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Local background an asset in 14th District contest

• Jul 7, 2018 at 11:35 PM

The race for the 14th District seat on the Washington County Commission sees Johnson City Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin facing Republican nominee Jim Wheeler. Van Brocklin is running as an independent against Wheeler, who is a Jonesborough attorney.

1. What is it about your personal and professional background that makes you the most qualified to hold this office?

Van Brocklin: I have four years’ experience as a member of the Johnson City Board of Education and seven years of experience as a member of the Johnson City Commission, including three years as Johnson City’s mayor. I am proud to have played a key role in educational and community progress over the past 11 years.

I have demonstrated a countywide commitment, working with non-municipal residents, the county mayor and members of the County Commission on a variety of issues. I believe the relationships I have forged with county staff and officeholders will be an asset to my constituents and to the county.

Wheeler: I’ve been a local government attorney for 18 years. I majored in accounting in college and I have had training in resolving conflicts. Finally, I served as chairman of the Washington County Republican Party, and have experience helping elect fiscal conservatives in our county.

Those combined experiences put me in a position to raise tough questions and get answers to find ways for county government to work more efficiently and also to build consensus among other commissioners on the best solutions to the difficult challenges facing our county. It is time to bring people together and get more accomplished.

2. What do you think is the most challenging issue facing Washington County?

Van Brocklin: Both Johnson City and Washington County face the same critical challenge of providing the services that our citizens expect and deserve at a time where economic growth is stunted and at a juncture where state revenue streams are shrinking. Our city, county and region must cohesively focus on promoting growth in order to avoid a reduction in services to citizens or an increase in taxes to pay for providing those services.

Unfortunately, belt-tightening is only a temporary solution to this most challenging of issues facing us. Costs will go up no matter how fiscally responsible the governing bodies are.

Wheeler: I think one of the biggest challenges we will face this term is the growth of our local economy and local tax base. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing states to collect sales tax on internet purchases will help by providing increases in local sales tax revenue and also stop the increasing losses of those revenues.

That first challenge will also strengthen the need for us to look within our current budget and find ways to save money working more efficiently to meet the challenge of slower growth we currently face.

3. Under what circumstances would you vote for a property tax increase?

Van Brocklin: I believe that the 40-cent property tax increase approved by the County Commission in 2017 will be adequate to cover county investment needs during the term of this next County Commission, although some reallocation of the use of the funds may need to be considered.

Wheeler: I believe that too often raising taxes is the first thing that gets mentioned when things get tight. We should not talk about taking more from taxpayers and begin to evaluate the current budget and find ways to work more efficiently.

That is the first thing we should always look at, just like we all do at home.

I do not believe we will need to raise property taxes during this term. I will not vote for a property tax increase without being certain it is only a last resort to meet an immediate actual need.

4. What is your vision of how the working relationship should be between the County Commission and the county mayor?

Van Brocklin: Any working relationship is a two-way street. For each, the relationship should be transparent and without gamesmanship. Every commissioner should have the same access to complete information from the mayor and his staff and the mayor should have the assurance that the commission will support or reject his proposals based upon their merits, not based upon personal agendas. The new mayor will certainly have that commitment from me.

Wheeler: First there should be respect between the mayor and commission that includes full and open communication and provision of complete information. The County Commission, as the legislative branch, should be able to ask questions and receive complete information in response to those questions, including recommendations from the mayor and staff.

Then the commission should be allowed to make the decisions that come under its authority.

Second, within the parameters set by the resolutions and budget adopted by the commission, the commission should allow the mayor to complete his executive branch function and support the mayor in doing just that.

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