Candidates for Caldwell County commissioner discuss big ideas

Apr. 30, 2014 @ 05:32 PM

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The four Republican candidates for two seats on the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners gathered in the city county chambers Wednesday afternoon to talk about some issues that have emerged in the campaign.

Incumbents Mike LaBrose and Chris Barlowe face challengers Ben Griffin and Donnie Potter in the May 6 primary. There are no Democratic candidates. The questions at Wednesday’s forum were posed by the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce.

On coping with the county jail, where overcrowding is requiring the county to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to house inmates in other jails:

Potter said that crime is a major concern, but he does not support expanding the jail or building a new one in the short-term, though eventually the county will need more jail space. The sheriff needs to work with the district attorney’s office to speed cases though the courts, he said.

Barlowe said the county has been addressing the situation, and he agreed that no expansion or new construction is needed now. He said he favors expanding the use of house arrest, reducing some bond amounts so lower-level offenders can more easily get out of jail while awaiting trial, and letting state legislators since law-enforcement officials blame much of the overcrowding problem on a recent change in sentencing laws.

Griffin said the county needs to reach out to legislators, work with the D.A., work to reduce bond amounts, increase use of house arrests, which he said costs the county $4 per day per inmate compared to $45 per day for housing inmates at the jail, and the county needs to make sure it’s always doing the right paperwork to get paid for housing federal inmates, which brings in $65 a day per inmate.

LaBrose agreed with the other candidates, saying the county needs to work closely with the D.A. and sheriff’s office, and increase use of house arrest, noting that the number on house arrest already has gone from 30 to 60.

On pay for county employee pays:

Potter said employee pay is a top priority, saying that “previous commissioners have done a lot to take money and benefits away.” He noted the 13 percent turnover rate in the county’s emergency services and sheriff’s departments.

Barlowe said that despite the economic hardships that have hit county budgets in recent years, in his four years in office he has twice voted for a 2 percent cost-of-living pay increase for county workers.

Griffin said Caldwell’s employees have not seen the reduction in hours and other hardships that private-sector workers have seen in the past five years, noting employees’ 12 days of sick leave and up to five weeks of vacation time. Their situation has been “much better than the private sector,” he said, though he is in favor of cost-of-living increases where warranted.

LaBrose said he also supported the two cost-of-living pay increases Barlowe supported and will continue to work for county employees.

On long-term planning issues:

LaBrose said “the need is for a short- and long-term plan with clear and flexible goals.” He identified his capital outlay priorities as transparency in the county government, bringing the county’s technology up to date, making sure the county’s emergency services have new, reliable front-line vehicles, a new Emergency Management Services base in the county, expanding the animal shelter, and school and other infrastructure needs. 

Potter agreed that the county must establish a plan. His priorities were EMS equipment, patrol cars, funding health department and social services needs, and keeping technology up to date.

Barlowe said the county has recently been improving its ambulance fleet, with a new one expected to arrive any day, noting that when he took office four years ago, the repair bill for ambulances was $72,000 but for 2014 it’s projected to be $140,000, reinforcing the need for new vehicles that will have lower long-term maintenance costs. He said his priorities lie with EMS services and a long-range plan.

Griffin said that during his previous term on the board, 2008-12, a five-year budget plan was established, and the county was able to fund all county services appropriately. He said that the other candidates were touting a long-term plan without really knowing what it is, and that certain plans like a five-year vehicle rotation are already in place.

On their general vision and primary concerns for the county:

Barlowe said he sees a county that’s recovering from economic hardships, advocating a more diverse economy for a bright future, and giving schools the resources they need to give students a four-year degree without leaving the county. He said he’ll continue to recruit new industry and increase the employment base in the county.

Griffin said the county has worked to promote jobs and continues to work with schools. He said the county commissioners must be managers prepared to make big decisions, and that the county needs “proven leadership that keeps promises.”

LaBrose said he sees the county’s brightest days ahead, that he’s encouraged by job growth and wants the county to continue working closely with municipalities and embrace the growing, diverse economy and use taxpayer resources wisely. He said he’s concerned the county will go back to its old, micromanaging ways, and that he wants to reopen the county’s planning department to help manage and improve growth.

Potter said his main concern is that the county must stop living in the past and focus on the future. He said he’s concerned about past leadership and its lack of concern for the people, saying he plans on listening to the people, community leaders, department heads and employees to be prepared for the future.

WANT TO WATCH?

The forum for the candidates for two seats on the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners will air on Caldwell County Today, Charter Communications channel 190. Show times: April 18-25: 4 a.m., 4 p.m., 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.; April 25-May 2: 6 a.m., 6 p.m., 12 a.m. and 12 p.m.; May 2-6: 7 a.m., 7 p.m., 1 a.m. and 1 p.m.