By Lasca Randels
WARSAW — Broadband, housing and renewable energy were repeated topics during the Kosciusko County commissioner middle district candidate forum Thursday, Oct. 15 at Warsaw City Hall’s council chambers.
Republican Cary Groninger and Democrat Travis McConnell responded to questions on several topics in the event sponsored by Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce and Kosciusko County Bar Association.
Groninger is president of the family-owned G&G Hauling and Excavating in Warsaw. He was born and raised in Kosciusko County. Groninger and his wife, Kathy, have been married nearly 26 years and have three adult children.
McConnell is a local attorney who grew up in Churubusco. He has lived in the county for the past five years. McConnell is president of One Warsaw.
Both candidates were asked what solutions they have in mind to meet the budget as revenues fall from COVID-19.
McConnell spoke of increasing the tax base and increasing development. He also said he would make it a point to provide additional transparency and “try to end some of the backroom policies.”
“Most recently I wrote a letter to the editor about the county attorney position,” McConnell said. “Eighty thousand of your tax-paying dollars went from one man’s pocket to the other without ever posting the job, without ever asking if somebody else would save us a little bit of money.”
Groninger addressed the housing issue in his response.
“I think housing is going to be key. It’s great to have those jobs, but it’s even better if those people live here because if the people live here not only do they have a house they’re paying property tax on, but also their income tax comes to our county and they also buy things from our businesses,” Groninger said. “Businesses will come if there’s people here to fill those positions. I mean, that’s one of the biggest problems we have with economic development is trying to get more people here so we have the workforce for those jobs.”
Both were asked to identify the top three pressing needs in the county and how they would go about finding solutions for those needs.
Both agreed that broadband and workforce housing would be in the top three.
Groninger said the county is using some of its CARES Act money for towers in some of the most underserved areas of the county.
McConnell acknowledged there have been recent strides in that area. In reference to a recent announcement by KREMC about plans to build a fiber infrastructure that will expand internet services, McConnell said that as a commissioner he would reach out to NIPSCO as well to see what could be done to maximize the private-public partnership.
Groninger’s list of top three most pressing needs in the county included a county comprehensive plan, while McConnell’s list included recovering from COVID-19.
The candidates were also asked what role renewable energy has in our county and if the county should be more aggressive in attracting those technologies.
“There have been regulations that have tied up some additional development that’s favored potentially farmers and farmland over solar and wind power that we need to potentially look at and re-evaluate and see if they are in fact what’s best for our community,” McConnell responded.
“When it comes to green energy as far as solar and wind power … I think there’s a place for that in Kosciusko County,” Groninger said. “I think we have to be very careful though about where that might be located.”
Groninger pointed out that agriculture is a big part of Kosciusko County and said some solar towers and windmills could be taking out prime farmland.
“I think there is a place for it, but I think we need to be very selective about where it would go,” Groninger said.
McConnell argued that the government shouldn’t tell farmers what they can do with their property.
Lastly, Groninger and McConnell were each asked what makes them the best candidate for the job.
“I think what makes me the best candidate is the difference in the transparency and accountability that I’ll bring to your local government,” McConnell said. “I’ve heard from the voters, knocking on doors, I’ve met with them. One concern that I’ve heard from lots of people is the checks and balances in our local government. There’s two particular people running for office that are supposed to check and balance each other in their positions and if you elect me you don’t have to worry about that problem. You’ll get additional transparency and accountability from your local government.”
“What makes me the best candidate for the job? Born and raised here in Kosciusko County. I know it like the back of my hand. Pretty much I’ve dug a hole in almost every square mile of this county,” Groninger said.
He spoke of being a business owner in the county with over 50 employees and said the business is constantly looking at ways to give back to the community.
“I feel like I’m giving 100 percent to what I was called to do. I still feel this is something that God has called me to do,” Groninger said. “I think that this is an opportunity for me to use the gifts and talents that He’s given me and the experiences i’ve had over the years to be able to give back to my community and it’s an honor to be able to serve.”