Friday, December 19, 2014

Stottlemire remains voters’ best asset moving toward district development


Tried and true?

Or someone new?

Tried and true?

Or someone new?

Those are the options District 5 voters face in the Franklin County Board of Commissioners race pitting incumbent Don Stottlemire against challenger Randall Renoud in Tuesday’s Republican primary election.

Unlike some of the other races on Franklin County ballots, both candidates appear to be primarily running on a platform of service to their communities — rather than one or more focusing most of their campaign efforts bashing a political opponent. It’s refreshing to see District 5 with two men passionate about the opportunity to give back to the benefit of their fellow residents and the future of the county.

Stottlemire, 66, Rantoul, is a veteran commissioner, having served on the board since 2000. He’s the last man standing after several contentious, drama-filled years that saw sparring between county officials and, more importantly, a handful of major actions that changed the direction of the county for the better.

“The most rewarding part has been seeing how things have progressed and become more efficient,” Stottlemire said, highlighting formalizing a human resources department and establishing the county administrator position as two of the most worthwhile accomplishments of the board during his tenure.

But Stottlemire also has seen the county suffer several blows in the past 14 years — especially in the form of funding cuts caused by the Kansas Legislature. For example, Franklin County was receiving about $750,000 revenue from its idle funds in 2000, Stottlemire said, but now only receives about $30,000. The state also pulled demand transfers from the county, which cost about $500,000, he said.

Commissioners have lead county department heads down a more frugal and cost-effective path, he said, to prevent the county from having to raise the local mill levy to offset the losses rippling back from Topeka.

“Sure we could just keep raising taxes, but that’s not the answer,” he said. “We’re always trying to keep the county on a steady path, even though everyone is demanding more services.”

Renoud, 65, Wellsville, who retired this spring after 44 years of service (33 as an administrator) in Wellsville schools, agreed state funding changes are one of the county’s biggest challenges, saying commissioners should be proactive; not just reacting to revenue losses after the tap runs dry.

“Two years from now, the state budget will be a mess and the county will have to pick up the pieces,” Renoud said. “The county must prepare now for what’s coming.”

The challenger suggested finding more cost-efficiencies by analyzing county services and their viability, as well as evaluating employees’ effectiveness. Another tactic would involve “zeroing out” departmental accounts at budget time, and making department heads start the process from scratch to determine what actually is needed, not just what has been put in the budget year after year, he said.

Planned growth was another area both candidates said needs commissioners’ focus in coming years. With District 5 the closest portion of the county to BNSF Railway’s intermodal Logistics Park Kansas City facility near Edgerton, Stottlemire said the Wellsville area especially must be ready for the growth local economic development leaders have predicted.

“We haven’t seen development trickling down from the intermodal yet,” he said, “but Wellsville is poised for growth. We’re kind of taking a wait-and-see approach. We don’t want to jump the gun too much.”

Still, Stottlemire sees the value in investing in economic development. The Franklin County Development Council was one of the only entities to receive a funding increase from the county this budget session, he said, a decision he credits to the hard work of Jeff Seymour, the development council’s director, to expand the county’s tax base.

“I can’t see backing off now,” he said.

Renoud challenged that more yet needs to be done to bring industries, businesses and new blood to the area.

“What have we done to bring people here?” he asked.

The northern part of the county suffers from a tremendous high-speed internet and cell phone service gap, Renoud rightly noted, saying the lack of quality service was a deterrent to development.

“We can stay like we are, but that’s not going to bring growth,” he said. “In reality, the global economy is here, and we can’t stay in the dark ages of the status quo.”

It’s clear both men have a grasp on many of the concerns shared by District 5 voters, as well as some of the unique challenges of the county amid a sluggish economy and potential economic development boon. But which candidate would better serve his constituents?

For the answer, we fall back on proven experience. District 5 has had no greater advocate than Stottlemire during the past 14 years. Not only has he been a calm, reliable and sane voice on the board of commissioners, but he has worked diligently to represent both his district and the county board to the best of his ability.

Stottlemire is perhaps best known for religiously attending nearly every city and township meeting in the communities he serves. He recently was honored, in fact, for attending his 300th Wellsville City Council meeting, where he’s been such a mainstay that his county updates have been added as a regular item on the council’s agenda. The incumbent also takes part in many community groups’ gatherings, serving as an ever-present feature at Wellsville Chamber of Commerce meetings, for example.

And Stottlemire isn’t just keeping a seat warm. His ears are open. He’s ready to answer questions and hear complaints. He serves as a direct line of communication between the community and the board. He applies fair reasoning in his efforts to steer the county toward decisions that benefit District 5.

“Somebody once asked me when I first ran ‘What are you going to do for our town?’ And I said ‘Nothing I wouldn’t do for any other town in my district or throughout the county.’ And I’ve always felt that way,” Stottlemire said.

Many of us typically are fans of term limits, but Stottlemire is the kind of elected official who makes them seem unnecessary. He’s serving for all the right reasons and has provided steady, informed leadership through tumultuous times.

We’re a fan of District 5’s biggest supporter.

Tommy Felts,

managing editor

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