Two Democrats, two Republicans vying for two seats in Champaign County District 1
The four-person race for two seats on the Champaign County Board in District 1 includes a longtime board member, an appointee to the board, a twice-unsuccessful board candidate and a political newcomer.
District 1 voters face a rarity in the county this fall; of the 11 county board districts, only three have contested races. In the other districts, there are just two Democrats or two Republicans running for the two available seats.
Here is a map of the district from the website of the Champaign County clerk's office.
John Jay, currently the head of the Republican Party caucus on the county board, says the biggest problem facing the county is the future of the county-owned nursing home. Although the census at the nursing home has been strong in recent months it has been hurt by cuts in federal and state support, and by payment delays.
Jay said he would consider a property tax increase for the nursing home but only with voter approval and only with the understanding that it would "move (the issue) down the road to a later time." He said he could vote to close the home, but only "as a last resort."
Gary Maxwell, who was appointed to the board last year and finished second in a three-way GOP primary last spring, said he believes the county board eventually will have to ask voters to give the board guidance on either raising property taxes to support the home or selling or closing it.
"I believe there are circumstances beyond the control of the county board which may cause the board to ask the voters of Champaign County for the option to sell or close the home," he said. "Placing the home in other hands may be the only way to save it. Therefore, I would vote to place the question before the people providing the resolution was supported by a wide bipartisan majority of the board."
Eric Thorsland, who is running for the board for the third time, said he believes the financial condition of the facility can improve, and said he would be reluctant to close or sell it.
"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," said Thorsland, a Democrat.
Financial conditions at the nursing home would have to be "very severe," he said, for him to vote to close or sell and the nursing home.
And Eugenia Lamb Watson, a Democrat from rural Seymour who is running for office for the first time, said she could support asking taxpayers to increase their support for the nursing home. Watson, a nurse for 39 years, said it is "unlikely for me to support closing or selling the nursing home."
Watson, who did not run in the primary election but was slated by the Democratic Party, said she is running because she "did not want to leave a space on the ballot uncontested. I just felt I wanted to get more involved and be more a part of the community and what's going on."
She has lived in District 1 since 1981.
"The health care issues that are going on in the county are something that I feel very strongly about," she said. "I would like to see the quality of health care in the county improve. From where I sit and where I work we see a lot of uninsured patients, we see a lot of patients who are not getting the care they should be getting. I don't know if there are ways to improve that in the county."
The candidates also displayed a variety of opinions about the future of the 30-year-old downtown jail, which Sheriff Dan Walsh has said is obsolete and cumbersome to operate.
Thorsland said it "should be closed as efficiently and quickly as possible" and that whether the east Urbana satellite jail is expanded should be determined by a needs-assessment study.
Watson said she supports closing the downtown jail but would decide on expanding the satellite facility only after a "serious review."
Maxwell said the downtown jail needs to be kept open until after the jail needs study is completed and that "a reasonable maintenance program" for both jails should remain in place.
Jay also said the downtown jail cannot be closed soon, but added that he was skeptical of the upcoming jail needs study, saying "I do not believe we will get a jail study, instead we will get an alternative-to-incarceration study."
While both Jay and Maxwell said the county does not need its own building code, Watson said she believes it "would be wise" to have one, and Thorsland said he too supports the idea.
"It does not need to be complicated or cumbersome," he said, "but currently we have little assurance that new construction and improvements are done using the best available guidance and standards."
District 1 takes in the northwestern quadrant of the county and includes Mahomet, Fisher, Seymour, Foosland, Dewey and large sections of farmland and rural property.