HANCOCK COUNTY — Tens of thousands of dollars are backing campaigns in the upcoming primary election, including from residents, candidates themselves and companies doing business with county government.
Reports due earlier this month document campaigns’ contributions and expenditures dating back to the beginning of the year.
Marc Huber, a Republican seeking reelection for his Hancock County Board of Commissioners District 2 seat, came into the reporting period with nearly $2,600 and tallied nearly $25,000 more in contributions.
Huber, who’s running for a third term on the board of commissioners, said his campaign had a couple fundraisers in preparation for next week’s election.
“That’s usually what we’ve always done in the past,” he said. “We’ve had some corporate people invest in our campaign, and we’ve had local people invest in it as well.”
Among those corporate contributors are companies and executives of companies with speculative warehouse developments in western Hancock County, including $2,000 from Columbia, South Carolina-based Red Rock Developments and $500 each from Carmel-based Lauth, John Bumgarner of Cincinnati-based Al. Neyer, and Ryan Gallmeyer of Indianapolis-based Ambrose Property Group.
Huber has supported much of the speculative warehouse development in the western part of the county, but not all. He voted against the creation of a special taxing district last year to facilitate a Red Rock Developments project, citing a lack of assurances that it would benefit public safety and schools. The commissioners have since adopted a practice of entering into economic development agreements with warehouse developers that outline tax breaks as well as payments for operational public safety and school purposes.
Law firms and lawyers involved in the western developments have contributed to Huber’s campaign as well, including $1,000 from Matthew Price of Dentons’ Indianapolis office and another $2,000 from an investment company he runs, $500 from Barnes & Thornburg’s Indianapolis office and $125 from Briane House of Greenfield-based Pritzke & Davis.
Dustin Frye of Fishers-based RQAW, which is leading construction on the county’s soon-to-open new jail, contributed $1,000 to Huber’s campaign.
“It’s not that uncommon,” Huber said. “If you look at anybody’s campaign financing, people that work for the county and do things for the county, they tend to contribute. It’s not a payoff.”
Indiana Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Fishers, whose district includes part of northwestern Hancock County, contributed $1,000 to Huber’s campaign as well.
Gary McDaniel, a Republican Greenfield City Council member looking to replace Huber, came into the reporting period with nearly $3,400 and raised another $4,100. His backers include fellow city council members George Plisinski and Mitch Pendlum, as well as Ray Richardson, who served as county attorney for 50 years before the board of commissioners replaced him in 2019.
David Clapper and Sandra Hudson, western county residents and outspoken critics of the development there, also supported McDaniel.
McDaniel has been critical of that development as well, arguing that the infrastructure in that area is lacking for such large complexes.
“It’s unbelievable that we can go at something this unprepared,” he said. “…I hope to work with the other commissioners, and we can step back for a minute and see what we can do to make the lives of the taxpayers better.”
More focus needs to be placed on residential development in the western part of the county, McDaniel said.
Much of Republican incumbent Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton’s campaign coffers consists of a loan of over $15,000 from himself. He said he started setting money aside more than a year ago.
“Had to tighten the belt a little bit around the house, and that’s just the way it is,” Eaton said.
He noted COVID-19 risks that persisted through the winter made it challenging to hold fundraising events.
“It was very difficult to have the type of in-person events which have been the lifeblood of campaign fundraising in the past,” he said.
Grey Chandler, a Republican looking to replace Eaton, reported over $16,000 in contributions, much of which from family and himself. He also reported a $5,000 loan from himself to his campaign.
“I like the idea that I don’t owe anybody any favors,” he said. “I’m not saying other candidates who fund-raise would feel that way, but I think it’s a lot easier when there’s no issues like that. I certainly accepted donations from those who reached out and wanted to give, but I didn’t make serious fundraising efforts.”
Chandler, a former Madison County deputy prosecutor, added he’s reached out to lawyers he’s had good relationships with in the past for donations but has yet to hear back.
Along with candidates seeking office, a public question is also on the ballot for voters in the Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation district regarding a new property tax of up to 17 cents per $100 of assessed value from 2023 through as late as 2030. School officials say the tax is needed as a decade-long funding boost allowed by the state draws to a close and as property tax caps continue to limit revenue available to schools. It comes as the school corporation embarks on an expansion to keep up with its projected student population growth that includes building a new elementary school.
A committee advocating for the tax increase has raised over $18,000 for its campaign, including from Mt. Vernon staff and school board members as well as $10,000 from the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters.
Mike McCarty, a former Mt. Vernon school board member and co-chair of the Mt. Vernon Community Growing Stronger Together committee, said even more important than raising funds for the committee has been raising awareness about the needs for the tax increase throughout the school district. Chief among those needs, he continued, is maintaining competitive pay for teachers to ensure the school corporation doesn’t lose them and making sure class sizes don’t get too big.
“Schools are the centers of our communities,” McCarty said.
Attempts to reach the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters for comment were unsuccessful. McCarty did not want to speak on their behalf, but said he’s grateful for the group’s support.
“They’re part of the community somehow and feel very strongly, obviously,” he said.
Bill Bolander, the incumbent Republican Hancock County Council member representing District 4 in the southwestern part of the county, reported a sole campaign contribution consisting of a $2,500 loan from himself.
“I’ve always funded it myself pretty much,” said Bolander, who’s in his sixth term on the council.
Bolander added he received a contribution from the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors, but that it’s yet to be deposited. He thinks that support stems from his advocacy for higher residential design standards as the council’s representative on the Hancock County Area Plan Commission.
Scott Wooldridge, a Republican looking to replace Bolander, came into the reporting period with nearly $800 and raised another $750.
Along with McDaniel’s campaign, Clapper also contributed $500 to Wooldridge’s. Wooldridge has been critical of the development surge in the western part of the county as well. The county council can influence that development via tax abatements, something Wooldridge feels Bolander and other council members have been too generous on. Wooldridge thinks abatements could be scrutinized more and last shorter durations.
“We need to do the people’s work, and not just our own agendas,” he said.
Clapper, a commercial real estate analyst, said he supports McDaniel because of his desire to pause on industrial development and think more about residential development, and supports Wooldridge because of his promise to put constituents’ feelings over his own.
“I’m not against development, but it’s got to be development that makes sense,” Clapper said.
Jeannine Gray, the incumbent Republican Hancock County Council member representing council District 1, came into the reporting period with over $50 and raised another $200. Her opponent, Scott Ruble, reported an in-kind contribution of over $3,500 to his campaign from his business, Ruble Outdoor Concepts, Inc.