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Published: Sunday, 10/31/2004

Seneca County: Field of 7 competes for pair of positions

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

To Seneca County voters, Tuesday's ballot might look more like a primary than a general election - at least for the two county commissioner races.

Seven candidates are on the ballot for the two seats, a crowded field that appears to have been drawn into the campaign by voter anger over a 0.5 percent sales tax increase enacted last year by the commissioners.

In the May primary, voters turned out both incumbents, Democrat Tom Distel and Republican Jimmie Young, apparently punishing them for imposing the unpopular tax.

In one race, Democrat Ben Nutter of Liberty Township, who defeated Mr. Distel, is taking on Republican Charles Ardner of Tiffin and independents Mary "Kay" Ranker of Seneca Township and Dennis Wickert of Tiffin.

In the other race, Republican David Sauber of Clinton Township, who defeated Mr. Young, is competing with Democrat David Gross of Tiffin and independent Joe Hartman of Tiffin.

The candidates all have one thing in common - none has held public office before. But they all insist they have the experience and background needed to manage the county's troubled finances and facilities.

Both positions pay $50,354 a year.

Mr. Ardner, 34, director of budgets at Tiffin University, said he'd probably oppose repealing the sales tax increase but isn't sure whether the measure should be allowed to expire in 2007. He said the voters should decide what to do with the 118-year-old county courthouse, which has been closed since March, when a new annex next door opened.

Mr. Ardner said he'd back the proposed expansion of the county jail if the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement commits to sending a minimum number of detainees.

Mr. Nutter, 37, is a Tiffin fire captain. He said the county can't afford to lose the $2.1 million a year from the tax without a major increase in the retail tax base.

He thinks razing the courthouse and replacing it makes more sense than trying to fix up the old structure. Like Mr. Ardner, he supports expanding the jail if the county can reach a deal with the federal government.

Mr. Wickert, 54, a tavern owner and real estate manager and developer, agreed with Mr. Ardner that the voters should decide the fate of the courthouse. He is willing to proceed with a jail expansion if the federal government will guarantee a minimum number of detainees.

Mrs. Ranker, 55, a former restaurant owner, stands out from her three opponents on the jail issue. She argued it wouldn't be profitable to house federal detainees while having to pay the $1.3 million or more needed to expand the facility.

On the courthouse, she said the county should try to find grants or donations to renovate the structure. If that fails, the commissioners should wait until they have enough money to demolish it, Mrs. Ranker said. As for the sales tax, she strongly opposed it last year but now thinks repealing it is probably impossible.

In the other commissioner race, the three candidates take similar stances on the sales tax and the jail but differ on the courthouse.

Mr. Gross, 45, a Tiffin firefighter who headed the county's Emergency Management Agency from 1989 to 1998, said the county needs the revenue from the tax to avoid deep cuts in public services.

Mr. Hartman, 65, a self-employed fireplace salesman and installer, doesn't favor repealing the tax either but said he'd let voters decide in 2007 whether to renew it.

Mr. Sauber, 50, a union construction worker and former auto repair business owner, said he would aim to let the tax expire in three years if the county's finances permit.

Mr. Hartman said the voters should decide what to do with the courthouse, and he said the county should expand the jail only if the federal government guarantees a certain number of detainees for the facility.

Mr. Gross said the commissioners should make a deal, if possible, to protect the $1 million in revenue the county receives yearly for housing the federal detainees. He said the courthouse is a rock-solid building that could be turned into a functional, even beautiful facility despite decades of neglect.

Mr. Sauber, on the other hand, leans toward razing and replacing the decaying landmark. He said expanding the jail would be "a great idea" as long as the county gets a guaranteed number of inmates from the federal government.

Besides selecting two new commissioners, county voters also will choose between Republican Coroner Donald Shanabrook, 72, of Hopewell Township, and Democratic challenger Mark Akers, 32, of Tiffin, and between Democratic Treasurer Marguerite Bernard, 71, of Tiffin, and Republican rival Elaine Schlenker, 54, of Loudon Township.

The coroner is paid $37,332 a year, while the treasurer makes $48,259.

Candidates for other county offices are unopposed.

County voters also will decide numerous municipal issues:

• Attica: 3-mill, five-year replacement levy for police protection.

• AVR Fire District: 1.75-mill additional continuing - or permanent - levy for fire protection.

• Bettsville: 2-mill, four-year replacement levy for current operating expenses.

• Bettsville Recreation Board: 0.5-mill, five-year renewal levy for the H.P. Eells Park.

• Bloomville: 1.1-mill, continuing replacement levy for police protection.

• Bloomville: 1.5-mill, five-year, renewal levy for current expenses.

• Eden Township: 1-mill, continuing replacement levy for fire protection.

• Fostoria: Question to continue collecting tax on S corporation shareholders' net profits.

• Fostoria, Precinct 4A: Local option, Sunday sales, particular location within precinct.

• Jackson Township: Proposed repeal of zoning plan, unincorporated area of the township.

• Scipio Township: 1.5-mill, five-year replacement levy for fire protection.

• Tiffin: Proposed ordinance reducing the allocation of the city income tax proceeds for capital improvements and related debt service from 21.5 percent to 10 percent, six years, effective Jan. 1, 2005.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078



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