Mike Beneke, Republican challenger for District 2 commission seat, has many ideas about restoring roads and saving taxpayer money.
He will face incumbent Dianne Novak in Tuesday’s primary election. Whichever one wins will square off against Tampa resident David Mueller, filed as an independent, in November’s general election.
Beneke gave an hour-long interview to this story. Novak declined repeated invitations, including in-person requests, phone messages, and emails. Her one response was, “I don’t like talking to you.”
As Beneke sees it, the county’s biggest ongoing issue is roads.
“People have said they are afraid they will pay more taxes and it will just get worse,” Beneke said. “I’m tired of excuses instead of solutions.”
Beneke thinks the county should rank its roads according to their level of use and decide where to spend money accordingly.
“The extreme-use roads should get the hard rock,” he said. “They get more and heavier traffic.”
Commissioners and county engineer Brice Goebel have sparred over the cost of buying and hauling harder rock from quarries located farther away.
“It’s possible back-hauling hard rock is the only way to make it feasible to get it in the county,” Beneke said.
Back-hauling is when an empty truck coming back from elsewhere is paid to pick up a load of rock and deliver it to Marion County.
A Hillsboro emergency medical services station is the next biggest issue Beneke sees.
County commissioners earlier considered purchasing a Hillsboro building for use as an ambulance station, but Hillsboro city council members objected.
“The city wants a new building to put into their future plans,” Beneke said. “Just my opinion, but there are a couple buildings we could use and spend half the amount of building new at this time. At this point there’s a pretty good feud between the county and the city of Hillsboro over this.”
The former Reimer Classics building on Orchard Dr. would be the building to use, he thinks.
Although Beneke was involved in getting an EMS station at Marion, he questions the urgency of a new station in Hillsboro.
“Marion was an immediate need,” he said. “This can wait a while.”
Still, renting places for county offices, equipment, and other uses is a waste of taxpayer money, he said.
“We’re renting space for planning and zoning, the health department, emergency medical technicians, the emergency management truck, and equipment,” he said.
If the county stopped renting buildings and storage space, he said, it could afford to buy buildings instead. The county also could save money by making staffing changes, he said.
“In my opinion the emergency management position is not a full-time position,” Beneke said.
Barton County’s emergency manager splits duties between two departments and does not have a dedicated vehicle, he said.
“With our fire departments and a few others, he just goes out and gets in the way,” Beneke said. “It’s a state-mandated position, but how did we let it go that far with the expense of a vehicle?”
Although Beneke said he’d rather not have to do it, in times of financial uncertainty it might be necessary to freeze wages.
“That’s an option we would hate to do,” he said. “I hope we don’t have to go there.”
When the county changed from a three-member commission to a five-member commission, it allowed two commissioners to discuss something outside a meeting without violating state law, he said.
“On a three-member commission, that’s a no-no,” he said. “I would still look at changing it back to a three-member commission, but it’s pretty complicated and would take a state resolution.”
His wish for the county is that it stays physically and financially safe.
He wishes he knew how to get younger people with children to move to the county.
“It would sustain life, the economy, and help our population,” he said.