Gary Abernathy and Jeff Duncan were voted to return to the Highland County Board of Commissioners, according to unofficial results released Tuesday night by the Board of Elections.
Abernathy defeated Randy Mustard, 8,465 to 4,865, according to the unofficial results.
Abernathy was appointed to the commission in July to replace Shane Wilkin, after Wilkin accepted a position as a state representative. Abernathy’s term will run until Jan. 1, 2021.
“Naturally, I’m very grateful to the voters of Highland County,” Abernathy said Tuesday night. “Being my first time on the ballot, it’s just really been a humbling experience for people to cast their vote for you and put your yard signs in their yard.
“I want to thank the Republican Central Committee for having the faith to appoint me, and I’m glad I didn’t let them down. I really want to thank my wife, Lora. Spouses really go through this with you and have to put up with a lot, and she has really been a great source of support, along with my children and parents. I’d like to say a special thank you to Dick and Paulette Donley. They really worked hard for me and all the Republican candidates. They are hard-working people.
“And I’d like to congratulate my opponent, Randy Mustard. He’s a good guy, a good trustee and ran a good race.”
Duncan defeated John Dale Knauff, 9,979 to 3,293, according to the unofficial tally.
Duncan is wrapping up his first four-year term as a commissioner, and will begin a second four-year term in January.
“I just want to thank the voters for their continued support in me, and I’m looking forward to another four years,” Duncan said. “We plan to keep doing what we’re doing, being fiscally responsible and getting the department heads what they need to accomplish their tasks in the county. And I want to watch how much money we have coming in. We have to get those two things to match.
“I want to thank John Knauff for running a clean campaign. I have nothing bad to say about him whatsoever, and in local government, that’s important.”
The biggest issues the county needs to address, Abernathy told The Times-Gazette last week, are economic development, an increased law enforcement presence, and the county budget.
“I think there’s more we can do to encourage job providers to come here,” he said of the need for economic development. “I have always said that not everyone leaves Highland County, but a lot of people drive long distances for better paying jobs, and it’s not because they want to. There are good paying jobs here, but we need more.”
He also said more support is needed for law enforcement.
“And not just for the opioid issue, which is a big problem, but to protect life and property in general. I know there’s parts of the county where people don’t feel protected,” Abernathy said. “I’d like to look into giving the sheriff an increase in staff to better cover the county. I’d like to see, whether it’s through the grant we’re still working on, or our own budget, a deputy dedicated to the Rocky Fork Lake area, and I think the sheriff would, too. It’s just a matter of providing the manpower.”
While that could strain an already tight budget, Abernathy said he believes the commissioners need to weigh priorities.
As he prepares for a second term in office, Duncan said last week that he 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.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.