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Race for mayor begins

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

Mayor Brooks Fetters and County Commissioner Larry Buzzard are set to face off on Primary Election Day, May 7, on the Republican Party ballot, the only contested primary race for mayoral candidates.

Buzzard said his fiscal conservatism and business background make him the ideal candidate for moving Huntington forward responsibly.

“First and foremost, I’m a conservative. I believe in less government and more individual freedom and responsibility,” Buzzard said. “I believe a good mayor knows when to push and when to pull. We have been in spending mode for the last eight years. I intend to cut up the city credit card and get back to the basics of local government.”

Buzzard cited the City’s debt, which has risen from nearly $25 million in 2011 to $60 million in 2018, according to Department of Local Government Finance reports. He said reducing debt and not taking on any new debt for the next four years would be his priority, if elected.

Fetters addressed the city’s debt, as well. He said a majority of the bonds were taken out to pay for the $64 million long term control plan, a state-mandated sewer project aimed at protecting rivers, which Fetters said past mayors had neglected to address, which fell on his to comply. That project is currently $2.5 under budget and ahead of schedule, according to the most recent reports.

He said the city was so far out of compliance that had they not acted quickly, Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management could have stepped in and raised rates even higher than his administration had to.

Fetters assured that all of the City of Huntington’s debt is secured by appropriate revenues and reserves, with a two-month cash reserve to make sure the City isn’t “overwhelmed by a big unexpected repair expense,” and he clarified that Huntington Common Council oversees and approves city finances, not the Mayor.

“The City’s finances are solid and strong,” he said.

Fetters said his seven years of experience in the position and dedication to improving the quality of life and economic development of the city sets him apart from his opponent. In his past terms, Fetters said he’s assembled an administration that has helped him coordinate 57 industrial development projects within city limits with a total capital investment of more than $155 million, bringing in an estimated 1,084 new manufacturing jobs, according to Huntington County United Economic Development reports.

“I believe the ‘We Serve Huntington’ team has proven time and time again over the past seven years that we know how to leverage our local dollars with private investments, grants and surpluses to make Huntington a more attractive place to call home.

“The (administration) is all about smaller government, low taxes, efficient service and improving the quality of life for people who call Huntington home,” Fetters added.

Fetters said he is proud of the community engagement his administration has achieved, citing record volunteerism and quality of life improvements such the removal of blighted properties, cleanup of the HK Porter brownfield and especially the completion of the Etna Avenue Corridor.

“New businesses, restored historic structures, new and remodeled homes now are seen all along Etna Avenue,” he said. “... It is very rewarding to see this future-shaping project come to the city’s south side.”

“Quality of life is when thousands of citizen volunteers participate in Little River Clean-ups, Chalk Walks, Daddy-Daughter Dances, painting park picnic tables or plating flowers downtown,” he added. “Quality of life is gathering in Rotary Centennial Park by the fountain, the clock or the dynamic Christmas Tree. Quality of life is taking teenages’ ideas for a BMX track and making it happen. The list can go on and on.”

In regards to accomplishments, Buzzard points to the industrial projects his team landed under his leadership, including the industrial developments in Markle, namely the Novae and Dayton Freight projects, and in Warren, such as the $9.5 million investment by Italian cheese company Golfo di Napoli last year.

He said he was especially proud of the Courthouse Annex building project, where the County moved departments from the old First National Bank Building downtown to relocate it to the former Hiner building. He said they purchased the Hiner building for less than $240,000 and renovated the pole barn and garage for storage as well as the main building for less than $230,000, bringing the project total cost under $500,000, which was paid with cash on hand.

Buzzard said when you compare his project to renovations of the City Services building, which was paid with cash on hand, and plans to build a new police station, which is being paid with a mix of cash on hand and bonds backed by tax revenue dollars, “you can see how we differ in our philosophy and approach to city government.”

“The Fetters administration has invested heavily on quality of life issues and given it a priority over infrastructure and debt, hoping that will attract residents,” Buzzard said. “I believe that was essentially gambling with taxpayer money. We need to shift our priorities. I would like to institute some neighborhood gentrification programs to bring residents back to the city. I would work with Huntington Alert and the Historic Review Board to assist in preserving our historic buildings and neighborhoods. I pledge to preserve our brick streets and hopefully convert some back to brick when appropriate.”

Fetters said if he is reelected, he would work to increase the industrial manufacturing base, such as the recent acquisition of 128 acres of prime land for an industrial park, and help launch local business. He also said he is committed to restoring downtown through the UB Block project, along with increasing communication with the public since local and national newspapers are facing challenges.