2012 election candidate questionnaire: Eric Thorsland, Champaign County Board District 1
Home: rural Mahomet
Occupation: Research engineer and farmer.
Political experience: Ran for county board in 2008 and 2010 and lost; has served on Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals since 2007.
1. What do you believe is the biggest problem in Champaign County government now, and what can you, as a single county board member, do about it?
For a start, the 22-member board. I was a proponent of both a smaller board AND single-member districts. As it stands we will have multi-member districts for the next 10 years; it is not the ideal arrangement and I believe it dilutes responsibility. If elected I will continue to (promote) the concept of single member districts in 2020. Second, the lack of a better comprehensive facility-wide preventive maintenance plan would be another issue I would support wholeheartedly. I join Mr. (John) Jay, who first talked about this several years ago in believing this is a very important issue, and in the long term it would be cost effective and wise to develop it.
2. What county services currently offered should be eliminated or reduced?
There are efficiencies to be gained in every department but the county has done a fair amount of this work already. There have been department by department budget trimming of fairly significant amounts, and it has helped the overall budgeting process. Deferments on wise expenditures while good to look at in the short term can cost much more down the road. An example of this approach is the downtown jail. Also some constitutionally allowed countywide offices could be combined but there would be great resistance from whatever side currently holds that office, be that R or D.
3. What services should the county provide that it does not offer now?
More service at the nursing home that has good revenue potential, expansion of programs designed to lower the incarceration rate at the county jail, while looking at the possible expansion of the new facility. This work has been started. Consolidation of offices and with that a better "customer service" oriented approach to serving the taxpayer. A big and consistent complaint is departments not communicating with each other, lack of record sharing, odd third party arrangements for some data, pay as you go record searching. It can all be fixed, and efficiently. People often have trepidation jumping into interactions with bureaucracy, why go out of the way to reinforce that?
4. Are there circumstances under which you would vote for another increase in property taxes to support the operation of the Champaign County Nursing Home?
No, not from the board alone, voter input would be needed. There is revenue potential in the nursing home, and I await the expertise from future board members to be utilized to help realize the full abilities of the home. A blended revenue stream is the best way to keep the facility available for the county, the current levy was approved by the voters, and future increases should go to the voters as well.
5. Are there circumstances under which you would vote to sell or close the Champaign County Nursing Home?
Yes, but the situation would have to be dire and very severe to warrant that drastic an action. We as a county do not expect every county service to support itself. Would The News-Gazette support County Highway 1 to be self-supporting? Currently our debt load for the courthouse and the nursing home are relatively the same but the principal owed on the courthouse is double that of the home; should we sell the courthouse?
6. Do you believe the downtown jail should be closed as soon as possible? If so, do you think an addition would be needed to the satellite (east Urbana) jail?
Yes, the downtown facility should be closed as efficiently and quickly as possible. The need for expansion should be driven by the results of the needs assessment that will be undertaken soon. The highest cost savings would come from closing the downtown jail and not expanding the satellite jail until public safety requires the expansion. There have been recent developments in alternative incarceration that would be beneficial for the county to explore.
7. What can the county board do to enhance economic development?
Consistency and streamlining the permitting and application processes for applicants. This work is being done and with board support it can happen faster. See justification in the answers to question 3.
8. Does Champaign County need a building code?
Yes. It does not need to be complicated or cumbersome, but currently we have little assurance that new construction and improvements are done using the best available guidance and standards.
9. Should the county or the county board do anything about a coal mine proposed for the Homer area?
As far as I understand mineral law and rights we can do little beyond symbolic actions; the situation does not allow our standards to be applied to the private landowners who are working with the mine operators. The above ground elements of the mine are not in our county.
10. Are there county offices that you believe can be eliminated or consolidated?
Assessor and Recorder could be consolidated. Again these offices could be combined but there would be great resistance from whatever side currently holds that office. It would take quite an effort but may be realistic. These are not the only ones but the first that would lend themselves to consolidation.