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Published: Saturday, 10/23/2004

3 compete to replace man ousted by voters in Seneca County

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Seneca County voters will choose from three candidates Nov. 2 to replace Commissioner Jimmie Young, who was defeated in the May primary by voters angry over a sales-tax increase imposed last year.

All three - Democrat David Gross, Independent Joe Hartman, and Republican David Sauber - say Mr. Young and his colleagues were wrong to enact the four-year, 0.5 percent tax after voters rejected it. But none of them will commit to repealing it.

Mr. Gross, in fact, says the county needs the revenue from the tax, which raises about $2.1 million a year. "If the tax were removed, we would have to make drastic reductions of government services," he said.

Mr. Hartman doesn't favor repealing the tax either, but said he'd let voters decide in 2007 whether to renew it. "If the people voted it down, we would have to look for other revenue," he said.

Mr. Sauber said his position on the tax's future would depend on the county's finances.

"We may need to keep the sales tax," he said. "I could tell you it could be taken out as soon as I get into office, but I doubt it can be. My goal would be in the next two years to make it where we don't need to keep it."

While taking similar positions on the tax, the candidates differ on some other issues. Each points to his background as possessing the experience and skills needed to maintain the county's finances and make difficult decisions on county facilities.

Mr. Sauber, 50, is a union construction worker who formerly owned an auto towing and repair shop, as well as other businesses. He said he would put that experience to work as a full-time commissioner and take a leave from his construction work as needed while in office.

"This is going to take somebody, especially to get the county back in shape, full time to get this done," Mr. Sauber said.

Mr. Gross, 45, is a Tiffin firefighter who headed the county Emergency Management Agency from 1989 to 1998. His work with those public entities makes him the best choice, he said.

"If you compare all the commissioner candidates, I have the most government experience and progressive record in government," he said.

Mr. Hartman, 65, has been a self-employed fireplace salesman and installer for 35 years. He said he has a buyer for his business if he's elected, and he'd be a full-time commissioner.

"I'm the best-qualified, because of my business experience," he said.

Mr. Hartman thinks the voters should decide what to do with the 118-year-old Seneca County Courthouse, neglected for decades and vacant since a newly built annex opened next door in March.

But he doesn't hold out much hope for a quick decision on the building's future.

He also takes a cautious approach to the proposed expansion of the Seneca County jail to accommodate federal immigration detainees.

Unless the government will commit to sending a minimum number of prisoners, he opposes the idea.

"I don't think Seneca County is in a position to stick their neck out, without some kind of guarantee on this," he said.

Mr. Gross notes that the sheriff's department has brought in about $1 million this year from the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for housing detainees, and he said the county should make a deal if possible.

"I'm pretty sure they're going to pull out if we don't go ahead with the project, and we're going to lose $1 million in revenue," he said.

"I think we need to seriously look at proceeding with that project."

Mr. Sauber, on the other hand, leans toward razing and replacing the decaying landmark.

"I've heard figures from the commissioners' office that they're talking $15 million to $17 million to renovate it," he said. "I think we could build new for less than half that."

On the proposed jail expansion, Mr. Sauber, like his opponents, takes a stance similar to that of his opponents. "It is a great idea if we can get some sort of guarantee," he said.

Also on the ballot in Seneca County are four candidates vying for a second commissioner's seat: Republican Charles Ardner, Democrat Ben Nutter, and Independents Mary "Kay" Ranker and Dennis Wickert.

County voters also will choose between Republican Coroner Donald Shanabrook and Democratic challenger Mark Akers, and between Democratic Treasurer Marguerite Bernard and Republican rival Elaine Schlenker.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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