By Leah Sander
WARSAW — The incumbent for the Kosciusko County Southern District commissioner position and three challengers shared their views on a variety of topics to the public on Wednesday, April 20.
Incumbent Bob Conley and challengers Don Wiesehan, Elaine Kokenge and Brian Pyle talked about everything from expanding outdoor activities in the county and the quality of county roads, to the amount of the county’s legal services budget as part of the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce’s Candidate Forum.
Wednesday’s event featured candidates running for office in three contested races on the May 3 primary ballot. Representatives from local media outlets asked the four running for commissioner, all Republicans, a series of nine questions.
Below is a summary of some of their answers. A full recap of the event can be viewed by clicking here.
The four were asked, “How would you grade our county roads?”
Kokenge said she’d give them a B+, saying that some need work. She noted that US 30 was “a high priority,” stating that leaders had to ensure that they planned the future of the road to make sure that businesses’ and people’s needs were met.
Pyle said he’d give them a C-. He said there were good roads, but also ones that need help. He noted that all roads in the county should be maintained well as “there are taxpayers all through the county.”
“A little bit more investment in the roads may bring more economic growth,” he said, adding that maybe more of the county’s annual budget should be used for road work.
Conley said he would rate them with a B or B+.
He said he was more critical of the roads when he started as commissioner, but he realized that Indiana weather is “cyclical” with periods of freezing and thawing and other extreme conditions constantly harming the roads.
He noted from having worked in the asphalt business before that water from Indiana’s extreme weather “is an enemy of asphalt.”
Wiesehan would deem the roads as having a B or B+ grade. He said he’d become quite familiar with the roads when he worked as a Kosciusko County Sheriff’s deputy for 25 years.
“They need some extra help,” he said, referring to the roads. He said as a cost-saver the county does make its own pug mix for road repairs and that some more funds should be allocated toward roadwork, especially roads near Louis Dreyfus Co. in Claypool that see frequent truck traffic.
Another question posed toward the candidates was regarding “encourag(ing) trails, greenways and blueways for citizens.”
All four said they’d support creating a county parks board for that purpose.
Candidates were also asked the following question about the legal services budget: “In 2021 during the budgeting process for 2022, the county commissioners wanted to increase their legal services budget to $131,000, but the county council only approved a 4% increase to $60,320. Do you agree with the council’s decision or do you think the commissioners should have been given more in their budget? Why or why not?”
Conley noted that they were dealing with a lot of legal work during that time period related to getting work done for the area plan commission and that legal issues are always popping up that need attention.
Wiesehan said he didn’t “agree with a budget increase.”
“I believe that we need to be fiscally responsible and conservative in our government,” he said. He added if elected he wanted to work closely with county council members regarding budget requests.
Kokenge said she didn’t have an answer to give at the time.
As an attorney himself, Pyle remarked he wished he could make the $131,000 that was originally suggested for legal services.
He noted that like Conley said, various legal needs do pop up, but said that “some of these expenses probably could be headed off.”
“We’ve got to be responsible to the taxpayer,” he added, mentioning that county council made the right decision last year.