Former Hillsboro City Council member Peter Pence filed petitions this week to seek the office of Highland County Commissioner, and said Thursday he believes his experience both on council and with financial issues would be beneficial to county residents.
Pence said, “I want more for this county I grew up in.”
Pence said Highland County has had “tough times due to the recession,” and cited drug abuse, poverty and unemployment as negative factors locally. He said, “It’s certainly not the same place I grew up in. At the rate we’re going, what’s Highland County going to look like?”
He said he wants his children to have the chance to live and work in a place that provides good opportunities.
Pence is a five-year veteran of city council and spent the last four years as chairman of council’s Finance Committee. During his tenure, the committee, and council, made sometimes difficult and controversial decisions, particularly approving Mayor Drew Hastings’ proposal to contract with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District for fire and emergency medical coverage in the city.
But Pence said he believes it was the fiscally responsible decision, as were other choices that left the city with a carryover of about a million dollars at the end of 2013, its largest carryover in several years.
Pence said he is proud of that achievement, “especially when you consider that when I joined council, the auditor, Gary Lewis, told us we faced a $500,000 deficit for next year, and every year we were looking at another deficit.”
He said declining tax revenue, the loss of local government funds from the state, and the loss of township fire contracts played into the revenue problems, but he is proud that he left council on a high note, and that “when I left my committees, all assignments were completed. There was nothing left over, and the city is in its best position since the recession.”
He said it took a team effort, and “there’s so much wrong with government today, we need to focus on what we can do together.”
Pence served as a Democrat on council, and ran as a Democrat for state representative in 2012. But he filed as a Republican for commissioner, and said Thursday that the switch was a natural one. In fact, he said he has spent most of his life as a Republican, first registering with the GOP in 1996 “as a senior in Mr. Tom Barton’s social studies class.”
But he accepted an invitation in 2009 from the local Democratic Party to fill a vacant council seat, and ran as a Democrat for election that same year.
“I appreciate the local Democratic Party for giving me the chance to serve on council,” said Pence. “But I’ve always had conservative views, and I dealt with city finances as a conservative, and with the budget.”
Pence said he has always accepted the responsibility of leadership roles. He was the president of his class at Hillsboro High School, and served as the secretary of the Elks Lodge 361 in Hillsboro and the area guard at the Hillsboro Eagles 1161. He is treasurer of the Highland District Hospital Foundation Board, serves on the St. Mary’s Catholic School Board, and is a member of Highland County Farm Bureau.
Pence, who resides in Hillsboro with his wife, Holly, and their two children, son Walker, 6, and daughter Riley, 4, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School, and attended Wilmington College, majoring in business management and minoring in economics. Since 2005, he has been an agent with the Donald E. Fender real estate agency.