Miller’s running on his record against Heitkemper
James Heitkemper of Elizabeth, a Republilcan and a political newcomer, is challenging veteran Democrat Commissioner Terry L. Miller in the Third District race in the Nov. 5 General Election.
He may be a new man on the ballot, but Heitkemper, 46, said he’s kept track of local politics for about decade. “I’ve always followed county politics pretty close,” he said. “It’s good to watch all these things, to see what’s happening to the next issue.”
Since Miller was a boy, that same kind of interest bolstered strong his desire to be a public servant. It runs in his family. Miller remembers his father, Lewis Miller Jr., once a councilman and a commissioner, and grandfather, who ran unsuccessfully in the mid-1940s for commissioner, sitting across from each other at the kitchen table at their home near Elizabeth, discussing “politics.” The boy was only 10, and the talk was political strategy and that year’s charismatic Democratic presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy. “It got my interest,” Terry Miller said, and he’s never lost it.
In office for nearly 14 years, Miller, 52, said he’s running on his record, one that includes helping to improve the quality of life in Harrison County by increasing jobs and improving public safety, youth services and education.
Heitkemper stresses that he is not running against Miller.
“I’m running for Third District Commissioner, and he just happens to hold the office,” Heitkemper said.
They both live in Elizabeth, in the southern Third District of Harrison County.
Heitkemper applauds the current board’s support of riverboat funding for all-day kindergarten (now under study), road improvements, and using $3.5 million in riverboat revenue to reduce school debt and thereby property taxes. And although he thinks speed limits would do little to curb dangerous driving on county roads, he thinks increasing the number of warning signs and striping the roads would improve safety.
Miller said the development of traffic ordinances to allow enforceable speed limits countywide is underway; warning signs are being installed.
“The traffic plan should be done any day, and that will include signs,” Miller said. “To me, it’s not really an issue right now; striping contracts have been let.”
Besides riverboat revenue used to improve education, Miller points proudly to expanded ambulance service, upgraded equipment for fire departments, increased police protection and library service, improved county roads and an early warning siren system. Still, he believes there is much to be done.
For instance, the courthouse, built in 1927, has seen no major renovations. It needs new heating and air-conditioning systems; some office spaces need revamping, especially on the second floor.
“People are working in cramped quarters,” he said.
A plan to purchase the Bank One building across Capitol Avenue from the courthouse is still in negotiations, Miller said, but he said the commissioners have heard nothing since asking the bank to put its proposal in writing six to eight weeks ago.
“It’s still a possibility,” Miller said. “The (bank) wanted to keep a small branch there, then they didn’t want to keep any space, and now they want the whole first floor.
“If they want the whole first floor, it’s probably not feasible for us to acquire the building.”
If the deal falls through, Miller said the old, vacant jail will likely be renovated and the first floor likely used for offices and the upper floor for archives.
Harrison County Hospital’s proposal for a new facility, the need for animal control, lower property taxes, and farmland preservation coupled with smart growth are at the top of Heitkemper’s priorities.
Heitkemper agrees with the commissioners’ recent decision to back a county-owned plan for a new hospital and medical office complex.
“A lot of good people have given their heart and soul for the hospital; they could stay where they are, but they’re not for it,” Heitkemper said.
He believes there may be too many problems, including a lack of sewer service, with the hospital’s proposed site – south of Interstate 64 between S.R. 337 and Corydon-Ramsey Road. Heitkemper likes the suggestion of Councilman Carl (Buck) Mathes, that the hospital locate north of the interstate, on S.R. 135.
Miller said the commissioners have not been involved with the site selection – they left that to the hospital board – but he believes the problems will be resolved.
The lack of an animal control facility, which has been kicked around, forward and backward for many years, is another issue Heitkemper would like to address. He believes a less expensive facility than the $500,000 one proposed by the current board would be adequate.
Miller disputes that, citing the efficient operation which the design would allow. If construction costs were the only issue, Miller said a plan he proposed to pay $50,000 to help construct Floyd County’s facility would have been the answer. (That proposal included an additional $25,000 to pay an animal control officer to transport animals to that facility.)
Instead, a movement for a local facility with local control won out.
In the interim, a spay/neuter clinic funded with tax dollars has been used as a pro-active measure to help reduce the problem of spays, Miller said.
Morton Building Co. recently submitted a plan voluntarily, based on the current proposal, that would have been just as expensive. The company was asked to design a facility for $300,000, the amount the council wants to spend. But Miller said the company now wants a contract with the county before it will proceed.
Miller said Harrison County will receive $24 million in riverboat revenue this year, which amounts to $461,538 a week. That means it would take a little more than a week’s worth of revenue to build the animal control center, which could then operate on an estimated $75,000 to $85,000 yearly.
Volunteers would be needed to help, but all policy decisions would be made by county officials, Miller said.
Voters countywide will elect the Third District Commissioner, but candidates must reside in the district up for election. The First District, in northern Harrison County, and the central Second District will be up for election in 2004. Those seats on the three-member board are now held by James Goldman of Depauw and J.R. Eckart of Corydon.
Next year, each commissioner will earn $19,390. They are also eligible for county employee health insurance but are responsible for the premiums.
The board meets in public session twice monthly, on the first Monday at 8:30 a.m. and the third Monday at 7:30 p.m., and in special sessions as needed.