Perry County voters will see three contested county races on their General Election ballots.
All of the candidates mentioned the county budget as one of the top issues in Perry County. In early 2019, the county board faced a budget deficit of $1.3 million dollars. After hiring a consultant, raising fees and making deep cuts, the county was able to pass a budget with a gap of only $17,000. This year, the county is working with a balanced budget.
Incumbent State’s Attorney David H. Searby Jr., a Republican, will face Democratic challenger Bubba Harsy.
Searby, of Du Quoin, has served as state’s attorney for four years. Prior to taking office, he served as assistant state’s attorney and Emergency Management Agency director for Perry County. He also had a private law practice. He is a graduate of MacMurray College and Southern Illinois University School of Law.
Searby said budget issues are still on everyone’s minds in Perry County. “We have to operate within our budget,” he said.
Another ongoing problem that Searby has faced as state’s attorney is drug use.
“I’m proud of the Perry-Washington Drug Court, a program I designed to keep people out of prison,” he said.
Searby calls the drug court a “really good” success story. The program offers rehab to first-time offenders instead of prison. After completing rehab, offenders are required to complete a period of probation.
Harsy, of Du Quoin, is an assistant in the Coles County State’s Attorney’s Office in Charleston, where he is the county’s representative for drug court. He is home every weekend and for holidays. He is a graduate of SIU and received his law degree from American University in Washington, D.C.
Harsy said the county faces an issue with drug use, but its biggest issue is in the way laws are applied. “I feel like now in Perry County the laws are not being applied justly, and that’s something we need,” he said.
Harsy hopes to bring objective fundamentals of law to the county and apply them to everyone, he said.
In the race for County Clerk, Democratic incumbent Beth Lipe faces Republican challenger John Batteau.
Lipe, of Pinckneyville, was an administrative assistant in the Perry County Highway Department. She received training through Illinois Department of Transportation. She was appointed county clerk in 2019 to finish the term of Josh Gross, who took the position of director of Du Quoin State Fair.
Currently, Lipe said the big issue in her office is the upcoming election. The changes in voting due to COVID-19 have added to the workload in the clerk’s office.
Another big issue is the county budget. Lipe’s office, like other county offices, have cut the cost of operating the county clerk’s office. “I’m proud of the fact that I have reduced the budget for the clerk and recorder’s office, but I didn’t reduce services,” Lipe said.
Lipe also upgraded the system for recording deeds, she said, so they can now be entered online, which has kept people from having to come into the office during the pandemic. She also has kept staff to a minimum.
She has extended voting hours on Tuesday and Thursday to 7 p.m. and every other Saturday.
“People live here but don’t work here. If they get off work at 5 p.m., they can’t get here. Everybody has the right to vote, so we have to do everything possible to make that happen,” Lipe said.
Batteau served as supervisor of assessments from 2008 until his retirement in 2016. He also is retired from Illinois Central Railroad and worked for Illinois Department of Corrections. He ran for county commissioner in 2016 but was not elected.
"The county clerk’s office is the threshold to county government. I think I have a lot of experience and still have something to contribute,” Batteau said.
He is concerned about the budget and believes he has experience to help solve some of the budget problems.
He would adopt a more professional attitude in the office and more cross-training of employees, saying that would give residents “more bang for your buck.”
The first thing he would do if elected is to make sure there is a smooth transition.
“I don’t plan to make changes immediately. I want to get familiar with the office,” Batteau said.
In the county commissioner race, incumbent Susan Hepp, a Democrat, will face Republican challenger Bruce Morgenstern.
Hepp, of Pinckneyville, served as Deputy Treasurer from 2005 to 2014, a position her mother held 45 years ago. She said the fundamentals of a balanced budget and low property taxes are instilled deep within her. She works for Illinois Department of Corrections, where she is currently an advanced accountant at Big Muddy River Correctional Center in Ina.
Hepp was appointed to the board in June 2019 to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Jim Epplin.
She said the county board is no place for partisan politics. During her short tenure on the board, Hepp has worked with commissioners Bobby Kelly and Dallas Bigham to create a county budget that does not require the county to borrow money. They have accomplished that without raising property taxes. At the same time, they have increased the public safety budget.
Morgenstern, of Pinckneyville, is officially retired. He and his wife managed and were part owners of Pheasant Hollow Winery. He has an associate's degree in agriculture mechanics and a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from SIU College of Agriculture.
He has served on several boards, including the board of Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association. Morgenstern calls IGGVA a “quasi-government” entity that operates on government funds.
He said there is one principle to budgets — don’t spend more than you bring in.
He knows Perry County did not get into budget problems overnight and the budget cannot be fixed overnight. He said the board has to be smarter as they go along.
Election Day is Nov. 3.
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