To a man, the five candidates vying to be Scott County’s mayor for the next four years agree that the single biggest issue impacting the community is jobs — or, rather, a lack thereof.
Where they might not necessarily agree is how best to set about the task of solving that problem.
Harold Brooks, an Oneida businessman who is in his third quest for the county mayor’s seat, believes that too-high property taxes are a primary concern along with unemployment. Wayne King, a long-time administrator at Scott County Hospital and church pastor from the Pine Hill community, believes lost hope within the community goes hand-in-hand with the issue of unemployment.
Incumbent Jeff Tibbals, meanwhile, says it is inappropriate to single out jobs as the single largest issue facing Scott County, saying instead that there are numerous areas of improvement that are needed to not only help with unemployment but to also improve the quality of life for Scott County citizens.
“Pointing at a single solution will not correct the problem,” said Tibbals, who taught math at Oneida High School and served on the Oneida Board of Aldermen prior to winning a landslide election to the mayoral seat in 2010. He points to education, infrastructure — both roads and telecommunications, debt reduction and drug prevention as areas that need to be addressed to improve the unemployment situation.
Paul Strunk, a career radio man who has served as a county commissioner for the past eight years and chairman pro tem of the commission for six of those years, agrees that there are issues at stake other than unemployment, saying that most of them are symptoms of the lack of jobs.
Still, the conversations almost always steer back to jobs.
“We have kids graduating every year with nowhere to work,” said Dale Perdue, an Oneida businessman who is delving into politics for the first time. “I think jobs is the main issue we face. Whether they can be brought or not, I don’t know. That’s something I’ll be working on when I get in there.”
Perdue said a focal point of his administration as mayor would be to be in touch with legislators in Nashville in an effort to steer jobs to Scott County.
“I’ll be hunting in Nashville, asking them for jobs that want to relocate,” Perdue said. “I’ll be searching the internet and looking for people looking for places to relocate. I’ll be contacting people who are looking and ask them to come to this county.”
Strunk said that a key to bringing new jobs to Scott County is cooperation between all involved — from the towns to the people.
“We have to collaborate between municipalities and government officials,” Strunk said. “We also need to look at expanding that out into neighboring communities to create an incentive plan.”
Strunk said the “imaginary barriers” between towns need to be eliminated. He points to New Generation Paving Products, which he helped recruit to the Bear Creek Industrial Park in 2012, as an example.
“New Generation looked first at a location in Winfield and then settled on the Bear Creek facility,” he said. “They didn’t care about boundaries or jurisdictions.”
Similarly, King pointed to cooperation as a key to recruiting new industry.
“We have to engage the community,” King said, adding that regular town hall meetings would be important to gather citizens’ input. “I feel that’s important, getting in touch with constituents and finding out how they feel, not just what we know or what we feel is important as an entity.”
Brooks pointed to hard work as a necessary requirement to overcoming obstacles in the hunt for new industry.
“If I’m going to recruit jobs, I’m not going to hire someone and I’m not going to sit at the office trying to do it,” Brooks said. “I know enough and I’ve traveled enough . . . you’ve got to go sell not only yourself but Scott County to these people. And if anyone can do that, I’ll do it.”
Tibbals, meanwhile, said he wants to continue the improvements that have already begun — using reduced debt to free up funds for road improvements, while also continuing to foster an environment for business creation and expansion.
“All statistics indicate that Scott County is in much better shape than it was four years ago before I took office,” Tibbals said.
Each of the five candidates have a wish list for the next four years, and none were hesitant to address their wants for the next four years.
Tibbals points out the use of grant funding to improve telecommunications infrastructure, in addition to addressing road issues and drug abuse — issues which he said are directly related to unemployment and quality of life issues in Scott County.
Strunk, meanwhile, has proposed a new economic and community development board to recruit new retail to Scott County.
“This board would be focused on retail opportunities that could enhance the quality of life for our citizens,” Strunk said.
King points to new opportunities for youth, while also addressing the issue of debt.
“I don’t think there’s enough opportunities for our youth, and that leads to some bad decisions and bad choices among the younger population,” King said.
Perdue also highlighted the issue of opportunities for youth, while also highlighting the need for better-paying jobs.
“I just don’t think $12 an hour is out of the question in this county,” Perdue said, adding that he intends to contact other counties to see what they are doing to recruit better-paying jobs. “It would take time,” he said. “It can’t be done overnight.”
Brooks, meanwhile, said more of a focus needs to be placed on promoting tourism, while adding that some of the tax burden needs to be shifted from homeowners in the form of a stronger tax base.
“We need to try to increase our tax revenue through jobs,” Brooks said. “If we don’t do that, we’re sliding downhill every year.”
Perdue addressed a couple of rumors that have been dogging his campaign. He said that, contrary to false reports being spread against him, he graduated high school in 1976. And, he added, he has not made any promises regarding hires if he is elected; the only thing set in stone, he said, was that he would likely hire his wife, Mary Ann, as his secretary, adding that she would be an asset.
“It’s something we’ll talk about,” he said. “I don’t want to see anyone lose their job, even as a result of the election.”