Computer Programmer, CPA Shortlisted for District 4 County Council

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A local accountant who served a partial term on Johnson County Council takes on a newcomer to the race for Johnson County Council’s District 4.

John M. Mallers was selected in a caucus to fill a vacant county council seat in 2016. He then ran for a full term, but was unsuccessful. He hopes for different results in the newly redesigned district representing northern White River Township, he said.

Walt Janiec is a retired computer programmer running for political office for the first time.

The Daily Journal asked both candidates questions about their experience, tax philosophies and goals for the job. Here is what they said:

What experiences and qualities make you a good choice for a county council? Why are you running?

Janiec: I filed a few days before the deadline because no one had filed yet. I didn’t want someone who would be more involved in government, like the career politicians who run things. I think the fact that I have little experience is a good thing in government. I have more lived experiences. I turned 55 and I’m retired, so I’m pretty good with money. It’s not like I did something to make a lot of money at once; I’ve been saving all my career. I’d be as good with county money as I was with my own; it’s my goal.

Mallers: I want to make Johnson County the best place it can be. I have been a CPA for 30 years. The county council oversees the budgets and tax rates of all county agencies. I have 30 years of experience in the field of budgets and financial matters, which I believe is unique among candidates for municipal elections. I also served as Budget Director for the Indiana Local Government Department of Finance, a state agency that oversees statewide budgets, tax rates, and levies. They basically oversee what county councils do. I have this unique experience of endorsing the work of the county council, let alone serving on the council. On top of that, for the past 15 years I have worked (as a consultant) with county governments, helping them budget and stay within their means. I left that and now I’m with Indiana State again. I work with the child support department, helping county governments administer certain grants.

What are the top three issues facing the county?

Janiec: There is a problem with the lack of citizens involved in political life. We have too many vested interests at stake. I attended school board meetings last year, for example, and couldn’t help but think that some of the people there were placed there by the teachers’ unions. I want to keep taxes low. I would like to focus on the basics. I would have a problem with mission creep at the county level – you know things we’re not supposed to do. We are supposed to be a country where we are self-reliant. We’re not supposed to have kings and queens and rulers. I just wanna go out into the county and make sure the roads are paved and the police get paid, make sure the firefighters get paid and they have everything they need to do their jobs and let people live their life.

Mallers: manage Interstate 69 infrastructure, manage roads and bridges, and ensure the area and public safety, in particular, are ready for new development to come; because it’s going to be important. Johnson County has been very well run for a long time, and I think maintaining that is very important. There are going to be a lot of expenses coming up and they need to be able to handle that. The other thing I think (we need to do) is to keep tax rates as low as humanly possible. As a conservative Republican, that’s the mantra, but I think the counties are pretty skinny. There’s not a lot of waste, but you want to try to keep things fiscally sound.

Do you think the county needs new taxes?

Janiec: I want to do everything I can to reduce taxes. I would look at the budget and try to reduce waste. I would remove the things that shouldn’t be done by the county and make sure we stay focused on the absolute things that need to be done. I would review the budget and see what was there. What we need is someone who’s never seen it before to look at it with a new perspective.

Mallers: I don’t think they make that point. In the past, there have been cases where a tax increase has been rejected by people for a library. I love libraries as much as anyone else, but people…rejected it and it came to the board and was approved. This is something that I found inappropriate. (Although) you can never say ever that a tax increase won’t be necessary for public safety or something, especially with all the development that’s coming.

What will be your priorities for the departmental budget?

Janiec: Police, firefighters, roads. The priorities would be what they should be and what they have traditionally been if you went back 100 years ago…50 years ago. If it’s something new, I would probably wonder if it’s something we should consider doing. How did we get on? … We are all fallible. This is why when I enter this position, I will not try to govern or influence people in the way they live their lives. I will manage the resources entrusted to me and do my best not to waste them and perhaps, in the end, reduce taxes.

Mallers: Public safety and Interstate 69 infrastructure. Road funding is the big issue. We’re going to have to expand Smith Valley, Morgantown, County Line, and probably other routes. We’re going to need feeder roads. All of this has to be done because if you want to bring in businesses and you want the tax base to be able to do things, you have to have the infrastructure ready for those people. You also need public safety because businesses won’t want to come in there if it takes 12 minutes to get a fire truck there. If you can get a fire truck there in four minutes or less, you’ll get the expansion you want – or so I’m told.

With I-69, subdivision streets crumbling, and population growth continuing, the county faces many road funding issues. Do you have any ideas for raising more money for roads?

Janiec: I thought about this problem in my head. Traditionally we’ve funded them with gas taxes, and with more electric cars there’s less money coming in. I was thinking maybe a higher fee for license plates, but I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Maybe a higher electricity tax… A lot of it if you reduce waste it will free up money. It’s about refocusing what we do on the things we need to do. Roads are one of the things we have to do. As the population increases, this will increase the amount of money available.

Mallers: I know ARPA funds, federal COVID relief funds, can potentially be used for those. There’s about $10 million the county can use for road funding if it wants. It would certainly help. But most road funding will go through the legislature. So, if elected, I would certainly monitor the legislature and be in constant contact with our Johnson County representatives to ensure that our interests were taken into account when determining road funding by the government of the State. We don’t have a whole lot to say about that, internally… We do get some federal money, but it’s going to be mostly for I-69 (area), although there’s some of it that might be used on other routes, too.

County employees and elected officials are underpaid compared to other public and private sector entities, according to a recent salary study. Would making county employee salaries more competitive be a priority for you?

Janiec: No, it wouldn’t. It has always been true that when you work for the government, you trade pay for job security. I think people who work for the government do it more as a public service. I don’t think people should work for the government for more than 10 years. After a while, you have to move on, go back to private life. It’s a bad thing that people become career politicians or have careers in some of these positions. The exception would be firefighters and police officers. You shouldn’t do it to get rich.

Mallers: I should see the results of the study and see if they have any problems keeping people. I don’t know the county salaries compared to the private sector. I know that when I was on county council, Johnson County was significantly underpaid compared to surrounding counties and similar counties in the state. I know some of this has been fixed in the last couple of years…I’d be more concerned with keeping up with similar counties but if it’s a situation where it’s very hard to find people , this needs to be remedied.

Do you think the county needs a human resources department or any sort of oversight in addition to county elected officials?

Janiec: It’s probably not a bad idea to keep having none. Adding more people to the payroll isn’t necessarily always the right answer, building a big bureaucracy.

Mallers: If there’s a significant number of county employees who see this as an issue, that’s something we could discuss. I know (for example) that the auditor’s office has payroll people and there are HR people in the auditor’s office. So if that’s not enough, maybe that’s something to discuss. I’m not a micro-manager of departments, so it’s something that… I would be okay if they’re able to implement it within the financial limits; if it’s something we can do, it wouldn’t cost much more.

How do you think the county should spend the $31 million US bailout?

Janiec: If I had to put it on any area, it would be roads. We need it to get from one point to another. If (someone) gets sick, he has to go to the hospital, right? So I can substantiate that this is a COVID relief type thing.

Mallers: (Some of it) is available for roads, and I think some of that definitely needs to be considered for roads. With the large number of infrastructure issues that exist as a result of I-69…I would just say they should follow the federal rules on this and use as much of it as possible for the roads.

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