Chesterton Tribune

 

 

South Commissioner race: Laura Blaney faces challenge from Fred Martin

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By LILY REX

In the general election Tuesday, Nov. 3, Democrat Laura Blaney will defend her South district seat on the Porter County Board of Commissioners against Republican challenger Fred Martin.

Early in-person voting begins today in Porter County.

All Porter County voters vote in this race. The candidates are required to live in one of the four South County Townships.

The Chesterton Tribune invited both Blaney and Martin to participate in a candidate questionnaire. The Tribune set word limits and reserved the right to edit for length.

1) Age, place of residence, occupation.

Blaney: Age 52. Live in Porter Township. Iím a Porter County Commissioner, joint owner and partner in multiple rental properties, wife, and mother of four children.

Martin: I am 56 years old, and Iím a lifelong resident of Kouts. Iím a Real Estate Associate Broker with Century 21 Affiliated in Valparaiso.

2) For Blaney: Why are you seeking re-election to the County Board of Commissioners? (75 words)

Blaney: To finish the many projects we have started. Continue the significant progress we have made in infrastructure improvements including roads, bridges, and stormwater. Continue re-evaluating costs and function of every department and find ways to reduce costs while maintaining and even improving services. Continue improving transparency and access to county services. Continue advancing the extension of Willowcreek Road from 700 North to U.S. 30 and the realignment and refurbishing of the Calumet Trail.

For Martin: Why are you seeking election to the County Board of Commissioners? (75 words)

Martin: I want to be an advocate for the citizens of Porter County. I donít like complacency in government, and I want to answer questions citizens have about the decisions that county government makes. I also want to help guide Porter County in a direction to be a leader in creating modern, well-paying jobs and workforce development.

3) For Blaney: Describe your achievements in office. (100 words)

Blaney: Worked with colleagues and legislators to form Porter County Foundation with hospital [sale] proceeds. Completed $30 million capital improvement projects addressing long-deferred maintenance and space needs. Reduced reliance on outside contractors by use of internal resources and manpower. Past two years completed a record 200 miles of roadwork, 331 stormwater projects, repaired / replaced 40+ bridges. Reduced employee health insurance costs $6 million annually while increasing benefits. Increased collaboration with municipalities improving constituent services at less cost. Revamped our self-funded venues. Led drive to join Shared Ethics Commission. New animal shelter. Started HR and Facilities departments. County property tax rate remains relatively flat.

For Martin: What specific skill sets would you bring to the Board of Commissioners if elected? (100 words)

Martin: I bring a well-rounded and varied skill set to the table. Iíve worked for a trucking company and a manufacturing company. I was a paramedic, EMS instructor, and supervisor. I was the Director of EMS Education and Development, and my job included keeping statistics and reading medical studies. I was the Deputy Director of the Porter County Emergency Management Agency, and I have also served as the past president of both the Kouts Chamber of Commerce and the Kouts Economic Development Committee. I bring a wide range of working and practical knowledge along with experience that will benefit citizens.

4) For Blaney: As a sitting Commissioner, what are two things you think the Board could have handled better in the past four years? Explain. (100 words)

Blaney: At our September 29, 2020 meeting, we made a nearly 80% reduction in fees associated with laying fiber optic cable to expand broadband service to residents in rural areas. This issue was brought to the forefront because of COVID and the increased need for reliable internet in rural areas. I wish we had done this a long time ago. Second, I think we can do a better job recognizing and celebrating the significant contributions of our employees in achieving the progress the county has made over the past several years.

For Martin: As a citizen seeking election to the Board, what are two things you think the Board of Commissioners has done a good job of the past four years? Explain. (100 words)

Martin: Lowering the cost of healthcare insurance was a major accomplishment. This is a benefit for both county employees and the taxpayers they serve. The other major accomplishment is the remodeling and updating of the Expo Center. This should enable the Expo Center to be more attractive to event providers, making Expo more self-sufficient.

5) Differentiate yourself from your opponent and indicate why in particular you believe yourself to be the better candidate. (100 words)

Blaney: Day-to-day life has been upended by COVID and raised the stakes in this election. Our citizens, businesses, and County government face a period of economic turmoil. Now is not the time for an inexperienced and unproven candidate. Iíve been part of Porter Countyís above average government for a long time and have never seen the current level of production and synergy. I believe that I have demonstrated the strong, level-headed, and experienced leadership needed to successfully navigate County government through the uncertainty of today to a brighter and more promising future.

Martin: I feel my experience in serving the community in various capacities, both paid and unpaid, has separated me from most candidates. I have experience making critical decisions quickly and then being able to speak to my decisions. Iíve worked three jobs to save for a down payment on a house, and I know what itís like to work to get ahead without the benefit of family money. I believe my ability to relate to a diverse group of people in a wide range of circumstances sets me apart from most people.

6) What are the key issues in this race? (75 words)

Blaney: Experience, civility, and leadership. We face significant revenue challenges in 2021-22 due to economic impacts of COVID. With six years on Council and eight years as Commissioner, I have deep knowledge of the intricacy of our revenue sources and expenditures. Iíve shown I have the backbone to make tough decisions when necessary. I have a track record of bringing people together to find common ground and always put citizens first. I get things done.

Martin: I believe one of the most critical and immediate issues is working in the post pandemic world. This was an unseen and expected issue that will have negative consequences on the Countyís tax revenue stream. Maintaining funding to operate the necessary functions of County Government and maintaining and updating infrastructure will be a continuing issue, especially drainage issues.

7) What are your priorities for use of the funds in the Porter County Non-profit Charitable Foundation? (75 words)

Blaney: Continue using profits for necessary capital improvements and funding operations without tax increases. Plan for years like 2018 (returns equaled zero) by building our rainy day fund to three years budgeted expenses. Continue to provide a total of $1.2 million annually to Opportunity Enterprises, Council on Aging and Family and Youth Services Bureau, and potentially expand support of local non-profits when our rainy day fund total is met and deferred capital improvements are completed.

Martin: My priorities will be programs that help our most vulnerable citizens, our children, elderly and other disadvantaged people. We need to make sure our citizens have their basic needs met. Next would be programs that inspire, inform, and educate people. I would also consider programs that clean and improve neighborhoods.

8) National issues often dominate political conversations, and some would say tensions are running especially high due to the upcoming presidential election. Explain why local government is where youíve chosen to serve and why itís important to you. (100 words)

Blaney: Local government has the most direct effect on residentsí quality of life. Pothole repair, stormwater management, answering and responding to 911 calls, immunizations, clean water, traffic control, police preparedness and response, property values and tax rates, animal control and sheltering, unsafe buildings, zoning, emergency preparedness and response…these are just some of many real life impacts of local government. In local government I can improve the lives of my family, friends, and the entire community. I have been very fortunate to spend my life in Porter County. Paying it forward and setting up the next generation for success is incredibly gratifying.

Martin: I feel that local government is where I can make the biggest difference. Local government, though not given enough credit, has the biggest impact on most citizens' lives. Examples would be zoning, attracting jobs to the area, local education, and infrastructure. The type of emergency services you receive is determined by the local government. The amenities that are offered at the county parks are determined by the county government, and your day-to-day quality of life issues are largely determined by your local government.

9) Describe an experience you have had outside of serving in/campaigning for local government office that elevated your understanding of how local government affects everyday people. (125 words)

Blaney: Before I sought public office, my husband and I were building our forever home on my grandparentsí land in Porter Township. Right before move-in day, we learned a landfill was trying to locate just across the field. In our quest to keep that from happening, I realized how little I knew about the daily workings of our local government. I had to quickly learn how the often complicated process of planning, zoning, and zoning variances can have such a huge impact on quality of life. I saw how it affected each of our neighbors and our school. Our fight was successful, and the process taught me that good government requires public participation, attention, and transparency.

Martin: My experiences of how local government works is too long to list here. From my time in EMS and the Fire Service along with my time in EMA, to being involved in Economic Development, I have seen how the process of government works and have been involved in reviewing specs and obtaining bids for ambulances to purchasing property and developing a new park. Iíve also been involved in awarding faćade grants to small businesses and have been involved in activities that improved our community through political funding and support.

10) The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis the likes of which our nation hasnít seen in over a century--since the 1918 influenza epidemic. What are your specific plans for leading Porter County through this crisis? (125 words)

Blaney: Iíll continue to be transparent and provide the most up-to-date factual information possible. Under my direction, we launched the first County COVID Dashboard in the state-- providing our residents with data needed to make informed decisions to protect themselves and their families. I will continue to support the Health Department in efforts to reduce transmission through expansion of testing, contact tracing, public education, and support to our local schools. County government will continue to lead by example by taking measures to reduce the risk of transmission for our citizens and employees in our County buildings while still getting our work done. As previously stated, I will work to address the revenue challenges we face in the next few years without reducing services or increasing taxes.

Martin: We will have to plan for the economic impact of COVID, educate people about the importance of good personal hygiene and keeping your living spaces clean and disinfected, and work with businesses on taking preventative measures to mitigate the spread of all viruses. We will also need to keep more detailed statistics about the COVID-19 virus so we know not only how many people have tested positive, but the number of false positive tests too. In my opinion, we need to track many more details to understand COVID-19ís local impact. I believe itís imperative we know how COVID-19 has affected us locally and not rely on data from other sources. We need to be able to compare our data to data from other sources.

 

Posted 10/6/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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