Champaign County Commissioner Bob Corbett will compete with fellow Republican Audra Bean to retain his county commissioner seat during the May 8 primary election.
A lifelong resident of Champaign County, Corbett lives in Wayne Township with his wife, Sherrill. They are the parents of four children and have six grandchildren.
Corbett graduated from Triad Local Schools and received a bachelor’s degree from Urbana University and a master’s degree from Central Michigan University.
Corbett retired from Navistar International after 40 years and has served for 19 years on local, regional and state boards of education. Corbett has served as a county commissioner for the last 24 years with 19 of those years on boards of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.
Bean grew up in Union Township. She is a graduate of Urbana University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Magna Cum Laude.
Bean has worked for CRSI for 28 years and is the administrative director. Her position she is on the senior management team, liaison to the board of trustees and the safety and health chairman.
As a leader in her community, Bean was recently appointed to the Urbana University Advisory Board. She is a member and past president of the Urbana Lions Club, Urbana Moose, VFW, American Legion, NRA, Ohio/Champaign County Bureau and is the past chairman of the Champaign County Republican Party, serving three years.
Bean’s hobbies include cooking, reading, skeet shooting and target practice.
Both candidates answered multiple questions from the Daily Citizen. Their responses are listed below:
Describe the state of the county government’s financial situation. Do you have any ideas on how income can be increased or spending decreased? If so, what are your ideas?
Bean: The financials of the county are not readily available to the public. The citizens must seek out that information not only from the county commissioners but each individual department.
That is why I believe Treasurer Josh Mandel’s “Ohio Checkbook” should be implemented by the county commissioners. This allows the citizens to see each check/payment that is made, when and to what organization or to what person. This sets a new transparency standard. Several of the school systems, townships and villages in Champaign County are using this system now to show transparency to the public and to allow the citizens to hold their elected officials accountable.
The majority of the income that comes into the county is through property tax and through sales tax. I think our taxes are suitable and would not advocate for any increase at this time.
One way to possibly increase the income is to lobby our state legislature to give back the millions of dollars that were taken from local governments through the Local Government Fund (LGF). Our governor balanced his budget by taking money away from Champaign County. We now get a fraction of that LGF money. We need to get that back into the hands of local government where it can be utilized for better infrastructure, public safety and the upkeep of our roads and bridges.
To decrease spending, when I am elected, I will be looking into the Administrative Costs of Champaign County. Cutting administrative costs is a good way to decrease the overall budget. Businesses are doing it all the time. I believe the county should be run like a business. It is a government business using your tax dollars.
I will also be looking into the bidding processes throughout the county. Streamlining and refining the process could be another way we can look to decrease spending. We need to make sure we are bidding out all work done throughout the county. Again, looking out for your tax dollars.
Corbett: Our county government’s financial condition is strong. We recently fulfilled our outstanding debt obligation through solid fiscal management and continue to maintain a bond rating of A+. The county has benefited from the successful management of our jail population, making it possible to accomplish long needed repairs and maintenance to county facilities. We can maintain financial stability by continuing to use sound financial management and with the continued support from our officeholders.
How does your experience in your current position or previous work help make you qualified for this position?
Corbett: I have served the public as both a 19-year school board member and as your county commissioner for 24-years. I have been part of a team that has guided the county through periods of growth and has been able to weather through tough financial times because we are fiscally conservative and have always tried to spend within our means.
I have been a part of innovative projects such as the establishment of the Champaign County Community Center, which has drawn officials from other counties who are seeking to construct more user-friendly facilities for their communities. I regularly visit officeholders and have gained an understanding of their needs that is crucial to helping lead our county officials through the next four years.
Bean: As a long-time resident of Champaign County and growing up in Union Township, I feel I understand both the urban and the rural perspective on government. Understanding the inner workings of the county is very important and during my time as the Champaign County Republican Chairman, I worked with many of the people that are in elected offices. I have met with many of those elected officials and have taken the time to understand their jobs. One of the main jobs of a county commissioner is to allocate the county department’s budgets. Working at CRSI, which is a $40 million agency, I have gleaned knowledge of the budgetary system and assist in that allocation process.
I feel that my whole life has prepared me for this position. My dad and mom had six children. They put us to work at a very young age, beginning with chores for allowance and working in a large garden, mowing lawns for pay and even working in a rented asparagus patch – this taught not only to work hard but to always work hard.
Once I turned 16, I immediately took a job as a waitress/cashier at Empire (Traditions). I think this position made me appreciate serving others and learning communication skills. While still in high school I began an internship at a local attorney’s office and upon graduation of high school continued to work there for five years. I was hired in 1990 at CRSI and that has been my job to present. I began as a receptionist and worked my way up to the position of Administrative Director and I am on the Senior Management Team.
My ability to organize and work through special projects is an asset that I can naturally carry over to the commissioner position. My leadership skills that I have developed will additionally assist me with the position. I have a natural drive to accomplish and overcome problems. My skill at compromising with maximum outcomes makes me a good negotiator in all areas.
My spirit as a volunteer within this community is numerous. One of the things that I am very proud to have spearheaded was the creation of the organization, Champaign County Citizens for Canines. Its mission was to build a dog park. I kept hearing of all these people who wanted it and said, okay, Audra, get this organized and going. We formed a board and got our 401(c)3 so that we could begin fundraising. Three years later, Urbana had a very nice dog park and I commend those donors and volunteers that helped build the park.
Thirteen years ago, a small group of volunteers met and we began an event in September for First Fridays—The Chili Cook-off. Now this is better known as The Simon Kenton Chili Cook-Off and Hoopla Parade. I chaired this committee for seven years and still volunteer as the sponsorship chair.
I am also a volunteer for Monument Square District, the Champaign County Preservation Alliance, Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, Urbana University, Champaign County Women’s Republican’s Club, the Urbana Lions Club and this year I added a new project to my schedule by joining the committee that is re-starting the Balloon Festival. We are calling it “Champaign County Balloon Fest, An Air Affair” and will be holding that event October 5 and 6, 2018. I was recently appointed to the Urbana University Board of Advisors. I am very proud to be able to serve my Alma Mater in this capacity by linking the Champaign County community to the University.
I truly believe that a commissioner must believe that he/she is a servant to the public and that service must be ingrained within your soul.
What are ways Champaign County Commissioners can help foster economic development and growth within the county?
Bean: Job creation: the commissioners must work with our legislators to ensure they understand local government’s challenges and collaborate each day to ensure we are finding solutions to create more jobs.
Thanks to the founding of the Champaign Economic Partnership (CEP), we now have a strong economic future. The county needs to continue to support the CEP as much as possible. Also, with the support of local businesses, villages and townships the CEP and its board are doing and will continue to do great things for Champaign County. The county receives conveyance fees for every property sale in Champaign County. One third (1/3) of the conveyance fee goes directly to a budget line item for “economic development.”
The Champaign County Commissioners need to be passing this on to the CEP in a timely and generous manner. I believe the commissioners need to be more open to economic development. In many cases, they have the ability to speed projects up or slow them down. The process needs to be user friendly.
Champaign County is a great place to work, live, raise a family and to play. We have great manufacturing, agriculture, and social services. We need a skilled workforce in order to help foster economic development and growth within Champaign County. Thankfully, along with our manufacturers, Ohio Hi-Point Career Center is taking an active part in making sure that our workforce needs are being taken care of. I would encourage everyone to vote yes to the Ohio Hi-Point levy being placed on the ballot in the primary. The issue is needed to create new state of the art learning spaces, provide students more opportunities to study in labs that offer advanced technical training need for the modern workforce.
Currently, Champaign County is developing a comprehensive plan with the cities, villages and townships. This needs to be done in order for us to get grants. But it should also be a working document, not a plan that is created and then sits on a shelf and does not get followed.
Corbett: The only way we can achieve economic growth is through establishing a partnership with our local and state business, government and civic leadership. One of the things I am most proud of is my ability to listen to individuals who are proposing potential opportunities that could advance our county’s interests.
To achieve economic growth our children must be educated and motivated to be productive in their community. For that to happen, the board of commissioners must be willing to support our local government agencies that interact with our troubled citizens and help them recognize the value of strong families and ultimately a stronger workforce.
What is your greatest concern about the county’s present state or potential future? What can the county commissioners do to address this concern?
Corbett: No one concern can dominate this answer. Sound land management is a concern as the surrounding urban areas encroach upon farm lands. As the number of family farms shrink, succession planning and the possible conversion of the lands to uses that go against our county’s ideals could be challenging. The commissioners must work with our regional planning commission and township trustees to be sure we grow in a way that is consistent with our comprehensive plan.
Another concern is the increased need for mental health and substance abuse counseling. Our county will not be able to attract business investment if our workforce is struggling with those issues and unable to be hired. The county commissioners must ensure that our citizens have access to behavioral health services whenever our schools, law enforcement or first responders detect the need for intervention.
Bean: I believe for Champaign County and Ohio, the opiate and drug issue is one of my greatest concerns. While the opiate use is slowing down, we are now seeing a resurgence of cocaine and methamphetamine use, however, the use of all drugs increased in 2017 in Champaign County and the deaths/overdoses was unbearably too many. One of my biggest concerns is the use of the carfentanyl and fentanyl analogs as it is much more deadly.
According to Champaign County Coroner, Dr. Joshua Richards, of the 16 investigated drug overdose deaths in 2017, 15 involved opiates and of those 15, 14 were fentanyl or fentanyl analog related. According to County Health Rankings website (www.countyhealthrankings.org) the overdose rates continue to climb from 25 in 2017 to 32 in the first four months of 2018 alone; if the increase continues at this rate it could reach 96 by the end of 2018. As noted in a previous Urbana Daily Citizen article written by Nick Walton, Stacey Logwood, Chair of the Champaign County Drug Free Youth Coalition, stated that the overdose numbers can be slightly skewed when the citizens from Champaign County go to surrounding counties to obtain the drugs and then overdose in those counties, those numbers do not get counted in Champaign County’s surveys.
As your Commissioner, I will team up with the surrounding counties to get accurate overdose numbers as well as share our struggles and our successes to learn what works best and what doesn’t. While the amount of drugs dispensed in Champaign County have decreased (from 2,860,529 in 2015 to 2,557,465 in 2017) the amount per patient has risen (from 269.4 in 2015 to 292.6 in 2017). I will fight to find out how that is happening in our communities and I will team up with those who are driving to prevent it.
Along with the drug problems in our communities, the foster care/parenting issues, as well as drug related births, (20 babies were born addicted to heroin in 2016) are increasing rapidly, too. In 2017, 20 children entered into foster care, which is an increase from 11 in 2016. Ninety-five percent of those children entering into foster care was the result of drug use and/or abuse. The cost of this care almost doubled from $479,000 in 2016, to $906,000 in 2017.
The Champaign County Commissioners must work with local law enforcement, emergency responders and other agencies to aggressively work toward solving the drug issue. Not one agency will be the answer to our drug crisis. I believe that educating our youth at a very young age, as well as the parents and grandparents, will be key to our success in Champaign County.
As your Commissioner I will join hands with those agencies and first responders as well as Champaign County Drug Free Youth Coalition and the Opiate Task Force, including the many other service providers in Champaign County.
As well as several churches in our great community. The adage, “It takes a village to raise a child …” means more now than ever in these trying times; as your Commissioner I will join hands with you, your families and our community service providers to help combat this drug epidemic; we struggle with this problem together, we fight this problem together and it will be together as a community that we overcome and survive it.
Where do you stand on granting PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes for wind)?
Bean: The PILOT affects the tax structure. It abates the Public Utilities Personal Property Tax. Without PILOT, this would normally be $40,000 per Mega Watt (MW). Under PILOT the payment per MW would be $6,000 but the Commissioners can negotiate an additional $3,000 which can go into the discretionary fund. The reason wind developers want PILOT is because the up-front cash payments are minuscule compared to regular taxation. As commissioner, my vote would be no PILOT. If this energy source cannot sustain itself, the taxpayer should not have the burden of subsidizing its survival.
There are many other issues that are unanswered that I feel need addressed. It is still unclear what is going to happen if a turbine becomes unprofitable and/or is abandoned. There is no guarantee that they will survive the 20-year lifespan and/or depreciation. One of my questions is who is going to be responsible for the dismantling of these giant eyesores when they become obsolete. If the owner walks away, it is not known whether there would be any way to recover funds. For decommissioning, the developer is supposed to obtain a bond to protect the community for this, but that amount is difficult to predict and the community would be responsible for all other dollars. Additionally even with a RUMA (Roadway Usage Maintenance Agreement), I don’t believe our roads will be safe from the widespread damage that would occur.
I am also just not convinced that the project would benefit our community to create permanent jobs for our citizens. Wind developers employ a number of people during construction but those are temporary jobs and many jobs require a special skill set which would have to come from outside our community. Additionally, since they are not in a taxing district, we would not even receive income tax from these workers. They would only have to pay state and federal tax, none to local government.
Corbett: There has been much discussion about wind turbine development and the PILOT application over the last 11 years, but it has never been formally submitted to the Commissioners. The PILOT application established by a Senate Bill and through Ohio Revised Code forms a complex financial taxation exemption with many consequences for how property used in renewable energy projects will be taxed, the amount of taxable revenue that would be received, and whether our community would be enhanced or detracted from supporting the visible establishment of the wind industry in our community.
As with every issue presented to me as County Commissioner, I would evaluate the pros and cons and make the decision that I deem to be in the best interest of the residents of Champaign County.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.