DANVILLE — In Tuesday's primary election, a former Vermilion County Board member is challenging three Democrats who currently hold all three seats in county board District 5.
Challenger Robert "Jim" Watson is vying for one of the seats held by Orick "Corky" Nightlinger, John L. Criswell and Andrew "Terry" Wilkus. Three of the four will move on from Tuesday's primary race to November's general election, where they will face the lone Republican candidate in that district, Bill Wright of Danville.
Watson served two terms on the board about 10 years ago. In 2010, he decided to run for the board again but lost his bid for the two open seats in District 5 to Nightlinger and Criswell.
Nightlinger was first elected to the board in 2003. He said he's a diehard opponent of raising taxes.
"My first budget in office I voted for a tax increase, and I learned a lesson, and I've never voted for a tax increase since," he said.
Nightlinger sits on the county board's nursing home committee. He said it's a shame the state can't honor its financial obligation to the facility, because the nursing home wouldn't be struggling financially otherwise. He said Vermilion Manor pulled itself out of a financial hole, and now, the state "is raking us over the coals."
He said he wants the facility to continue and would never be in favor of selling it, but would be open to hiring a management firm to operate it. Nightlinger said he's not a politician but a dedicated public servant.
Wilkus is seeking his second term on the board and said the biggest issue is what to do with the nursing home. He said the county is still investigating its options, and he doesn't want to make any hurried decisions. Wilkus said the county can't close it and is researching the pros and cons of hiring a management firm that would operate it for the county. When voters approved additional support through the property tax levy several years ago, Wilkus said, that was proof that people want the facility.
"We have to do something. We can't afford to be putting out millions of dollars for it, but I don't want to close it," he said. "I feel we owe the people in the county a nursing home. They voted an extra tax to keep it going."
Wilkus said the board has been diligent about keeping down property taxes since he's been on the board and expects that to continue, because the county has too many retired people who can't afford to pay too much in taxes. The county also needs more economic development, but Wilkus said the county board doesn't have a lot of control over that except to create a good environment for it.
Criswell is seeking his second term. He said he would like to see the state pay up on its obligation to the nursing home, but also believes the county owes it to senior citizens to keep Vermilion Manor going.
"I hope we can keep it going without any tax increases," he said.
Criswell said he doesn't want to increase taxes to keep it going, but it may be a have-to situation for the county.
"You can't kick those people out. We would be in a lot better shape if the state would pay up," said Criswell, who added that the nursing home is the top priority. "Right now, I'm trying to put all my thoughts toward the nursing home."