GOSHEN — Three candidates running for seats on the Elkhart County Council have been sitting front and center, listening to budget talks for the past week.
Republican Tom Stump and the two Democratic candidates, Mike Settles and Ralph Spelbring, have been getting a sneak peek of what the county council members do to prepare the upcoming year’s spending plan. The council has been working since Sept. 11 to balance an $82 million budget, which is expected to be approved next week.
“I went to the budget hearings so I could get a firsthand account of how serious the budgeting situation is and to hear from the department heads what their experiences are,” Settles said.
Settles was particularly interested in hearing how the county supports nonprofit organizations. The number of nonprofit groups receiving contributions from the county has dwindled over the years. In 2013, only one nonprofit organization — ADEC Inc. — is expected to receive money from the county.
“I know times are tough and revenues are tight, but one of my big issues is to see that we maintain our support for nonprofits,” Settles said.
As a six-term member of the Goshen City Council, Stump is no stranger to budget hearings, but he said the county’s approach is much different. In Goshen, he said, the mayor takes the lead meeting with department heads individually and makes recommendations to the city council members. For the county’s budget, department heads present their budget requests to the whole county council at once.
“They certainly get along well together,” Stump said, commenting on the county council members. “In the city, I know from time to time we have some really aggressive arguments, and I haven’t seen anything like that with the council. I find it interesting that they are so cooperative and get along so well together.”
But, Stump said, such cooperation can work for or against the council.
“I come from a background where there’s argument, and controlled argument, I think, is good,” he said. “I think you come to the best solutions when everybody is talking about what you’re doing, and if you don’t agree, you say something. The best solution comes when you bring all of the sides together.”
Spelbring was not available to comment about his experience at the budget hearings.