The Howard County council at-large positions have been decided, and incumbents and newcomers alike have expressed their hope to address similar issues, but through different means.
Incumbent County Council President Jim Papacek, long-time county government official Martha Lake, and political newcomer Daryl Maple clinched the at-large seats earlier this month. The three Republicans all addressed their takes on some of the same issues, albeit through different routes.
For Maple, the number-one issue he sees is how the county comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he hopes the council can recognize the need to be aware of potential issues that may come with expenditures, such as a long-planned jail expansion.
“I don’t want to be too passive,” Maple said. “I think we’re starting to see some numbers come in that have been fairly promising. We’re going to come fairly close on some of our revenues and what not. But to me, I think it’d be nice to form some sort of a committee to look at the potential costs, whether it be just adding on, they call it a pod, to the jail, or start to look at what are these things going to cost the taxpayers and discuss different ideas what’s going to be best and then try to figure out what option we want to try to move forward with that would most benefit Howard County.”
While Maple said a jail expansion, and through that, the hiring of more deputies to the sheriff’s department, was needed, he addressed a concern with what he dubbed “hidden costs” that might appear through that endeavor.
Similarly, Papacek also desired to see a jail expansion completed and said that he too wished to see a committee formed between various county offices, such as the commissioners, sheriff’s department, and council. He noted that, if the county gave the go-ahead on the jail expansion today, it still would take a year or possibly longer before construction could begin.
While Lake didn’t disagree with her counterparts, she instead took a more measured approach, saying, “Taxpayers need to realize who’s paying the bill.” She also noted that programs have been instituted in the county in an effort to reduce the jail population, such as addiction treatment services.
“I have a lot of respect for the current projects that we have going right now,” Lake said. “I love the drug court, the veterans’ court, the family court. Community supervision is working hard. I don’t know if that’s going to keep the jail population down, but … I’m very conservative, OK? However, we want our community healthy as well. So, I believe that if we make a decision about it, for any jail expansion, that the citizens should be involved in that discussion because they’re the ones that are going to be affected either way.”
Another issue that the three at-large council members put stock into was the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically on how it will affect Howard County’s finances in the near future.
According to Lake, the county received $2.7 million in funds from the state to assist in COVID-19-related expenses. She said the council will be addressing those appropriations at the next meeting. Despite the setbacks and worries in the county that the pandemic would have a drastic effect on finances, both Lake and Papacek said that the county is debt-free.
“The COVID thing has made us wonder what our income revenue would be, and so far, it has been pretty good,” Papacek said. “We didn’t lose as much revenue as we had anticipated; however, we still want to keep our general fund good. And right now it is. Fortunately for Howard County, the cooperation of the officeholders, and working with the commissioners, the county is debt-free. We’re one of the few counties in the state that is debt-free, and we want to be able to keep it that way as much as we can while still keeping the services that we provide at the same level.”
According to Lake, income taxes in the county are up, but she said they need to remain vigilant in their spending, something that the conservative-minded council intends to keep doing, Papacek noted.
The next county council meeting will be held on Nov. 24.