Fifth in a series of interviews with the candidates.
The Villager Journal submitted six questions to incumbent Sharp County Judge Harold Crawford and his challenger, J.R. Murphy. Their responses are as follows:
VJ: What are your priorities regarding the roads?
Crawford: Our first priority was to try to maintain what we had better. We broke the county up into zones -- the north zone, south and central zones. We try to keep our graders in their zones unless there's an emergency of some sort. Not only will the operators know the zones better, but we will also save travel and wear and tear.
Our first priority was to put material on the roads. We went from 6-yard dump trucks to 12- and 14-yard trucks. We can now haul twice as much material at less cost. Also, we're doing it with diesel, which is usually cheaper than gasoline.
Since 1999, in addition to maintaining the estimated 1,200 miles of gravel roads, we have been able to resurface 27.5 miles of other roads by managing state aid and road funds effectively.
Murphy: The roads of Sharp County are the direct responsibility of the judge and should be his first priority. Every taxpayer should have a road they can comfortably drive on.
VJ: How do you intend to respond to the revenue shortage from Cherokee Village and Highland incorporating?
Crawford: During the 1998 budget hearings, I forecasted that the incorporation of the two cities would cost the county $360,000. The actual loss to the county in 2001 was $397,000.
I have meetings with the elected officials about once a month to discuss what we can do to save money. I think we cut about everything there was to cut in the last budget. If we get another insurance increase again this year the employees may have to absorb some of it. For the immediate present, any budget we prepare could be nullified if Amendment 3 is on the ballot and passes. Should the amendment pass, the county's loss in sales tax is estimated at $209,000 a year.
We're going to have to bite the bullet this next year. We're going to examine all the offices and everybody who draws a penny from the county. Anything that can be cut is going to be cut. And when we get to the bottom line we're going to see if our income is going to be sufficient to make it. If it isn't, then I think the quorum court has no choice but to have a small millage increase, a sales tax or something. I agree with some people who say the public should vote on a tax increase. But what we've got to keep in mind is when we raise our hand and swear in for these offices, the quorum court and I, we're swearing in as a legislative body. The only tax the general public can have a say in is a sales tax. The legislative body is responsible for the millage. To me, if a quorum court member is not willing to take that responsibility then he doesn't need to be here. And the same goes for me. If I'm not willing to take the responsibility it takes to finance and run this county as best I can for the taxpayers, then I don't need to be here
Murphy: There was a hue and cry that there would be a shortfall of $330,000 when the two became cities. From the Sharp County's Treasurer's Office, the figures show that the carryover for the general fund and road fund, plus taxes collected for use in 1999 to be in excess of $740 million; the amount collected was an increase of $134,724 or 4.1 percent over the previous year. Carry over plus taxes collected for use in the year 2000 was in excess of $832 million; the amount collected was an increase of $198,282 or 5.8 percent over the previous year. Carryover plus taxes collected for use in the year 2001 was in excess of $650 million; the amount collected was an increase of $98,735 or 2.7 percent over the previous year. It appears that if there is a shortage, it is more like mismanagement than a lack of funds.
VJ: Under what circumstances would you use county equipment on private property?
Crawford: In case of emergency as the law says. Otherwise you just don't do it. Under emergency situations such as a tornado the law says it can be done.
Murphy: In the few instances where the need might arise, it should be with the knowledge and approval of the quorum court.
VJ: Would you support a millage increase and under what circumstances?
Crawford: The response to this question has been addressed in the answer to the question pertaining to revenue shortages, above.
Murphy: Any increase in millage assessment should be voted on by the taxpayers.
VJ: What do you think should be done with 9-1-1 ?
Crawford: Presently, I am working closely with the budget committee and the incoming sheriff to get the operation under one roof. One thing we know for certain: the Jail Standards Committee told us we cannot used the same staff for dispatching and jail duties.
All dispatching in the county needs to be put under one umbrella. I don't think it will save as much money as some people think it will because you have to have so much help under state statutes, but it will save some money and will be much more efficient.
Murphy: 9-1-1 has been a hassle for the past 3-1/2 years. After listening to Stan Seagraves of Randolph County describe their operation, which is under control, I believe we should approach Randolph County about joining their operation. It would be beneficial to both counties.
VJ: What is the biggest asset you will bring to the office of Sharp County Judge?
Crawford: The assets I have are already in place. They are the elected officials and their staffs, my secretary and the entire Sharp County Road Department, and the good people of Sharp County who place their confidence in all of us to manage their tax dollars to the best of our abilities and to provide the services that we are bound, by law, to provide, as effectively and as efficiently as we are able.
From the judge's office, I can see a renovated courthouse -- a new roof, carpeted halls, painted offices, new ceiling tiles, new doors -- all without taxpayer expense. The road department reports monthly to the people and to the quorum court on all its work and on fuel and maintenance costs. My office is working with the assessor's office to implement a geographical information system that will allow all the offices to visually document and present all facets of their operations.
With everything working as well as can be expected under the constraints of a limited budget, I believe that all of us, working with Sharp County residents, can continue our efforts and work toward continued progress for all of Sharp County.
Murphy: I will bring 50 years of experience in business, budgeting and management. We have a lot of resources that have not been tapped. I would set up a planning commission and a road commission of volunteers to put advance plans in motion and plan our future in advance five to 10 years, so that everyone would know what is going on down the road and it would be implemented in stages.