A pair of Democrats, both local officeholders in Sandusky County, are trying to break the Republican monopoly on the board of county commissioners this fall.
Michael Hetrick, a Sandusky Township trustee, is challenging two-term incumbent Commissioner Terry Thatcher, while Karen Wagner, a Fremont City Council member, is taking on Commissioner Dan Liskai, who is also finishing his second term. Both commissioners are paid $50,078.86 a year.
In both races, the Democratic challengers have expressed concern that the current commissioners might privatize the county-run paramedic system. A committee of county, city, township, and hospital officials has been studying how to fund EMS since September, 2003.
"I think some of the commissioners are leaning toward privatizing the emergency medical services, which is something I'm strictly against," Mr. Hetrick said.
Ms. Wagner, 59, said the EMS debate is the main reason she decided to challenge Mr. Liskai.
"I'm concerned about the future of EMS here in Sandusky County," she said. "I think they're talking about privatizing it, and I think we need to save this."
But both Mr. Thatcher, 61, of Fremont, and Mr. Liskai, 64, of Woodville, said they have studied the idea and have no plans to pursue it. "Our research says you can't do it any cheaper by privatizing," he said.
Mr. Thatcher said he favors putting a 0.25 percent sales tax earmarked for EMS before the voters in November, 2005. The commissioners wanted to do that this year but dropped the idea after learning that state law doesn't allow such a tax to be earmarked. A bill pending in the Ohio House would clear the way for such an EMS tax.
Mr. Liskai said the EMS committee considered privatizing the service, but that option has been dropped. However, the service will be put under new management next year.
"Regardless of how this happens, it's still going to stay under the commissioners," he said.
The EMS issue is the biggest in the two races, but the candidates differ on other matters too.
Mr. Hetrick, 64, said the commissioners need to do more to extend water and sewer service to outlying parts of the county.
"I think I'm a little more aggressive than Terry as far as doing things," he said. "Terry's been there for eight years, and I feel there's some things I can do better than Terry."
Mr. Thatcher, 61, counters that the county has accomplished plenty during his time as a commissioner. He pointed to the recent renovation of the old county jail into office space for the commissioners and the opening last year of a new juvenile detention center.
Mr. Thatcher said his experience with the county would be hard to replace. "I know the budget inside and out," he said. "I know who to go to when almost any subject comes up."
Ms. Wagner cites her financial background - she has been on the board of directors of the Fremont Federal Credit Union for 14 years - and what she sees as a need to shift the county's spending priorities. To her, the jail project - funded mostly by state grants - was unnecessary.
"I feel there's a clear choice," she said. "You can stay with the uncontrolled and unchallenged spending or have someone in there who's going to question the spending."
Mr. Liskai defends the jail project as one that freed up needed office space in the county courthouse, mostly at state expense. "All this was done with monies that could not be spent for anything else, but if she wishes me to send it back to the state of Ohio for Cuyahoga County, or one of the other counties, that's not good business," he said.
Mr. Liskai said he and his colleagues have avoided frills in their handling of the county's $16.5 million budget. "I don't have a private secretary," he said. "Don't want one. I want to continue to be hands-on."
In other contested races for county offices:
w Republican Irma Celestino, 48, of Fremont, the clerk to the county commissioners, is challenging Treasurer Anna Senior of Green Creek Township, 50, a Democrat. The treasurer's post has an annual salary of $47,995.22.
w Democrat Sharie Salmons, 35, of Clyde, is taking on Republican incumbent Warren Brown, 48, of Clyde, in the race for clerk of courts, a position that pays $59,993.96.
Ballot issues across the county include:
Bellevue (Precinct 2-C only): Local option on whether to allow the sale of wine and intoxicating liquor at Hogues Foodland Market.
Burgoon: 3-mill, five-year renewal levy for current expenses.
Fremont: Income tax referendum - S corporations.
Fremont (Precinct 2-B only): Local option on whether to allow Sunday sales of liquor, wine, and mixed beverages at Kroger.
Helena: 3-mill, five-year renewal levy for current expenses; 3-mill, five-year renewal levy for current expenses.
Lindsey: 4-mill, five-year renewal levy for current expenses.
Madison Township: 0.8-mill, 10-year bond issue to purchase new fire truck.
Townsend Township: 2-mill, five-year replacement levy for fire protection.
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