Running on his record, Worley focuses on infrastructure and jobs –
By Patricia Beech –
Democrat Paul Worley is seeking re-election to the board of Adams County Commissioners. He will face off against challenger Teresa Diane Ward in the upcoming Nov. 8 election.
“Adams County has a lot of potential, the future is bright for our county,” said Worley. “We’ve made some progress but there’s still a ways to go, issues to address, and things to work on and that’s why I’m running for another term – to address those issues. I’m privileged and honored to have served the past four years and I’ m excited about another four years.”
The People’s Defender asked several questions of both candidates providing them an opportunity to speak directly to the voters. Below are Commissioner Worley’s thoughts on a number of local concerns and issues.
Defender: Why are you the best candidate for county commissioner and how will you make a difference in Adams County over the next four years if elected?
Worley: Growing up in Adams County my parents instilled in me the values of hard work and service to others. I’ve carried that with me my entire life from the time that I was an Eagle Scout, to the time I served in the military, to the time I began serving as an Adams County Commissioner. Those values have guided me along the way, and that’s why I’m running for re-election. I want to continue to serve the community that I love and continue to build on the successes we’ve had in the past four years. We’ve had a lot of positive growth and we need to continue that momentum going forward into the future. I think the future looks bright for Adams County. We need to continue to help existing businesses expand because that’s really where job growth starts – helping people who are already established expand, grow, and create jobs.
We also want to attract new businesses to Adams County. I appreciate the past four years working with the other board members. It has truly been a non-partisan affair with everybody working for the good of Adams County When you’re on a board of three, you don’t always get your own way. You have to compromise and work with people at the county, state and federal level. You have to know how to be a team player to continue to move the ball forward for the betterment of the people of Adams County. Maintaining a balanced budget, making government more efficient on a local level, living within our means, those are all things we’ve worked on in the past four years, and I’m proud of our record. Being a commissioner you don’t always make decisions people agree with, but none of the decisions we’ve made were done haphazardly or carelessly , they were thought out, planned, even if the execution didn’t go as you wanted it to. People see you trying, giving your best.
Defender: What is your experience with preparing or authorizing budgets?
Worley: In my experience as an Army Captain and company commander, I managed around $30 million in property and equipment. I commanded 150 soldiers in combat. That takes a lot of effort, a lot of irons in the fire, you have to learn to manage that chaos. I managed money when the budgets were large during the height of the Iraq War, and also when we were leaving Iraq and our budgets were downsized. That gave me a good perspective on managing when budgets were good and when they were low. It taught me to moderate. Don’t over extend yourself when times are good. In Adams County we rely heavily on sales tax, and sales tax kind of rides the wave sometimes because there are so many factors that influence how people shop and how much money they spend. If we have a good sales tax year and you budget out all the money and dip into the rainy day fund then the next year if sales aren’t good and the economy takes a dive, then all of a sudden you’ve got to make major cuts. It’s very important to stay and live within your means so that you can handle the good time and the bad times.
Defender: What is your assessment of the county’s overall financial position? Where do the biggest threats to the county’s financial stability lie?
Worley: I would say the county’s financial position is stable. We’ve seen growth since the recession of 2008. The cuts that the board of commissioners had to make at that time have come back to the county. The challenges we face going forward are the two power plants on the river which make up a large part of our real estate tax base. If they were to leave we would have a big hole in our finances, but right now they’re stable and plan to be here for the next 20 years or so. Our Medicaid sales tax could possibly be cut, and right now our commissioner’s association and legislatures in Columbus are trying to work on a way to make us whole by finding other money to replace it. When you have a $9 million dollar county budget a $600,000 cut is very significant. That’s why we stay in touch with the folks in Columbus and lobby for our cause here in Adams County. We’ve passed balanced budgets over the past four years and maintained nearly a million-dollar surplus each of those years. So we’ve done our part by staying within our means, and giving people what they need to do their jobs, but not over promising and eating into that rainy day fund if these cuts should go into effect in June of next year. We’ll be fine until half way through the year and then the cuts go into effect, then in 2018 the cuts will be permanent. We know the folks in Columbus are addressing that issue and we’re staying on top of it.
Defender: More individuals are now living in poverty in Adams County. What should the county be doing to confront growing poverty here?
Worley: It’s not just in Adams County, it’s everywhere, people are getting by, but they’re not getting ahead. The economy isn’t working for everybody. I think one of our main jobs, besides maintaining a balanced budget and being fiscally conservative, is to provide and set the conditions for new jobs in the county. We can make it easier for businesses to expand. We’ve partnered with our area workforce through the Business Resource Network where we work with small businesses to help them make their business a little bit better. I think it’s also important that we work with our charitable organizations and churches. It may not be the government reaching out, but it’s working with, and encouraging, and supporting these local initiatives to help people in need. I think our job as commissioners is to create opportunities for jobs and provide more educational opportunities. We’ve been lobbying hard to get a Southern State Community College campus in the county because we have so many people who can work, but they don’t have the training they need. We need to provide people with the tools and education they need to get a good-paying job so they can provide for their families. There are kids in this county that don’t get fed at night and don’t know where their next meal is coming from. I think about it everyday, and that’s what I’m always striving for – to provide those opportunities. People move away from here to find good-paying jobs, but we have to work to provide some of those options right here in Adams County. That starts with education and by helping existing businesses continue to grow. Those are the things we have to focus on, and I think over time improve the quality of life and raise the median income and get people out of the cycle of poverty.
Defender: What are your goals for cultivating a strong cultural identity for Adams County in the next four years? What role should the arts play in Adams County’s cultural identity, and how should the county be supporting the arts community?
Worley: Adams County has its culture. We are who we are. We don’t have to change who we are, I think people live here because they like Adams County’s close-natured family atmosphere. If you get sick or someone in your family passes away you’ll see an outpouring of people bringing you food or sending you cards or letters – you don’t get that in other places. I like that about our culture. I do think there is an opportunity to provide more cultural art activities for our children. Our Arts Council does a wonderful job with their summer camp teaching young people to paint, sculpt, and act. You never know what talents these young folks have, and we’re giving them the opportunity to open their eyes to something different. Last year we met with the Arts Council and helped them secure grounds to build a theater in the CIC Park in West Union. They’re now in the process of fundraising. Over the past few years the Arts Council’s theater productions have grown to the point that it’s difficult to get a ticket to one of their shows, so there’s a demand out there for the arts. We need to do all we can to support them through the process of applying for state level grants because their work is a positive thing that enriches Adams County.
Defender: If the Health Department levy doesn’t pass, what steps, if any, can the commissioner’s office take to ensure that the county doesn’t lose the vital services the department provides.
Worley: We hope the Health levy passes. It’s a good thing to maintain local control of our health district. We have the option of giving some funding to the health department, but there are other options such as partnering with other counties like Brown and Scioto who truly understand what it’s like to live in a rural area. Our big concern is that control of the Health Department could pass to Hamilton or Franklin County, then we’d have city inspectors who don’t understand life out here in Adams County. There are challenges when the population is small and the area is large, so we definitely want to keep local control of our Health Department because we want to have folks dealing with the public who understand the people and their challenges. Also, if the levy passes money will be returning to the villages and townships, and that’s going to make a huge difference for them whether it’s used to pave roads or build parks for kids, it will give them more money to do things like that. Our village and township governments were hit hard by state budget cuts several years ago. It affected every part of their operational budget from putting police on the streets to paying for fire equipment to paving roads – the things that truly matter to folks. Passing this levy will put money back into the villages and townships.
Defender: If elected how would you cultivate and strengthen tourism is Adams County?
Worley: As we’ve seen in the past few years tourism in Adams County continues to grow and exceed even the state’s growth rate. That’s due, in large part, to Tom Cross, the Director of the Travel and Visitors Bureau (TVB). For the last three years the commissioners have given a grant to the TVB and we’ve given them $25,000 (from the county general fund) over the past few years for increased advertising, directional signage to help visitors find places, and most recently we’ve been working on canoe access sites on Brush Creek. Tom has worked very hard to secure grants from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to take advantage of the increased growth in paddle sports – canoeing and kayaking on Brush Creek. A lot of the funds have been focused on advertising on Cincinnati and Columbus area TV. Those ads are paying huge dividends by bringing people into the county. Each year we continue to exceed our bed-tax revenue because more people are staying in our hotels and Bed & Breakfast facilities. There is a demand for more overnight facilities and we’ve seen a growth among people building cabins to rent in the woods. That’s how we market ourselves – Adams County is the place to unplug and get away. There are things we still need like a large sit-down restaurant so we can accommodate tour buses. We’ve got the Red Barn which does a great job hosting concerts and bringing in headline entertainers. We need to continue to support the businesses who are doing these things, and I assure you we are working to bring in more lodging facilities to expand our tourism. Serpent Mound continues to be a large draw. Over 30,000 people a year come to Adams County to see Serpent Mound. I’ve been very pro-active about getting the park on the World Heritage Designation List which will bring in more tourism from all around the world. We have to do a little more to set those conditions like getting more hotels. We need to continue building more nature and hiking trails and more canoe access sites – we’d like to see access sites from Serpent Mound all the way down to the Ohio River. Local government sets the conditions for people to be successful in business. We can’t mandate what people do, but we can level the playing field and make it a little easier for people to open a business. Tourism is offering opportunities for local ffolks, and we’re encouraging that. Building on what we already have.
Defender: Should any part of the county budget be shielded from cuts? And if so, which area?
Worley: There are things in our budget that are mandated such as the Sheriff’s department, the jail, the clerks and all those elected offices. By the time you get through paying for those things there is very little in our county budget left to appropriate to other areas. We’ve done it with tourism. Each year we take a look at the county’s wants and needs, it’s a year by year thing, there’s only so much money, We look at where can we put it to get the best return on our investment. Such as the work release facility at the airport. We spend between $200-$250,000 a year to house inmates out of the county and to pay their medical bills. That cost has got to go down. Building a work release facility may not be the solution, but it at least keeps the money in Adams County and puts people to work and helps to rehabilitate these folks who have broken the law. It gives them the opportunity to go out and work a job and be a productive member of society rather than just sit in jail and be a drain on tax payer funds.
Defender: What do you see as the most pressing needs for infrastructure or capital projects in the county?
Worley: Broadband Internet infrastructure is critical to Adams County’s future because so many businesses today are online. There are some portions of the county that have good coverage, but there are others who do not, or have no coverage. I think there’s a real opportunity for people because more and more small businesses can be run from your home if you have the internet. We need to do more to reach out to those internet providers. It’s a challenge in Adams County because of our terrain and our population is spread out.
Natural gas is another critical infrastructure need to expand. Our test plant at GE could expand and do more if they had natural gas. We could see more growth along the river and the 32 corridor if we had natural gas. We’ve worked over the past four years with GE, Hanson Aggregates, Duke Energy, and Columbia Natural Gas, but right now the cost is just to high to invest in a pipeline. We’re talking $40-50 million to get a pipeline down the 32 corridor. It’s not impossible, and we’re continuing to work on that. If we’re prepared, if we have a plan in place when that opportunity happens we’ll be able to take advantage of that.We also have a huge need for transportation in our county. Whether it’s for transporting veterans or shut-ins who don’t have transportation. Our county is one of largest size-wise in the state but has a small population. We deal with this everyday. It is a huge challenge. I think government is not always the answer, it’s through the private sector. Independent operators I think are the solution.
Defender: What incentives would you offer businesses to come to Adams County?
Worley: Enticing businesses into the area with tax incentives doesn’t always work out for the better because after the tax abatement ends, the businesses pick up and move on to the next place. You want to make sure a company is coming here for the right reasons. It’s a case by case basis. People locate here because we have a workforce who can do the job, we have the resources, transportation and access they need. We have our Community Improvement Corporation which gives us options such as selling land in the CIC Park to businesses at less than market rate to encourage them to build there. We’ve also partnered with Clermont County for a Port Authority. You put all these tools together then when a business comes in we have a great community development office run by Holly Johnson, she sits down with these folks and they look at all these options we offer. I think we have to be wary of folks coming here to get the tax break. They come in, they use up all your incentives, but you never see the real benefit. Obviously every option is on the table. Creating jobs was a number one goal when I ran for office four years ago and it will always be that way.
Defender: What are your thoughts on the environment and land use policy?
Worley: I think there’s a balance. We see most of our EPA issues with the power plants on the river. You have to take care of the environment because it’s the only one we have, but at the same time companies need to be allowed to do the things they do to create jobs and provide people with a good living wage. To date DP&L has complied with all the EPA regulations that have been mandated, they’ve updated and worked with the EPA. We’ve been supportive of our local businesses on these issues, but we’ve also been supportive of the environment. I think when you have that healthy balance, that’s what’s best for everyone.
Defender: What method or criteria would you use to determine how you would vote on an issue?
Worley: A good thing about this job compared to being an Army officer is that you have more time to think about the decisions you’re making. The method I like to use is called “Saturate, Incubate, and Illuminate”. First, I get myself acquainted with the facts then I take it home and sleep on it. I think one of my strengths is I’m not afraid to admit when I don’t know something so I go talk to people who have been there and done that – previous commissioners or business owners – it’s important to seek their advise and get their point of view.
Most things have been done before and most people have been through it and that’s part of the incubation process. Then you illuminate, think about all the options and different courses of action you can take. That’s the challenge with this job. Initially your decision may seem good, but there’s always these second and third effects that only come about after you’ve made the decision. You have to plan out and try to see the possible future effects a decision will have. Fortunately, we don’t have to make snap decisions, we have time to explore our options. When you sit on a board of three people, you get three different views on how things should be done. That’s when you have to be a team player. It can’t be my way or the highway, you have to have the right demeanor for the job. People come in upset and angry and we have to listen to their issues. That’s where having different life experiences comes into play. We consider issues that effect peoples lives, and I don’t take that lightly. You have empathy for people and understand what they’re going through if you’re going to address their needs.
Defender: If new resources were available, what one area of county services would you feel most needs additional resources?
Worley: Infrastructure. When businesses are looking to locate they have a check list they go down and if you don’t have electric, water, sewage, natural gas, and sometimes rail access you’re automatically off the list. In order for us to compete with the surrounding areas we need to make sure that the infrastructure is here so that when those opportunities become available we make ourselves an attractive place to locate.