Democratic candidate for Monroe County Clerk Jason Jones Sr. recently questioned the priorities of county government following regular budget hearings.
Jones, who is running against Republican Jonathan McLean for the position to be vacated by retiring clerk Dennis Knobloch, posted a message on Facebook criticizing Monroe County Assessor Carl Wuertz, State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann and Sheriff Neal Rohlfing.
All are Republican officeholders.
Jones said local school districts will suffer financial consequences because Wuertz has not completed property tax assessments in a timely manner. He also criticized Hitzemann’s and Rohlfing’s offices for asking for more money given this situation.
“Increasing budgets for overwhelmed first-time public officials who can’t keep up with the pace of their jobs is not a priority I want my elected officials to pursue,” Jones wrote in a press release. “More money for law enforcement while the schools sound the warning bells on bankruptcy is not a priority for Monroe County. Trying to downplay the incompetence of the assessor and how that impacts every aspect of what the county does is not a priority I want my elected officials to pursue.”
Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis, whose budget hearing last week sparked Jones’ criticism, said he talked to two of the three local school districts about their finances.
Davis said those districts will most likely need to cash out investments or get loans in the forms of tax anticipation warrants by January to pay some bills, such as payroll.
“They’re not bankrupt,” Davis said of the districts. “They’re out of cash. You can’t freely transfer from all funds or even loan from all funds.”
Jones said Davis spoke for all three districts.
Davis said his intent when speaking to the Monroe County Board during the budget hearing was to see if he could help expedite the process in any way.
Jones criticized Wuertz for his role in this problem.
“This impending tragedy stems from Assessor Carl Wuertz failing to execute his duty to collect property taxes in a timely fashion, but it has been compounded by irresponsibility on the appropriations side,” Jones said.
For his part, Hitzemann said he did ask for more money to hire an entry-level assistant because his office’s caseload has increased significantly due to increased traffic, drug and DUI arrests.
That has happened for a variety of reasons, such as the county’s population increasing and law enforcement working to be more proactive in their role, such as with patrols of Route 3 in Columbia following recent fatality crashes.
In his original Facebook post, Jones said the officials he criticized asked for more money to fix “problems” they created.
“I took exception with the statement ‘own creation’ because I’m part of the group trying to solve the problem,” Hitzemann said.
Rohlfing asked for more money to hire and train a new maintenance director, as the current one is nearing retirement and the sheriff’s office is responsible for maintaining all county buildings.
Rohlfing also asked for more funds to replace his department’s aging portable radios, which are starting to fail.
At the end of his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, Rohlfing provided a defense of his department’s budget.
“I work hard every day to provide the highest level of public safety for our residents, all while looking at ways to save our taxpayers money,” Rohlfing wrote. “It is a shame that my budget is trying to be used politically when all I am trying to do is protect our residents from individuals that want to commit violent crime, bring drugs into our community (and) prey on our youth and (our) elderly.”
In his Facebook post, Jones said the combination of these issues may have serious consequences.
“The foundations of the school-to-prison pipeline are being laid right now in Monroe County,” he wrote.
“Taxing the people of Monroe County to build a new prison in order to house prisoners for profit is not a priority I want my elected officials to pursue,” Jones added in his press release.
Hitzemann said those comments also upset him, saying Jones comments on Facebook could not be “further from the truth.”
“I also took exception with the ‘school-to-prison’ comment because I’ve done the exact opposite,” Hitzemann said. “We’ve worked with probation to target at-risk youth offenders and offer all available services to help kids. We’re also about to implement teen court along with the (Regional Office of Education), which gives kids a chance to stay completely out of the juvenile courts. I’m a huge believer that we can stop our crime problem by intervening before it starts.”
Rohlfing said Jones’ comments about the new prison stem from the need the sheriff outlined for a potential addition to the jail, as it is getting crowded.
He said that is especially the case for females at the jail. The current jail can only house four females.
Rohlfing stresses that he did not ask for money to build a new jail.
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Jones has to twist the facts for his political agenda, but he’s got nothing else to talk about,” Rohlfing said. “He can’t talk about his background. He can’t talk about what his plan is for the clerk’s office because, to be honest, I really don’t know if he even knows what the clerk does.”
Rohlfing said anyone with concerns about his budget, which costs taxpayers about 21 cents a day, may contact him and come to the sheriff’s office to discuss their issues.
Jones said if he is elected county clerk in November, he will serve as a “watchdog” for Monroe County government.
“I am asking the people of Monroe County to entrust me with the office of their county clerk to make sure everyone in county government is putting the voters’ interests ahead of their own offices’ interests,” Jones said. “I pledge to use the clerk’s position as recording secretary of county commissioner meetings to proactively keep the public informed of the actions of county government, in order to avoid a catastrophe like this in the future.”