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Heitkemper reflects on 4 years, may want 4 more

Reflecting on his term as a Harrison County commissioner, Jim Heitkemper said last week it was ‘everything I thought it would be and more.’
Heitkemper, who represented southern Harrison County ‘ District 3 ‘ the past four years, lost his bid for reelection in November to Terry Miller, whom Heitkemper had unseated in 2002.
‘I think it was more of being a Republican,’ Heitkemper said of his defeat.
Political watchdogs four years ago had similar sentiments when Republicans took control of many offices.
Heitkemper harbors no ill feelings in losing his bid for a second term in office.
‘Time changes everything,’ he said. ‘It’s been a privilege and honor to serve in that capacity.’
Improvements to some county roads and progress towards implementing a farmland preservation program are among his accomplishments.
‘We’ve kept pace with the roads and made some roads safer,’ Heitkemper said.
The Farm, Forest and Open Space Preservation Task Force was formed in mid-2004, and Heitkemper has served as its chair.
‘I would have liked to have seen more accomplished,’ he said. ‘We have a beautiful county here. People are concerned with development here.’
He said the task force has been trying to seek the ‘proper balance’ of preserving land while helping guide development. Heitkemper, a farmer and owner of a home-improvement business, became more interested in land preservation after attending the five-day Ultimate Farmland Preservation Tour to Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey to see how areas of those states have handled growth.
Heitkemper indicated he intends to continue to be involved with the farm, forest task force. ‘I’ll be there, win, lose or draw,’ he said, adding that he believes the future of the task force is secure for at least another year.
Serving as a commissioner was Heitkemper’s first round in politics.
‘You have to be motivated to run for office,’ he said. ‘You want to try and change things … but there always seems to be some kind of stumbling block in the way.
‘If you don’t turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones, you’ll be stumbling all your life,’ he said.
Working with two other commissioners, Heitkemper learned to compromise, something politicians must do, he said.
‘We were able to move some ideas along hand-in-hand,’ he said. ‘Others were accomplished after battles.’
Among those projects accomplished were the renovation of the Harrison County Court House and the old jail (now called the Archives Building), the opening of the animal control facility and the groundbreaking of a new Harrison County Hospital.
‘I really enjoyed renovating the courthouse,’ he said. ‘We made some wonderful improvements down there.’
But four years wasn’t enough time to accomplish everything he would have liked.
In addition to the farm, forest program, Heitkemper cited one road project ‘ Baptist Church Road ‘ in particular as unfinished. ‘We ran short on money,’ he said. ‘When I first came into office, asphalt was selling for about $22 a ton. Now, it’s about $47 a ton.’
Also, Heitkemper said the county would be remiss if it doesn’t bring in some type of community college. The three commissioners began exploring options last year.
Overall, Heitkemper said he believes the county is blessed with ‘a lot of gifted department heads.
‘We’ve worked as a very good family,’ he said of the elected officials and those responsible for county offices.
Heitkemper may not be finished with politics. He hasn’t ruled out running for office again.
‘I don’t feel I’m done with it,’ he said. ‘I may try county government again.’