Family: Husband, Alex Cain; son, Jackson Cain; daughter, Regan Cain
Occupation: Real estate broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Indiana Realty
Political experience: None
Jack ‘Andy’ Fountain
Residence: West of Brownstown on the family farm
Family: Wife, Linda; two children; four grandchildren
Occupation: Insurance agent
Political experience: I served three terms on the county council from 1999 to 2010
Family: Wife, Bradie Hall; daughters: Hayden, Sydney and Gabby
Occupation: Insurance agent and bail bondsman
Political experience: Owen Township Advisory Board member
John L. Nolting
Family: Wife, Helen Nolting; daughters, Mary Hitzeman and Sarah Edwards
Occupation: Retired from PL Marketing
Political experience: Currently serving second term as president of the Brownstown Town Council
Occupation: Director of facilities for North Lawrence Community Schools in Bedford
Political experience: Owen Township Advisory Board member
Kathy L. Schafstall
Family: Husband, John; three grown children; seven grandchildren
Occupation: Grounds supervisor for Schneck Medical Center in Seymour
Political experience: None
Q&A: Where they stand
What about your background and experience qualifies you to serve on the Jackson County Council?
Cain: Worked for 10 years as a business owner, handled budgets, accounts receivable and payable. Worked with all aspects of operating a small business.
Fountain: I have served on several other boards and am familiar with budgets and what it takes to make them balance. In my 12 years of prior experience on the county council, I learned how county government finances work and the budget process.
Hall: I have been an independent crop insurance agent and bail bondsman in Jackson County for the past 15 years. Managing my businesses without debt has taught me to set a budget and spend within my means.
Nolting: I worked over 40 years managing supermarkets, which taught me how to manage personnel and budgeting. I have learned how to set budgets and work within those budgets. These past four years serving on the Brownstown Town Council have taught me a lot how local government works and the needs of the taxpayer.
Ritter: I have extensive experience with budgets at the school, where I have been for 15 years. I worked for a major construction company, Rogers Group, before I retired and came here and dealt with budgets.
Schafstall: My experience in setting budgets comes from helping on the family farm, 12 years with Schneck Medical Center, 15 years managing my own landscaping business and my time on the Jackson County Water Board.
What is the role of the council and its members?
Cain: The role of the county council is to deal with various financial aspects of the county and how funds will be spent throughout the county.
Fountain: The county council has the responsibility to set budgets for all county offices. They also determine salaries and wages for all county employees. The council has the authority to borrow money in the form of bonds to finance large county projects.
Hall: The county council governs the financial matters of the county. They approve the budgets for all county offices, fix tax rates to cover annual expenses and determine salaries for county employees.
Nolting: The role of the council is to set budgets, controlling the taxpayers’ money and spending their money wisely.
Ritter: They are the guard dog and the purse strings of the county. It’s their responsibility to make sure everybody has enough money but that we don’t overspend.
Schafstall: The financial powers of counties are placed on the county council, which serves as a check on the board of commissioners. It is an elected administration of county government.
What is the top issue facing our county, and how would you address it?
Cain: The increase in drug use in our county is a very important issue. I would support our county employees (law officers, jail employees, etc.) being compensated with competitive pay and would support any further training to county employees that could benefit them in their positions that could help to deter the growth of the problem throughout the county. They should be trained and knowledgeable in the best ways to deal with the problem.
Fountain: Other than the jail overcrowding, I think the financing and construction of the new judicial center in Brownstown will be a big issue for the council next year. This will be financed with a bond issue and shouldn’t affect property taxes because the jail bonds will be paid off. It should improve efficiency of the judicial system, but proper staffing should be addressed. The use of the current superior court building will have to be addressed. Turning it into a work release center to reduce jail overcrowding has been considered as well as selling the property.
Hall: I think there is one issue that will always be an issue, and that is the condition of our roads. The freezing and thawing of winter has always wreaked havoc on our roads. We need to continue to be proactive with patching holes and repaving before the roads become a danger. I hope to address this as a council by prioritizing the repair and maintenance of our roads so we can continue to improve this service.
Nolting: Taking care of the county’s infrastructure, making sure that it is in good shape and stays in good shape. I feel that a long-term plan should be put in place so that there is a road map letting the council and commissioners know where the county is headed in the future with their spending needs.
Ritter: We’re in pretty good shape, actually, I think. Public safety is a big issue. Of course, the jail is a big issue. We would have to do what’s needed to keep us solid.
Schafstall: I am sure there are issues facing the county in all areas of government. As far as which one is more important and how to address them is something that I will approach with an open mind and welcome other ideas and opinions on any issues so I can make an educated decision.
What steps should the council take to keep the budget balanced and not have to dip into savings?
Cain: In order for the council to keep the budget balanced and not dip into savings, I think it is imperative to be watchful of wasteful spending by evaluating what expenditures are proving to be beneficial to the community and which are not and taking action to move those funds to areas that are worthwhile.
Fountain: Employee salaries and benefits are by far the largest part of the county budget. Retaining quality employees should be a priority, but increasing their numbers should be done very carefully, if at all. The past councils have done a very good job of balancing the budgets every year, and most department budgets are in good shape. The last professional salary study for county employees was done in 1998. I think it may be time to look at this again to ensure our salaries and benefits are in line with the local labor market.
Hall: Set a realistic budget and stick to it. If there is an unexpected expense that was not budgeted for, then we should have enough money saved to use as a buffer to keep from raising taxes or borrowing money.
Nolting: The council should be no different than a family — we all need to spend within our means. I am not a fan of raising taxes, but sometimes, this does have to be addressed. I feel that the local option income tax should be looked at and passed by the county council. The council needs to see that the various departments within the county stick with their budgets and not overspend.
Ritter: When all of the other entities present their budgets to us, just make sure that they are fair and honest and there’s no pork-barreling.
Schafstall: I am a fiscal conservative that believes in responsible spending and fiscal accountability. Therefore, we need to stay within our tax dollars and not overspend and then have to raise taxes — is it needed at this time or something that can wait?
What are the biggest financial challenges facing the county, and how would you address them?
Cain: I think our county’s biggest financial challenge is being able to keep up with wage increases for county employees while working hard to keep taxes from rising as much as possible.
Fountain: The biggest challenge I see facing all county councils is the state trying to balance their budgets by pushing more requirements while cutting funding. The state has pledged not to raise taxes but is always happy to provide a way for local governments to replace the lost money by forcing them to increase taxes and user fees. The current council has just created another income tax effective next year to offset lost income from state cuts. The financing of road and bridge improvements will also be a challenge because the state has changed the formula for the dollars the county receives. The state says the county can implement a wheel tax that you pay when you renew your license plates on each vehicle you own to replace the money. I am opposed to a wheel tax.
Hall: The costs of maintaining the county infrastructure and paying employee wages will continue to rise. These are offset with taxes. Very few people enjoy paying taxes, but we all benefit from the roads and bridges they are used to build. I think we need to prioritize needs and spend within our means to keep as much money in the public hands as possible.
Nolting: Our biggest challenge is keeping up with roads and bridges. As the state legislature gives the county less money each year in tax revenue, this becomes a bigger challenge each year for the county council. This makes it extremely important that the council is frugal with its spending.
Ritter: The state legislature decreasing taxes. Mandates from the state that are not funded, that’s a big one.
Schafstall: Some of the challenges I have heard are the courthouse and jail expansion. Not knowing all of the ins and outs of this, I would research this and be open-minded on which way to go but be careful not to put more hardships on Jackson County.
Jail overcrowding is an increasing concern. How can the problem be solved? Do you support a jail expansion?
Cain: I’m really not sure what is the best answer to the jail overcrowding. I think it would be important to hear from law enforcement in the county to help determine what plan should be made to solve the issue. I also again think it would be very important to make sure that wasteful spending is cut so that if an expansion is what needs to happen, we can work hard not to further burden taxpayers.
Fountain: The council needs to work with the judges, prosecutor and sheriff to determine the reason for our high inmate counts. I know the drug epidemic is responsible for most of the problem, but not all counties handle the problem the same way. Bartholomew County has almost twice the population of Jackson County, but their inmate count is usually about 80 less than ours. It hasn’t been that long ago that Jackson County actually made over $400,000 per year by using excess jail space to hold prisoners for the state. Now, we are talking about paying other counties to hold some of our prisoners. Part of the problem is a new state requirement that counties hold prisoners with no reimbursement after they have been convicted of a Level 6 felony. The state used to pay us for that. There has to be a way to balance public safety with responsible use of taxpayer dollars. Brent Steele once said, “We should lock up the people we are afraid of, not the ones we are just mad at.” I am not opposed to jail expansion if that is the right decision, but spending millions of taxpayer dollars would be a last resort.
Hall: I don’t think this is a problem that the government can “solve.” There are a lot of outside influences on our kids these days. We need to do everything we can as parents to control that. Take your family to church. Teach your kids respect. Make time to be a positive influence in their lives. Until these things happen, we will always have jail overcrowding no matter the size of our jail.
Nolting: There definitely is a problem with jail overcrowding. The majority of the arrests are drug-related. If we can get the drug trafficking within the county under control, this would alleviate a big portion of our jail overcrowding. Now, I know that this is simplifying the problem, but it is a start to the problem. I know that the sheriff’s department is working with the drug trafficking within the county. I do feel that the jail needs to be addressed and included in the county’s long-term plans. If the jail needs to be expanded, then yes, I am in favor of expanding the jail.
Ritter: Only if it will cash flow, that would be the only way I support it. If we’re losing money now, we wouldn’t want to build onto the building and expand. If it’s breaking even or making money, then yes, because we’ve got the juvenile center. If juvenile transports were in fact our cash cow, then I would be in favor of reinstating that program.
Schafstall: I think there are different ways that this can be handled. It is something that needs to be studied to see if Jackson County needs to add onto the jail or maybe look into a work release program to see which way is most fiscally possible for the county.
Is open government important? Why or why not? How will you ensure that the council is open and honest with the public?
Cain: I absolutely feel that open government is important. Public officials all need to remember that they work for the taxpayers and therefore answer to them.
Fountain: Open government is always important. The more the general public is involved and informed, the better decisions government leaders can make.
Hall: An open government is extremely important. Anyone that lives here or pays taxes here should have a right to know how money is gathered and dispersed within this county. When elected, I will serve the people of Jackson County openly and honestly.
Nolting: Open government is important because it is the public’s right to know what is happening within the government. I feel that the council meetings need to be open to the public and the media, and the public needs to be made aware of the time and date of the council meetings. If an individual has a question of the council, then that person deserves an answer.
Ritter: That is extremely important to me. I was on the Brownstown Central school board for eight years. I have to attend all of the school board meetings as part of my position as an administrator. If I sit on the council, the public would be ensured I would be open, honest and transparent.
Schafstall: Yes, I believe in open government, and as a councilwoman, we work for the taxpayers. If elected, I will be open and honest to all taxpayers. I want to do the right thing for Jackson County.