Photos provided - (From left to right) Local banker Jared Hoffmaster, St. Joseph County Democratic Party chairman Andrew George and non-profit summer camp property manager Matthew Mosher are vying for the First District seat on the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners in the Nov. 3 general election.

Campaign Q+A: First District County Commission candidates

THREE RIVERS — One of the few contested seats in county-wide races is the race for the First District seat on the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners.

The seat is one of two on the county commission that will be contested in November, and the only one of those two that an incumbent will not run in. Current First District Commissioner Allen Balog will step away from the seat at the end of the year due to running for the Republican nomination for the 59th District in the Michigan House of Representatives, where he finished fourth in the August primary.

Competing for the seat, which covers the City of Three Rivers, Flowerfield Township and Fabius Township, are Republican Jared Hoffmaster, Assistant Vice President and Investment Officer at Century Bank and Trust and former Three Rivers city commissioner; Democrat Andrew George, chairman of the St. Joseph County Democratic Party and Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors chairman; and non-party-affiliated candidate Matthew Mosher, currently a property manager for a local non-profit summer camp.

The Commercial-News sent a questionnaire to all three candidates recently to answer questions about issues pertinent to the First District for the upcoming election. Some responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Why are you running for First District County Commissioner, and why do you think you are qualified for that role?

Jared Hoffmaster: I am very grateful for my upbringing in Three Rivers and was always taught to “leave it better than you found it.” I’m raising a young family here and am invested in the successes of our community. I want to continue to have a positive impact on St. Joseph County and give my children the opportunities that I had growing up. I feel like I am qualified in this roll do in large part to the successful leadership positions I’m already involved with or have been involved with in the past. I am currently the Three Rivers Area Community Foundation President, past TR Rotary President, past City Commissioner, current River Country Sports Commission Vice President and TR Rocket Football board member. All of these volunteering leadership roles have given me the opportunity to positively impact my community. I believe bringing people together in a collaborative way in order to improve our community’s quality of life will serve me well at the County level.

Andrew George: I am running for First District County Commissioner because I have a passion to bring the same results we have seen in downtown Three Rivers to all of St. Joseph County. This is also what I believe qualifies me. I would also like to bring our lower and middle class back to the table.

Matthew Mosher: The simple reason is change, I am not satisfied with the current and past direction and behavior of the county. We need change! The current systems are not working for many people. St. Joseph County continues to struggle with many issues that create hardship and a lower quality of life for many residents. It seems many government decisions are made that only benefit a select group of people and not the entire community as a whole. I seek to hold those accountable to either make needed change or get out of the way.

I have served 3 terms of service in AmeriCorps National Service program and have lived/worked/studied throughout the U.S.A. including Puerto Rico. I grew up in this area, left at 18 years old, and returned to Three Rivers over 10 years ago to start a family.

I bring a unique perspective of diverse talents, experiences, and knowledge gained from working/volunteering at many levels of government (throughout the United States) combined with private sector positions and faith based volunteering.

What do you believe is the role of a county commissioner, and how would you fill that role if elected?

Hoffmaster: The role of a County Commissioner is to not only be the voice of the residents they serve but to also be effective in the ability to deliver on what the people want. I bleed purple and white. Being born and raised in Three Rivers, along with the leadership roles I’m already apart of, allows me to have a large network across the County. I plan on using this large network in order to effectively carry out the wishes of my constituents. I also believe my experiences as a City Commissioner and the relationships I’ve built there will serve the Fist District well.

George: The role of County Commissioner is to not only balance the budget, but to set the course for St. Joseph County’s future. If elected in November, the vision I have for St. Joseph County is one of equality, transparency, supporting our most vulnerable citizens, and empowering our local businesses.

Mosher: A county commissioner works to adopt ordinances and resolutions to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of county residents while being responsible for the budgetary and administrative duties overseeing general county operations. The county commission in general also implements federally funded programs and mandates.

I have worked as a volunteer/employee at the city, county, regional authority and federal levels of government. I have also been employed by private companies and non-profit organizations.

I also chose to run as a No Party Affiliation candidate. I did this to represent ALL the people of our county, not a political ideology. We have had enough division locally and nationally.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the people of the First District, and what will you do to address that challenge if you are elected?

Hoffmaster: I would say our biggest everyday challenge is earning a living that matches our spending habits. Some of us live paycheck to paycheck. I don’t believe it’s the government’s responsibility to give handouts to able working residents but I do believe as a Commissioner it is my responsibility to collaborate with other agencies/nonprofits to help people learn about budgeting (gain better spending habits) and also help attract and retain quality paying jobs to our County. If we can help facilitate this our residents will have good spending habits and opportunities to have a good paying job, which in turn will help with those in our County living pay check to paycheck.

George: believe one of the biggest issues that we are facing in St. Joseph County is our income rates. St. Joseph County has a consistent median income average of almost $5,000 less than the state average. Between 2014 and 2018 Michigan’s median income was $54,938, while St. Joseph County averaged $50,117, for the same time period. I plan to empower our work force and support our unions. We must give our workers the leverage they NEED to fight for the income and benefits they DESERVE.

Mosher: Quality of life is the overreaching theme. This can be broken down into job security, housing, wages, higher education and job opportunities, crime rates, diversity appreciation, corruption, public schools, recreation, etc.

I would eliminate governmental hurdles, reduce government punitive responses, increase government support for life improvement initiatives, and lower the tax burden among other things.

I would personally like to work with the community to create a county Youth Service Corps to provide opportunities for youth and business. I would like to create a county Mental health First Aid program. I would also like to assist a local citizen in creating a Veterans Service Center in our county, among many other innovative opportunities that will increase the quality of life for St. Joseph County residents.

The county is currently facing a budget crunch this year and potentially next year due to the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. How will you ensure the county gets the funding it needs and uses that funding effectively?

Hoffmaster: I’ve been a part of the banking industry for the past 15 years so I have a wealth of experience in finance and budgeting. COVID-19 has brought our economy to a grinding halt and will affect our local budgets. Thankfully it sounds like the County will receive funds from the State in order to shore up this year’s budget shortfall. I believe that moving forward we need to be fiscally responsible with the tax dollars entrusted to the County and make sure we provide services to our residents in the most efficient way possible.

George: The current County Commission does a great job of finding grants. On the county level, grants are so important. I would like to emphasize our efforts in that regard by leveraging our relationships with the MEDC, the State of Michigan, and even federal agencies. Yes, hard decisions will have to be made. Priorities are going to have to be on our local businesses, first.

Mosher: We must pursue community partnerships to increase our impact, services, funding sources, and effectiveness of each dollar spent.

We would definitely have to reconsider how to streamline services to the most efficient way possible. The goal would be to eliminate waste, redundancy, and unnecessary expenditures. If at all possible cut budgets without cutting jobs.

The issue of the delinquent tax fund in the county has come center stage since a Michigan Supreme Court ruling in July that said counties cannot keep any profits they get from selling tax-foreclosed properties. What are your thoughts on this, and how do you think it will affect the county moving forward? How would you address any effects this may have on the county as commissioner?

Hoffmaster: I stand 100 percent behind our County Treasurer, Judie Ratering, and applaud her for how she and the County has handled the tax delinquent fund. The Michigan State Supreme Court was correct in their ruling that the government should not profit off of the tax sales of properties. I’ve spoken extensively with our Treasurer and have been reassured that any profits from the sale of tax-foreclosed properties has been kept separate from the tax delinquent fund and is accounted for. A couple of years ago when the County Commission allocated tax delinquent dollars towards projects like veteran housing, downtown development grants, parks and the senior centers, this money did not come out of the profits of the tax sales.

George: Obviously, the delinquent tax fund has been a major source of revenue for St. Joseph County. However, the Supreme Court has made their ruling. It is a detrimental blow to possible funding, but morally, I can’t disagree with the decision. We will have to be very strategic in our approach in securing funding. We will also have to be responsible in how we prioritize our funds, especially throughout the next year or two, as we make our full recovery.

Mosher: This is one of the reasons I chose to run as a County Commission candidate.

I fully support and agree with the court ruling. I have followed this case since the beginning.

I want to be very clear…this was government sanctioned theft.

For those that are not aware, the county would foreclose on properties with unpaid taxes then once sold keep the additional revenue, above and beyond the taxes and fees owed. So if the county was owed $1,000 in taxes and the property sold for $50,000 the county would keep the additional $49,000, not return that excess amount to the original property owner.

This was a CLEAR violation of the U.S. Constitution, Michigan Constitution, and private property rights. This legal precedent dates back to the Magna Carta that originated in the year 1215.

Some Michigan counties did not participate in this behavior as they recognized it was unlawful.

Did any St. Joseph County elected officials view this as theft and put a stop to this? If not, ask yourself why a public servant was ok with promoting theft from citizens.

Every single county commissioner, treasurer, and administer that supported this government theft from citizens does not value private property rights.

St. Joseph County placed this money into a delinquent tax fund. The county commission voted to spend money on things like a controversial park while we have deteriorating dams that threaten entire communities, lack of housing, lack of mental health services, lack of veteran services, poor quality roads, etc.

I completely value parks, although critical infrastructure and support services should be funded at capacity before optional recreation is funded.

I believe St. Joseph County will be legally liable to pay back monies to the rightful owners. This will place St. Joseph County finances in a very vulnerable condition. Combined with tax loss due to Covid-19 which could create the perfect storm of reduced funds leading to budget cuts, reduction/elimination of services and county employment reduction.

I would address this by initially never supporting illegal theft from citizens. County citizens can take comfort in knowing I will never support such behavior.

I will help to ensure the county does everything it can to reduce costs through innovative means that does not raise taxes, reduce/cut services or eliminate county staff.

Unfortunately, this may not be possible due to the decisions current and past county commissioners made. Please vote wisely, it really does matter who you choose to make local decisions.

Overall, why should people vote for you as county commissioner?

Hoffmaster: Like I stated earlier, I bleed purple and white. I was born and raised in Three Rivers and anywhere I go in the world I’m always proud to call it my home. I grew up playing at the Purple Palace at Andrew’s, experienced some of my most precious memories on Armstrong Field and shared ice cream with my (then) future wife at Goldies. I know this community and to say I’m invested in its success is an understatement. I am so grateful for the people in our little town and promise to be their voice at the County level. If the residents of the first district elect me as their County Commissioner, I won’t let you down. Thank you for your consideration!

George: I am running because I am just a normal, working-class citizen like most of St. Joseph County. I grew up in poverty. My goal is to see a St. Joseph County where everyone is equal, everyone is involved, and everyone has the ability to live a comfortable life- free from the chains of poverty or class level. I am running to make sure St. Joseph County is an incredible place to live and work for all of us, even those who don’t necessarily agree with me on a political level.

Mosher: I am running as a candidate without party affiliation so I can represent all citizens of St. Joseph County and not be beholden to a political party ideology or a specific group of people and interests.

Please help break the two party system that actually benefits them both. Help me fight for freedom, consent, equality, and citizen centered government.

I advocate for freedom first. Freedom is one of my core values. I want to advocate for the concept of freedom in all county decisions. I personally believe that elected officials and government employees are in service to the citizens. Elected officials are representatives, not leaders. Free people can lead themselves.

Too often the government forgets that it works for us and is supposed to serve everyone.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

Three Rivers Commercial-News

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