VALPARAISO — Each of the three Republican candidates seeking to replace the outgoing North District Porter County commissioner offer years of government experience.
The three vying for their party's nomination are Jim Biggs, Jeff Trout and John Cannon.
Biggs served as county commissioner from 1992 to 1999 and has served on the Porter County Council since 2011. He he is running for the commissioner seat because of its key role in setting the values in the way county government operates.
"If done with compassion and professional and ethical standards, I have seen firsthand the good the Board of County Commissioners can have on the overall quality of life here in our county," Biggs said.
John Cannon, who is starting his second four-year term on the Portage City Council and has more than 25 years of experience hiring and managing more than 1,100 retail employees, said he is running because county government needs leadership that works well with others.
"Our county is unique. Its placement is a fertile ground for future economic growth," he said. "Our county government needs to encourage our cities and towns to fuel economic growth — jobs."
Jeff Trout, who has more than 15 years of public service including time on the Chesterton Town Council, Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, said his experience prepared him to hit the ground running as commissioner.
"The groundwork has been laid for Porter County to see dramatic improvements over the next few years, and the implementation of those planned improvements requires someone with a steady hand and proven experience in project management," he said.
"Much like the members of the Board of Commissioners, the Chesterton Town Council was directly responsible for the day-to-day operations of the town, including the street department, police department, sanitation and sewers and economic development."
Trout said infrastructure improvements and maintenance are his top priorities.
"With establishment of the stormwater district, the county now has the financial ability to begin addressing the over $20 million dollars in critical drainage projects," he said.
Trout said he believes millions in road and bridge money that could be coming from the state should be set aside until a comprehensive plan is developed.
Cannon said his top priorities include supporting the sheriff in efforts to reduce illegal drugs, promoting that the county is "open for business" for job creation and improving infrastructure in south county and South Haven.
He also said he would like to see proceeds from the 2007 sale of the county hospital be used for "investments in our county-owned property, sharing of the proceeds with residents and an investment plan for future users funds — while setting aside a great deal for our future."
Biggs said his top priority "is to represent this office in a such way that earns the respect and the admiration of the public, which it is supposed to serve."
Biggs said the biggest concern facing county government is balancing the revenue decline with demand for services.
"Our county's ability to address future growth, crime, economic development, technology and innovation, or swiftly respond to an extreme event, greatly depends on our ability to plan smarter and more long-term," Biggs said.
Trout said he believes the facilities plan presented recently to the Porter County Council is a positive step toward addressing serious maintenance needs at all but two of county government's 14 buildings.
"It not only saves money on maintenance, it assigns direct accountability and responsibility to the facilities director for implementation of the plan," he said.
Cannon said he would address the extensive building needs by bringing together leaders from labor, business and elected officials to form a priority list. Goals would include ravamping the maintenance crew, creating a group to oversee the priority list and bringing together labor and business professionals to put a facility maintenance department in place.
"Hospital funds will go a long way with a plan and a budget for our crumbling infrastructure and building," Cannon said, adding maintenance money needs to remain part of the county budget.
Biggs lauded the county commissioners for hiring a qualified building manager late last year.
"After careful examination by this individual, he proposed an operations model that will do away with those contracts which he has outlined as unnecessary while also decreasing the county's use of consultants...," he said.
Biggs said the more strict and more accountable management structure should allow existing revenue to cover the necessary building repairs and maintenance.
None of the candidates said they would exercise their option as commissioner of joining the county's self-funded health insurance plan.
"It has been a long-standing policy of Porter County government that health insurance benefits are not made available to part-time employees," Biggs said.
Trout said, "I do believe that all candidates for county commissioner or county council should disclose whether they intend to enroll in the county health insurance plan and let the voters decide whether it is appropriate."
Cannon said, "Our county employees deserve the best, and I intend to work with leaders to ensure they have the best at the lowest cost. Priority is with our county employees and not with politicians."