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Published: Thursday, 4/20/2006

Commissioner's race tops ballot

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two Republicans and a Democrat are lined up in the May 2 primary in a quest to replace veteran Ottawa County commissioner and former county engineer John Papcun, who leaves office in January.

The race to succeed Mr. Papcun is the only contested election in the county's primary, which will offer voters a chance to decide tax issues and a local option to permit liquor sales.

Voters living in the Woodmore Local School District, which is partially in Sandusky and Ottawa counties, and Fremont City Schools in Sandusky County, are each facing a 6.9-mill emergency property tax levy on the ballot. Those casting ballots in Sandusky County also face a countywide request for renewal of a 0.3-mill tax levy for 911 emergency telephone service and a few other school issues.

Ottawa County Republicans Steve S. Benko, 52, of Port Clinton and Jenine M. Porter of Catawba Island are campaigning for the right to challenge James M. Sass in November's general election.

Mr. Sass is unchallenged in the Democratic primary.

The primary is Mr. Benko's first run for public office. He said he decided to run after returning to Port Clinton after living elsewhere for 15 years. He left a Reston, Va., consulting firm in 2004 and opened up his own consulting and home-service firm. He's also been involved in community projects in Port Clinton since then.

His campaign is centered around "new progressive leadership" that will build on his experience gained from living in other communities. He said Port Clinton needs an infusion of new businesses to stir its economic fortunes.

"We need more economic growth and bring or build more business in Ottawa County," he said.

Economic development is also a theme of his GOP challenger, Ms. Porter, 49. She ran unsuccessfully for the commissioner's seat two years ago, garnering 47 percent of the vote in her first foray in seeking elected office. She has lived in the area 12 years.

"We are sorely lacking in economic growth here," she said, adding that growth should be focused on attracting commercial interests "instead of taxing residents."

"We don't have the job creation," said Ms. Porter, a self-employed consultant who focuses on project development and marketing. "People think this is a wealthy area but we are not growing."

Mr. Sass, 52, is a lifelong resident who is in his seventh year as a Portage Township trustee. He's also president of the Ottawa County Township Association and a third-generation farmer.

His campaign has set a goal on "jobs and the economic situation," but he said his goal would be to continue with the work the current county commissioners are focused on, such as expanding sewer projects and working with developers of subdivisions for homes.

"We need to create jobs that families can live on," said Mr. Sass, a retired state wildlife official whose work included marsh management.

The auditor's race will offer a single candidate on the ballot: incumbent Jo Ellen Regal, a Democrat.

The Port Clinton City School District is seeking a 4.2-mill issue that will run 28 years. The $37 million it will raise will be used to build two elementary schools and acquire land. Building improvements are planned for some of those funds.

In an attempt to sell voters on the new tax, a citizens committee has put together a 13-minute video that documents the conditions of the schools and the need for new facilities. The video is aired on the local television outlet and is available to check out from the library.

If approved, Catawba, Jefferson, and Portage elementary schools would be closed. In addition, Bataan Elementary would be renovated into a replacement for the Port Clinton Middle School, which would be closed.

The bond issue would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $124.80 a year.

Other issues that will be decided include:

w ●Portage Fire District, 3 mill replacement levy, for equipment and other needs;

w Allen Township, 0.6 mill additional levy, five years, maintaining cemeteries;

w ●Clay Township (excluding Genoa), 1 mill additional tax, continuous, road repairs;

w ●Clay Township (excluding Genoa), 1 mill additional levy, five years, purchase road equipment;

w ●Portage Township, precinct 2, local option Sunday liquor sales for Kroger Co.

w Lake Local School District, 8.75-mill additional tax, just under $2 million a year; (16 voters in Ottawa County);

The primary picture in Sandusky County is smaller, with no contested races.

Democrat Glenn Baker of Lindsey and Republican Brad Smith, the incumbent, are unchallenged for bids in the county commissioner's race, setting up a showdown between the two this fall.

The Republicans have not fielded a candidate in the auditor's race, leaving Auditor Bill Farrell of Fremont, a Democrat, unchallenged.

The 6.9-mill Woodmore school district levy would raise $916,100 in operating funds for the district for four years.

If a levy does not pass, school officials warn the district will be pushed into a deficit in the 2007-08 school year.

The district's 1-mill permanent improvements levy will expire in 2008; its five-year, 4.9-mill operating levy will expire in 2009, and the levy that will appear in May will expire in 2010, if passed.

Fremont City Schools' additional 6.9 mills would be for five years. School officials said that without added revenue, the district is facing a budget deficit by the end of the 2006-07 school year of at least $300,000.

Other school issues include:

w Clyde, renewal of 1.5 percent income tax, five years; the tax generates $3.5 million a year and is primarily used to support the city's $4 million general fund;

w●Clyde-Green Springs Schools, renewal of 2.5 mills, five years, emergency;

The only county-wide issue voters will decide is the renewal of a 0.3 mill tax levy for 911 emergency telephone service, which would run five years, if approved.

The levy generates $283,000 a year.

Contact Jim Sielicki at:

jsielicki@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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