TIFFIN - Seneca County Commissioner Dave Sauber figures the board of county commisssioners has accomplished a lot during his first term in office - reducing the county's debt, expanding the county jail without borrowing money, and putting together a comprehensive road study necessary for future highway improvements.
"I feel very secure in the fact that we've done a good job so far, excluding one controversial issue," he said.
That issue - the fate of the vacant 1884 courthouse - had been hanging in the balance when Mr. Sauber and fellow Commissioner Ben Nutter took office in 2005, and in the balance it remains.
On the same ballot in which county voters will decide whether to support an $8.5 million renovation plan for the courthouse, Republican voters also will decide between Mr. Sauber and three challengers for his seat on the board of commissioners.
In a separate race on March 4, Republican voters will choose from three candidates vying for the nomination to challenge Mr. Nutter, a Democrat, in November.
Whether Mr. Sauber wins the primary, he said he will move forward with renovation of the courthouse if voters approve the 0.72-mill bond issue on the primary ballot and likewise move ahead with demolition and con-struction of a new courthouse if they defeat it.
"If I'm not re-elected, I will continue to do my job and I will follow the directions of the March 4 vote in regards to our space-needs issue," he said, using the term he prefers for the courthouse dilemma.
Commissioners say the county needs a new home for juvenile and probate courts, which are located in a cramped, nonhandicapped-accessible building. Those courts would move into the courthouse annex opened in 2004 while the common pleas courts would move from the annex into either a new or restored courthouse.
Among Mr. Sauber's challengers, Jeffrey Kuhn, a local contractor who never has run for public office, said he believes the 1884 courthouse can be restored, but he too wants to see what voters say before deciding how the county should proceed.
He said the county needs to address the building needs of the juvenile and probate courts as well as the too-small juvenile detention center.
"Who allowed all this to happen? That's my question," Mr. Kuhn said. "I will handle it and I will tackle it for the taxpayer and solve it in four years."
Fifteen-year Jackson Township Trustee Edward Brickner, who works in sales for Bowling Green-based Midwood Inc., said he hopes to see the county resolve the courthouse question March 4 and move on to more important issues, such as job retention and business development.
He said he recognizes juvenile and probate courts need more space and believes commissioners ought to look at existing buildings rather than spending millions of dollars to renovate, demolish, or replace the old courthouse.
"I'm all for saving money," Mr. Brickner said.
As a rural resident and township trustee, he said if elected he would explore the formation of a countywide emergency medical service and would work with the sheriff to increase patrols throughout the county.
Herbert Faber, who owns a construction company and has made two previous unsuccessful bids for commissioner, said the county can't afford to raze the courthouse and replace it, although he's not sure it can afford to restore it either. He has offered to renovate a room in the building and believes other companies or individuals might be willing to do the same.
"I do want to save that courthouse. If we can't afford to do anything with it now, let it sit. It's not going anywhere," Mr. Faber said.
He said he is interested in tax relief - not higher taxes. If elected, he said he would work to have property valuations adjusted to market value so that owners aren't paying taxes on what he believes are inflated values. He said he would make up for the loss in tax revenues by cutting all waste in county government.
The winner of the Republican primary for the seat held by Mr. Sauber, in November will face Democrat Jackie Fletcher, a staunch supporter of courthouse renovation.
She is unopposed in the Democratic primary
In the contest for the seat now held by Mr. Nutter, another courthouse supporter, Adams Engle, a local real estate appraiser, is running against William Crist and Kurt Smith.
Mr. Engle, one of seven county residents who sued county commissioners for alleged violations of open-records and open-meeting laws last year, said he felt compelled to run because he believes residents deserve commissioners who listen to all points of view, discuss matters openly, and treat people with respect.
He said he would like the courthouse renovated in stages using as many grants and donations as the county can attract.
"We need to put this behind us because we have other problems we need to solve," Mr. Engle said.
Mr. Smith, who runs a local furniture restoration business, said he would focus on economic development if elected, promote a more positive image of Seneca County, and improve local infrastructure to attract and retain businesses.
As for the courthouse, he said he believes renovation is the best use of the county's money.
If the bond issue fails, he believes that would represent a vote against a new tax, not a vote for demolition.
"As a commissioner, your job is to do what voters say, but I don't think voters had a clear statement in saying, tear it down," Mr. Smith said, adding that if it fails, "I would look at other options because I don't think [demolition and new construction] is the wisest decision."
Mr. Crist, who said previously that he didn't have a strong opinion on the courthouse issue, declined to answer questions directly but referred to a prepared position statement in which he did not mention the courthouse but talked about the need to reduce spending rather than raise taxes.
He also proposed forming a committee to look into a charter form of county government like Summit County has.
"The point is we can structure our government the way we want to and do things the way we want to, not the way the state tells us to," he said. "This will save us money."
The winner of the Republican primary will face Mr. Nutter, the only Democrat on the ballot, in November.
Commissioners are paid $55,524 a year.
Seneca County voters have two other contested Republican primaries to decide.
Six Republicans are seeking the probate and juvenile court judgeship that will be vacated at the end of the year with the retirement of Judge Paul Kutscher. No Democrats filed for the office.
Running are Kathryn E.M. Hanson, a former assistant county prosecutor who has worked as magistrate in probate and juvenile courts for more than six years; Susan M. Jones, a private-practice attorney in Tiffin; Jennifer L. Kahler, a private-practice attorney in Tiffin; Jay A. Meyer, a former assistant county prosecutor who has a private practice in Tiffin; Kent D. Nord, a private-practice attorney in Tiffin, and Jeffry J. Stockner, an assistant Seneca County prosecutor who handles civil matters and provides legal counsel to county and township officials and boards.
Two-term Sheriff Thomas Steyer has two Republican challengers: Attica Police Chief Jeffrey Briggs, Sr., and Fredrick Stevens of Tiffin, a Tiffin police sergeant who worked as part-time chief in the village of Republic from 2003 to 2006.
Mr. Steyer was Tiffin police chief prior to his election to sheriff in 2000.
In addition to the courthouse bond issue, county voters will decide a five-year, 0.8-mill operating levy to pay for mental health and recovery services in Seneca County.
If approved, the levy would generate $692,700 a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $24.50 a year.
A similar request, which required passage in Seneca, Sandusky, and Wyandot counties, failed in November, prompting the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board to seek separate levies in each county.
Among the school levies on the ballot:
•Mohawk Local Schools are asking for a five-year, 0.5 percent income tax.
•Arcadia Local Schools are asking voters to renew a four-year, 6.4-mill operating levy.
•Pioneer Career and Technology Center has an additional five-year, 1-mill levy on the ballot.
•Clyde-Green Springs Schools are asking for a continuing 1 percent income tax.
•Also in the village of Green Springs, voters will decide whether to allow Archie's Grill & Pub a liquor permit to sell beer, wine, and mixed beverages.
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