Breaking down the five member commission question on the ballot

Time is running out for voters to decide if they want to expand the board of commissioners from three to five positions when they go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Even though the Marion County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to bring the question to a vote, the plans remain undecided.

However, should the pro­position pass, the county has until Dec. 31 to solidify the rearrangement of the commissioner districts.

A workable plan

Commission chairwoman Dianne Novak came up with a tentative idea, based on information she gathered and from listening to constituents on district boundaries.

“This is only one example on how to divide the county into five districts:

◼ District 1 would have a population of 2,347, and include the townships of Logan, Moore, Lehigh, Menno, Liberty, West Branch, East Branch and Catlin.

◼ District 2 population would be 2,347, and include the townships of Blaine, Colfax, Lost Springs, Durham Park, Clark, Clear Creek West, Clear Creek East, Grant North and Grant South.

◼ District 3 population would be 2,275 and include the townships of Fairplay, Doyle, Peabody, Summit and Milton.

◼ District 4 would have a population of 2,267 and include the city of Marion and Marion County Park and Lake.

◼ District 5 would have a population of 2,850 and include the entire city of Hillsboro.

“Districts 1 through 4 are very close in population, and offer a good division,” Novak said. “District 5 (Hillsboro) is the smallest area district, but the largest in population.”

Novak said it wouldn’t seem logical to divide Hillsboro and have two representatives.

Urban and rural picture

Novak said the representation between urban and rural communities she used in the division is close.

“In my opinion, it’s fair and as equal as possible,” she said.

“I can’t imagine anyone being unhappy with this division across the county. If anyone wouldn’t like the division, it would probably be with Hillsboro.”

However, Novak said she hasn’t heard any complaints about Hillsboro and its representation as yet.

Was this planned?

Novak said the resolution, which was approved unanimously by the commissioners, allows for district changes to be done by Dec. 31.

Once the new boundaries are in place, she said, appointments of the new board members may begin.

Costs of initiative

Novak said that regarding cost to the taxpayer, she believes it will save money every month.

“I think each commissioner makes about $18,000 per year, which totals $54,000 for all three,” she said.

“I believe when the districts are resized to a lesser population per commissioner, and there are five commissioners, the salary should be reduced to $10,800 per commissioner for a total of $54000 for all five.”

Along with no increase in cost to the taxpayer, Novak said additional tax savings could be made by providing no health and/or dental insurance benefits.

Novak said she doesn’t know which commissioners have benefits, but the cost per person in the county is $634.86 each month.

“If two commissioners are currently using county insurance, and we eliminate it, that will be a savings of $1269.72 per month,” she said.

What are the benefits?

The intended benefits behind the five-member board are many, she said, but first and foremost each commissioner’s district population is smaller than it is currently.

“Taxpayers will now have better representation from their commissioner,” she said, “and from a commission-side after talking to other counties that were three members and transitioned to five the testimonials were inspiring.”

Novak said she believes it will bring more ideas, knowledge, experience and conversation to the table.

Broad strokes

Commissioner Kent Becker said he had no objection to the question being placed on the ballot.

“I believe if the voters in this county want to decide to have a five-member commission, I am all for it.”

Becker didn’t define specific district boundaries, but he said that would be determined based on population if the voters passed the proposition.

Representation between urban and rural communities was something Becker said shouldn’t be classified as urban and rural.

“We are not an urban community,” he said. “All communities are classified as rural in Marion County.”

The initiative in starting the discussion and inevitably to a vote of the people was prompted by Novak, who started a petition.

“This is not budgeted,” he said.

Becker reviews costs

If the five-member commission concept is voted in, the county will be adding two more commissioners, which will include salary and benefits, Becker said.

And, whether it passes or not, he said, there are the expenses of the election.

Should the proposition pass, the next step would be in finalizing the boundaries before commencing with January 2019.

“Each voter needs to personally decide if they need more representation,” he said.

Dallke weighs in

With less than one week before the election, both Commissioner Randy Dallke and Becker aren’t sure how they would divide the boundary lines from three to five commission members.

“In talking to past commissioners and the public,” he said, “they don’t know what to vote on.

“How the county will be divided is an interesting question, but the goal is to provide better representation.”

Dallke said one thing he has heard is the outlying communities want better representation.

As for the cost of this initiative, Dallke estimated a cost of $50,000 a year

Becker and Dallke both stated the idea for a five-member board was first introduced by Novak.

Although Becker said he didn’t want to say which way he plans to vote on the five-member commission, Dallke said he would vote, “no.”

Old versus new

“I understand most people are more comfortable with old problems than facing new solutions, but in my opinion, Marion County will never move forward if we continue conducting business the same old way,” she said.

“There hasn’t been much positive produced in this county for years, and maybe now is the time.”

More women should run

Novak said she also believes more women need to step up to the plate and serve as county commissioners.

In addition, to Novak’s responses, the two other commissioners also discussed some of their ideas.

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