to fall behind operating costs. The County Care Facility has very few private pay residents. The Care Facility has been a County based organization for well over 100 years. This is a tradition that cannot be simpy pushed aside. The citizens now have a voice and a choice to participate in the first discussion about funding the Care Facility. If the citizens do not choose to support the Care Facility with local public funds, then the Care Facility administration and its employees will enter into the discussion as to how we go forward. This is a very good example of government and the people working hard to decide the future of the Care Facility.
Q: Do either of the candidates have specific "active" plans to bring new good paying jobs to Erie county?
There are people involved in economic development in Erie County who feel that they have worked very hard on this issue. I would not want to have my comments diminish any of the efforts that have been made. However, the Angelou report was very clear that Erie County is falling behind in our competition with other communities and regions of the United States. Specifically, they feel that our determination and cooperation has been inadequate. In moving forward, we have to increase the enthusiasm and dedication to implement the strategies of the Angelou report, and to incorporate the ideas and efforts of people and communities who are truly enthusiastic about economic development. I know there are many people who want to have the success with economic development, but do not feel they are supported by the broader game plan. I would thoroughly enjoy being the influence to consolidate people's efforts to accomplish increasingly successful actions.
Absolutely. Just recently, Erie County received a $2.4 million grant from the federal Economic Development Agency to run a sewer down route 250. Gen. Strenger is in charge of the Orion project (the manned mission to Mars) at the NASA Plum Brook station in conjunction with the Lewis Research Station. All engine testings of the next generation space shuttle will be tested at this one-of-the-world facility. Gen. Strenger's job is to make sure that deadlines are met that NASA has set. To do this, we need the sewer down Route 250. Also to meet this deadline, new jobs will be created in the high-tech engineering and aeronautical fields, both within the facility and on the route 250 technical corridor. Also about a month ago, Gen. Strenger and myself and other Erie County officials visited the Ohio Department of Development to secure additional funding to pay for the gap in the funding for the sewer. We are very favorable that we will get that. Now with the background being laid, a 9,000-foot runway will be built at this facility to bring the rockets in for testing. Gen. Strengger has worked with this community to allow this runway to be used as a regional airport, which would dramatically impact our transporatoin industry and our tourist industry, thus creating a thousand new jobs.
Q: Can both candidates give an update on the NASA project and what is the next step in this project and what do they think this project will do for our county?
Specifically, I feel that the job creation at the NASA facility will create a new tier in our local economic structure, that of high-tech aeronautical and engineering jobs that pay a living wage where you can raise a family and bring young people back to our community. We do not currently have this tier in our local economy. That, coupled with our strong manufacturing base already located in Erie County, and our skilled workforce, will forge a new Erie County with a strong, healthy economy for decades to come.
NASA, Erie County, and the surrounding counties have done a great job in establishing the importance of NASA development to our region in Ohio. Infrastructure is being put in place to support this very important development. The school systems are planning for the educational support that will be needed. It is now time to get the full involvement and support of all surrounding counties. This is a project that Erie County cannot and should not do on its own. This is clearly an example of regional economic development. The successful development and support of NASA will bring to Erie County the next generation of jobs which will place an emphasis on high technology, science and manufacturing.
Q: Is there any plans on using more "green" power for county facilities, such as solar power and or wind power?
Absolutely. Currently we have been working on our landfill gas to energy project, which will convert methane gas to electricity, and waste heat generated by the generators will be piped to a yet-to-be-built spec building at our Huron-Avery high-tech park. The company that we're dealing with in the landfill gas to energy project will be locating their business to Erie County from Huron County. They will be building this type of project in our community and want a working model to bring customers in to assist them in marketing this method to other communities. Currently we're selling carbon credits on the carbon credit exchange in Chicago and receiving moneys by not releasing methane into the atmosphere. That is how carbon credits are earned. These funds go back to the landfill and offset the cost of operations. Also, we are looking at establishing some windmills and some windmills arrays that will help offset the cost of running some of our county facilities.
As a candidate, I have not heard of any specific plans. As an elected official, I will be an extremely strong supporter of first energy conservation. I have published an article recently in the Register suggesting that a County department would take on the roll of energy conservation right along with soil and water conservation. We simply have to get started. I have met a number of business men who are determined to install wind or solor power generation to their facility. I am absolutely convinced that these people will follow through with their plans These "trail blazer" individuals will give us great experience on accomplishing these projects successfully. I would fully expect that county facilities could follow the lead of these entreprenaurs and implement "green" power for County facilities. Just this week, Perkins Schools has ordered the equipment for the three wind turbines that will be installed at the high school. The City of Huron is finding their way to also utilize wind powered generation. The ball is actually rolling, and we can't let it stop. Another project that needs to find a successful conclusion is the burning of methane at the landfill. The County has taken too long to find the critical path on this project. If given the opportunity, I'm confident I can find the solution to any remaining hurdles that are holding this process up.
Q: The city of Sandusky is the community most impacted when there is no room at the jail. Has jail overcrowding been tolerated for more than a decade because it only has a negative impact in Sandusky? Please explain.
I am certain that the issue of jail overcrowing is truly a county-wide issue. The solutions for overcrowding has not been accomplished primarily because of costs. I do feel that intense and cooperative discussions with all county municipalities will be the basis of solving this problem. This is another example where regional coooperation is absolutely necessary to bring a successful results. As your question implies, the City of Sandusky will be a very active participant in coming up with the best solution. The county's discussions with the surrounding communities is occurring, but these conversations have to increase in intensity and coooperation. Programs such as the ankle bracelet program and close circuit TV are effective but they are not the solution for jail over crowding.
The issue of jail overcrowding stems from the 1996 State Senate bill 2, which was a local sentencing law. Our jail was built and completed during the late 80s and should have met the needs of this community for 40 years. But what our state legislators decided to do to solve a problem that they had with prison overcrowding was to send some of the responsibility of housing prisoners at the local level. A community corrections board was craeted that involves community leaders who have the responsibility for the enforcement of the law, incarceration of criminals, probation departments, judges and citizens at large to deal with this problem at the local level. A number of issues and programs have been tried. We have just hired a monitor for a release program that utilizes the GPS program that will track someone that is qualified for release by agreement of the judges, the prosecutor and the jail. His location will be checked via satellite every 10 seconds. There are certain perameters that if he goes into certain areas, it will ping and automatically violate his release. I don't believe jail overcrowding is a city of Sandusky problem. It's a community problem. And it will take a community to solve this issue. Also, to help save dollars and expedite the legal process, a new videotape system that has been authorized throughout the state of Ohio will allow us to videoconference with prisoners in the state facilites and our own local judges, thus saving huge transport costs and downtime bringing criminals back to Erie County from, say, Mansfield. Another issue that has greatley impacted the jail population has been the changing of the DUI laws. There are mandatory sentences now that must be served based on laws created by the state legislature. All of these issues combined have led to the jail overcrowding issue that we face as a community. There is no one simple answer, there are no funds to build a brand-new jail. So we have to be inventive and ready to accept new technology in the legal profession, i.e. the judges, the prosecutors and the Bar Association, along with the county commissioners, who provide the funding for these programs and/or personnel.
Q: How important is transparency in government? Should the public be informed every step of the way, or is it better to get all your ducks in a row before going public on things?
Transparency is certainly the process that our citizens are demanding. I believe transparency can have great effect of bringing citizens into the process by giving them a voice and knowledge that their input is being valued. This is a great result and a great direction of the future. We must learn, however, that this increase visibility and discussion of our projects helps us move more definitively to the best result.
Any action taken by the board of county commissioners has to be taken in open session. At all of our meetings, members of the press are welcome and attend regularly. There are some exclusions to open meeting laws, and are executive sessions that involve personnel, security, litigation, property acquisition and health issues of specific employees, since we administer our own health insurance program. All paperwork that is signed by the county commissioners passes before members of the press, and it is their right to evaluate any document generated with public dollars. I think citizens taking an active part in local government by attending meetings, calling up commissioners, asking questions or asking for help regarding certain problems they may have when dealing with county government is what makes Erie County great. Remember, we have 16 elected officials, and the citizens of Erie County are their bosses. So Erie County is as transparent as it can get. Also, we are your county commissioners 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This Saturday, I was walking through the mall and a genteleman I know stopped me and asked me a question in regards to a funding issue — what programs were going to be cut because of state funding, and how they're going to impact local programs. So that's an indication of my ability and willingness to answer our citizens' questions.
Q: Would either candidate consider adding a sales tax percentage to go to schools in Erie County?
For the past decade, both federal and state governments have shifted more and more responsibility for programs that local government must fulfill. We call these unfunded mandates. It would be very difficult for us to solve the school funding issue at the local level when our elected officials in the state offices have failed to resolve this issue for 10 years. Solving the school funding issue should not be put on the back of local government. State representatives and state senators must step up to the plate and solve this issue once and for all and not depend on a piecemeal effort by local governments. Our school districts are depending on our state government to solve one of the most important issues that our state has ever faced. As a product of public schools, and as a product of Sandusky High School, I think a public education is a building block for any individual. And the state must deal with this issue immediately. Time is wasting. Get busy.
I know the funding for our schools is more complicated that we would like. I feel that funding education is a priority for the community. I hope the State of Ohio will help us find a better way to fund our school systems, however, I feel that there are other County responsibilities that would lend itself better for the use of sales tax revenue. Infrastructure, regional governmental solutions, energy conservation, and economic development seems to me to be a better use of sales tax revenue.
Q: How much emphasis should be placed on developing tourism as opposed to manufacturing or other types of jobs?
Without any question, we have to bring intense emphasis to both manufacturing and tourism. We have some great employers in the County, and those employers and their jobs are a vital part of our economic future. As a community of people, we must do everything possible to help these employers be successful as they meet the challenge of global competition. As recently reported, the summer months brought us a 10% increase in bed tax and sales tax. Those two statistics are a score board on how healthy tourism is during our summer months. While our tourism and our service industry does not always bring us the wages that our citizens would like to have, they do truly employ alot of people and they bring vibrancy to our economic condition.
My emphasis is on creating jobs that pay a living wage, that young people will want to remain here in Erie County, earn enogh money, buy a home, raise a family and send their kids to college. These types of jobs with wage levels are not found in many of the tourist industries. That is why we have put such an emphasis on developing the high-tech corridor along Route 250 to offset some of the manufacturing jobs that we have lost in Erie County. We will spend millions of federal tax dollars at the NASA Plum Brook station and along Route 250. This investment was not sold to the federal and state government in hopes of creating tourist industry jobs. It is my feeling Erie County is already the home of the best amusement park in the world, the largest indoor waterpark in the world, which I had a big part in bringing to Erie County by working with them and creating a TIF agreement to facilitate their development. I think tourism will come based upon what's already here. I'm working on building a new future for Erie County, one that incorporates manufacturing jobs, high-skilled technical jobs and tourist jobs. I want a well-rounded community that my children can stay here, raise their families and visit their grandfather.
Q: Once elected or re-elected, what would your first priority in office be?
That's easy: continue serving the citizens of Erie County as I have for the past four years. We are facing some great challenges and some great opportunities in our near future. But my focal point in the next four years is to forge a new Erie County, a vibrant Erie County where jobs are plentiful that pay a living wage to make Erie County a place people want to move to and live here. To do that, you need vision, experience and leadership. I have proven to the citizens of our community that I possess all of those qualities. I've lived here my entire life. I know Erie County. And I'm willing to listen to any new ideas that our citizens may have to help make Erie County the best little county in Ohio. You'd be surprised how progressive our county is. The number of inquiries that we get from other counties throughout the state on how we conduct our business is truly surprising. Not many counties in Ohio as small as Erie County have such extensive water and sewer programs, nursing homes, an impressive legal system and the ability to capture the natural resources we have in our community. Putting this all together, it comes down to one thing: We must all work together to face the future that is very uncertain at this moment. It will require experienced leadership to see this through because our children's lives and their futures are depending on the decisions we make today. And I think my track record speaks for itself.
To be successful, I absolutely must establish myself as a sincere, credible, and well-informed County leader. It must be observable that all my actions, discussions and decisions must be in support of a better life for the people of Erie County. Personal agendas and party politics must take a back seat when accomplishing great results for the people, communities, and businesses within Erie County. After all is said, my priorities are living within our revenue, influencing measurable results in economic development, and getting all delayed projects on track. I want to you know that I find myself extremely dedicated and motivated to do a great job as an Erie County Commissioner.