The League of Women Voters of Athens County held a virtual pre-election forum Tuesday night to clarify the political stances of the two candidates running for one of the Athens County Commissioner seats that will be up for grabs in November.
Democratic incumbent Charlie Adkins and his independent opponent, Bill Hayes, fielded questions about Athens County’s connection to Ohio University, safety concerns and economic and financial factors.
Adkins and Hayes, both of whom are OU graduates and remain active members in and around the university, agreed that economic diversification was necessary to improve Athens County’s sustainability.
Both candidates spoke on solutions to OU’s decreasing enrollment and budget cuts in recent years.
“I think this is a wake-up call to our community, and I think we have — for many years —allowed Ohio University to drive the city and the county,” Adkins said. “We just got to keep supporting, you know, the farmer's markets and other folks because I think we need help from every end.”
Atkins’ plans to dampen the effects of Athens’ dependence on the university with the help of local business revenue is championed by Hayes, but he takes a slightly different angle: tourist revenue.
“It’s beautiful around here,” Hayes said. “We have tourism opportunities facing us that we have done a very poor job of realizing.”
Hayes, like Adkins, wants to empower small businesses to thrive, but in order for that to occur, he argues that Athens must utilize the resources that it has to help local entrepreneurs succeed.
The two candidates diverged in their beliefs in the .25% sales and use tax that will be on the ballot this upcoming election, though, with Adkins highlighting the uses for such a tax and Hayes offering his opinion on how to better solve financial hardships without the tax.
Hayes admitted Adkins had more of an “inside track” on the tax and its potential uses but also illuminated the frustration of Athens County citizens regarding taxes.
“Honestly, I’d say that for nine out of 10 people that I’ve talked to in the county, the No. 1 thing that comes out of their mouth, their first complaint, is that they’re tired of the tax structure in this county,” Hayes said, simultaneously arguing that the best way to avoid a new tax is to responsibly control the expenditures of the county.
He also suggested that Athens is driving people out.
“The 911 system was created, as most of you know, 24 or 25 years ago, and it was funded by a quarter-percent sales tax, just like what we are asking for today,” Adkins said.
He went on to explain the benefits of the 911 system regarding safety, communication and beyond. He added that, without the tax, “our 911 system is not going to be able to continue giving service that we get today.”
An additional concern with safety arose when the candidates were asked what their spending priorities would be, should additional resources hypothetically become available to them. In response, Adkins and Hayes revealed some fundamental differences.
“Safety,” Adkins said, without much delay. “We all know that we got a drug issue, and when you have a drug issue, you have (a safety issue).”
Adkins said an increase in safety for Athens residents translates to more secure, small business operations, saying “Safety is probably my biggest concern with trying to support jobs.”
After Adkins’ answer, Hayes suggested a similar alternative.
“Desperate people steal things,” Hayes said.
If you have more widespread economic opportunity in this county, more jobs, the county will have a lower crime rate, Hayes said.