Editor’s note — This is the second of four stories detailing the four candidates running for Highland County commissioner seats in the Nov. 6 General Election. For a full term seat commencing Jan. 1, 2019, Republican incumbent Jeff Duncan will oppose Democrat John Dale Knauff; and for an unexpired term ending Jan. 1, 2021, Republican Gary Abernathy, who has filled the seat since Shane Wilkin resigned this summer to become a state representative, will oppose Democrat Randy Mustard.
As he wraps up his first four-year term as a Highland County Commissioner, Jeff Duncan believes the top issues facing the county in the next four years will be the budget, ongoing drug issues and the Rocky Fork Lake area.
“One of the things we’re focusing on right now is trying to watch county finances and trying to make sure everyone has what they need to function, and that’s a challenge because we don’t always have enough,” Duncan said.
For example, he said, the county’s department heads have submitted $10.8 million in budget requests for next year, while Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley has told commissioners they may only have $10.1 million to work with, or possibly a little less.
Duncan said he has no real answers on how to increase revenue that has been cut recently by the state, and that for the time being the county needs to “try to make good with what we’ve got.” But he said there may be hope on the horizon.
“I have heard that the state may go back to the prior way of calculating local funding, and maybe give us a little more money,” he said. He added that Rural King, a farm and home store, is coming to Hillsboro and that could help with tax revenue, and there are some solar energy possibilities, although they are a couple years down the road.
Somehow, Duncan said, he would like find a way to put more money into law enforcement, and he thinks Sheriff Donnie Barrera’s recent hiring of a new DARE officer is a positive step toward combating the drug issue.
“We also hope in the next few years to make upgrades and improvements in the Rocky Fork Lake community,” he said. “If we can come up with funding to do that — something sustainable — I’d like to see increased law enforcement and cleaning up the area.”
He said the commissioners are still waiting to see if their request for a 24-month extension for an $843,000 grant from the Department of Justice will be approved. The grant, known as the Rocky Fork Lake Area Safety and Advancement Project, is designed to combat crime, eliminate residential home blight and boost economic development in the lake area.
A 1972 Fairfield High School graduate, and lifelong farmer and resident of the Samantha area, Duncan said he became interested in politics shortly after he was married and later asked to work at a polling location. He said he did that for several years, became a 20-year Penn Township trustee, is a former U.S. Bank board member, and has served on the Highland County Republican Party Central Committee for several years. He said he is a lifelong member of the Leesburg United Methodist Church and is one of the owners of Five Points Implement in Hillsboro.
It was when his son came home from Ohio State University, Duncan said, that he started looking for something to do other than farming.
“When he came home I said, ‘What do you want to do now that you have a degree?’ He said he’d like to farm, and he really had never shown any interest in that before,” Duncan said. “The farm is not really big enough to support two families, so we changed roles. Now he farms and I help, rather than me farming and him helping.”
Duncan eventually landed in the county commissioners office, and said he has enjoyed the position.
“I hope I have been an asset to the community. Highland County has been blessed, in my opinion, with good commissioners in the past,” Duncan said.
Over the past four years, he said that due to some department heads retiring, the commissioners have hired new ones “that have done an excellent job of controlling their budget and trying to do their best with the money we have to work with.”
He said that he is proud of improvements that have been made to the Highland County Justice Center, Hi-Tec Center, Highland County Courthouse and the probation department during his term.
“I feel like I have the experience and enough business sense that I can guide the county to at least maintain the levels we’ve had and get increased levels as time goes by,” Duncan said. “It’s been a good four years. I’ve enjoyed it. Hopefully, the citizens of the county think I’ve been a benefit. I try to put a lot of thought into the decisions we’ve made and I hope the voters have the confidence to send me back another four years.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.