Greene County Commissioners— Who’s in the primary
- Published: March 12, 2020
As the sole Democrat running for Greene County commissioner in a red-majority county, Colin Morrow of Fairborn believes in political dialogue.
“There’s got to be Democrats and Republicans in healthy conversation,” he said in a recent interview with the News.
A colonel in the Army Reserve and a director at defense contractor Centauri of Fairborn, Morrow is a member of Fairborn City Council and the city’s deputy mayor.
His priorities as a contender for Greene County commissioner include economic development, keeping taxes low and supporting veterans in the county.
Morrow is running unopposed for an open seat on the Board of Greene County Commissioners in the March 17 Democratic primary. In November, he’ll face off against one of three Republican candidates vying in the Republican primary race: Ron Geyer of Xenia, Rick Perales of Beavercreek and Debborah Wallace, also of Beavercreek.
Also on the Republican primary ballot is Tom Koogler of Bellbrook, running unopposed for a third term on the commissioner board.
The three-member board is the main administrative and budgetary authority for the county, with powers outlined in the Ohio Revised Code. As such, the commissioners wield significant power in the county, managing the county budget, overseeing a portion of county employees and appointing members to county committees and boards.
By Ohio law, county commissioners are elected at large to four-year terms. There are no term limits on the position. Commissioners’ compensation is set by the state based on county size. Annual compensation for Greene County commissioners in 2020 is $79,761.
The current Greene County commissioners are Bob Glaser, who is retiring at the end of 2020; incumbent Tom Koogler; and Dick Gould, whose seat comes up for re-election in 2022. All are Republicans.
Commissioners administer the county’s annual budget, which in 2020 is $55.5 million, appropriated to some 30 county offices and departments such as county and municipal courts, parks and trails and job and family services. The single largest item is the sheriff’s office, with an appropriation of $16.3 million, or 30% of the total 2020 budget.
Revenue sources include county sales tax, property tax and other fees.
Over the past two years, commissioners have been planning for a new county jail and sheriff’s office. In December, the current commissioners voted 3–0 to put a 12-year, 0.25% sales tax increase on the ballot to fund the construction of a new and larger jail for Greene County. The new jail and sheriff’s office is estimated to cost $70 million.
In advance of the March 17 primary, the News interviewed each of the commissioner candidates by phone regarding their plans and priorities for the position, as well as their views on the proposed county jail. Common themes and a few distinct perspectives emerged.
Ron Geyer has been the owner of Geyer’s Office Supply of Xenia since 1974, when he took over his father’s business on the day of the Xenia tornado. Based in Xenia, the company added a second location in Fairborn 13 years ago.
“I think I can handle the job of commissioner,” he said. “I’ve had 46 years of managing budgets.”
Now headed toward retirement, Geyer said he would like to give back to the community that has nurtured several generations of his family.
“Greene County has been good to our family,” he said.
Geyer previously ran for county commissioner in 2018, losing narrowly to current commissioner Gould.
Debborah Wallace is also a small businessperson. Since 1991, she’s owned Wallace Brokerage Services, an independent insurance brokerage in Beavercreek. Wallace is currently a Beavercreek Township Trustee, having previously served for eight years on Beavercreek City Council, among other positions.
“I believe I am the person who brings diverse experience to the county, has a steadfast record as a successful local business owner and a lengthy background of service,” she said in a written statement from a Feb. 18 election forum.
Rick Perales is currently serving his fourth term in the Ohio House as state representative from the 73rd district. Ending his statehouse service due to term limits, he said he is seeking a return to local politics. A retired Air Force commander, Perales previously served as a Greene County commissioner and mayor of Beavercreek, among other roles.
“This is about one word: service,” he said of his motivation to run for commissioner. “I am the only commissioner that doesn’t own a business and will be full time,” he added, highlighting his commitment to the role.
Perales has received the endorsements of several county and state officials.
As previously indicated, Democrat Colin Morrow is employed by Centauri of Fairborn, as well as serving as Fairborn deputy mayor and Council member. He has been in the Army Reserve since 1986.
“I’m running because I care about the community,” he said.
Morrow added that as a member of Fairborn local government since 2017, he has helped “move the city forward” in the past three years, with new business development and vitality downtown.
Tom Koogler is a lifelong businessperson who, in 2003, sold his waste management business to Fortune 500 company Waste Management, Inc.
Koogler said he’s running for a third term because “as long as I can make a difference, I will.” He highlighted his extensive business experience as an asset to the commissioner board.
“I bring a business philosophy focused on ROI [return on investment] and customer service,” he said.
Focus on fiscal responsibility
All five candidates emphasized fiscal responsibility as their key priority for the role.
“I’m a fiscal conservative,” Geyer said. “I won’t go out and look for things to spend money on.”
Geyer said his main idea in running for commissioner is to cap the county’s cash carryover, then “give it back to taxpayers” in the form of a millage reduction.
The cash carryover at the end of 2019 was $27 million, a figure cited by several candidates. In response to a question from the News, County Administrator Brandon Huddleson clarified that as a result of encumbrances and spending at the beginning of 2020, the carryover now stands at about $19 million.
Geyer said he would like to cap the carryover at $25 million, and return the extra money to taxpayers or local nonprofits.
Also a self-described “fiscal conservative,” Morrow likewise addressed the cash carryover, saying he favored an adjustment to the county property tax rate based on carryover surplus.
“I think there’s room to adjust the property tax rate or invest in townships, villages and cities,” he said.
For his part, Perales said he would keep a close eye on the county budget, looking for areas that offer “the biggest bang for the buck.”
“Until I review the numbers, I hesitate to commit” to any specific proposals, he added.
But Perales clarified that he was less inclined to push for tax rollbacks that would yield a small amount of money per taypayer. Instead, he would consider investing surplus funds in county programs addressing domestic violence, homelessness and other issues “to take care of the most vulnerable.”
Incumbent Koogler said he had worked with the current county administrator to implement “zero-based budgeting,” a method of budgeting that requires that all expenses be justified.
He said the new method has resulted in cost savings, and has grown the cash carryover to its current level. Koogler stated that the county had reduced county property tax millage in 2017 based on a surplus, and he would favor doing so again in 2020.
The Greene County millage rate is currently 14.5 mills.
Wallace said that as commissioner, she would “make sure the important things got funded,” while also looking for ways to save taxpayer dollars.
She offered several specific ideas that she believed would cut county expenses. These included leasing rather than purchasing county vehicles, and hiring another entity to construct county buildings such as the proposed new jail, with the county leasing back the building at a lower cost. She also advocated making “shared services” agreements with city and village governments to lower overall costs for certain administrative functions.
“I’m trying to bring innovative ideas and save taxpayers money,” Wallace said.
She also pledged to restore county general fund support to the Xenia-based Family Violence Prevention Center.
“I believe strongly in getting abused women and families off the street and giving them help,” she said.
Other plans and priorities
The candidates also highlighted other plans for the commissioner job.
As a retired military officer, Perales said his top priorities include strengthening Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and making the county “more accommodating” to active and retired members of the military. He has been active in both areas as a state legislator, he added.
“Wright-Patterson AFB is our engine,” Perales said of its importance to the county. The base is currently the largest employer in Greene County.
Democrat Morrow also highlighted veterans’ issues as an area of concern.
“More can be done to support our veterans,” he said, citing the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, among returning service members.
In addition, Morrow described economic development as a priority, with a focus on infrastructure development, business incentives and workforce development in the county.
Wallace said she planned to elevate the needs of veterans and small business owners through new collaborations.
“Why can’t the Greene County commissioners embrace all of the chambers of commerce in Greene County?” she asked.
Wallace also characterized herself as a “proponent of a metro park system” for Greene County, with one system tying together county, city and village parks and trails.
Geyer stated his belief that the county needed “a long-term plan for infrastructure” in order to adequately budget for repairs and replacements.
“I favor a 25-year plan,” he said of anticipating infrastructure needs.
Incumbent Koogler said he would build on his accomplishments of the past eight years. These included revising the budget process, implementing customer service training for all county employees and developing a grant program for the county’s cities, villages and townships.
Regarding the grant program, Koogler said the county is now offering local governments the opportunity to submit funding requests for specific projects and programs.
“If it’s something that makes sense and they need cash or matching funds, we’ll fund it,” he said.
Views on the county jail proposal
The News asked all candidates for their views on the proposed new county jail, which appears on the March 17 ballot as Issue 12.
All commissioner candidates supported the jail project, which will increase county jail beds from 382 to 500 beds, as well as expand classroom and treatment space.
“I’m for a larger jail. We have to look into the future,” Wallace said.
She suggested that the county could rent beds in the new jail to other counties to offset construction and operating costs.
“There’s nothing wrong with a public entity producing revenue instead of spending it,” she said. “We can rent [the jail] like a hotel and get revenue from that.”
Geyer, too, stated his support for building a new jail.
“I do believe we need a new jail, but I would like to see some of the money spent for mental health services,” he said.
The need for mental health funding was echoed by all the commissioner candidates.
Morrow said that while he supported the sales tax increase to pay for the new jail, “the question is do we need 500 beds, or … should we have less bed space and more rehabilitation.”
“As a commissioner, I would influence what that project looks like,” Morrow added.
For his part, Perales voiced confidence in the commissioners’ and sheriff’s plan to replace the existing “insufficient and inadequate” downtown jail.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we need a new jail,” he said.
As a former civil engineer, Perales said that if elected, he would “keep a close eye on” the project’s design and construction.
Incumbent Koogler voted last year to put the sales tax increase for the new jail on the ballot. Despite that vote, he has spoken publicly about his concern that the proposed jail may be larger than needed, given criminal justice reforms, new technologies and other factors.
“If it’s passed, we need to look with a good set of eyes … at how we’re spending our money,” he said.
County voters soon will determine the fate of the jail proposal, as well as deciding which Republican contender will face Morrow in the general election this fall.