Butler County candidates had the opportunity to speak about issues important to them and the public during the candidates’ forum sponsored by Leadership Butler Tuesday evening.


Butler County candidates had the opportunity to speak about issues important to them and the public during the candidates’ forum sponsored by Leadership Butler Tuesday evening.

Candidates for the Butler County Commission seats in District 3 included Don Engels, the Independent candidate, and Bruce Harris, Republican candidate.

Engels began his opening statements by thanking those who have supported him all along.

He is a life-long resident of Butler County except for his time in the military service and two years in Seattle, Wash. He grew up in Benton and attended Butler College and graduated from Newman University with a degree in accounting.

His professional work history falls into finance, computing and management, with him retiring from Boeing and currently working for Pixus in El Dorado.

“I filed as an independent to be sure that I would be on the ballot in the general election,” Engels said, “where all of my supporters, regardless of their party, could vote for me.”

His main focus if elected would be on spending. He said county spending has doubled in the last 10 years.

“If elected I will fully understand the issues,” he said.

Harris then made his opening statements.

He worked for KG&E and Kansas Gas Service, moving to El Dorado in 1986. He was a manager of community relations for Kansas Gas Service and has experience in budgets. He also has experience with customer service and conflict resolution.

“I have given back to the community,” Harris said. “I have served on Butler County Economic Development, El Dorado Inc, American Red Cross, Girl Scouts, United Way and Butler County Extension Councils.”

The candidates also were posed questions from the audience.

The first question was that the Butler County Comprehensive Plan calls for the rural land to be used for agriculture use. It asked if they would oppose wind farms in the eastern part of the county.

Harris said he was definitely against it in the Flinthills at this time. He felt there was a number of ways to solve their energy crisis, but he wanted to preserve the Flinthills.
Engels said he believes in property rights.

“If someone owns a piece of property and has the opportunity to create wealth with that property I give pretty freely to that opportunity,” he said. “I think I would allow windmills in the eastern part of Butler County.”

The next question was what they would do to keep from raising property taxes.

Engels's main focus was to cut spending and he felt to do that they had to start with the spending rather than figuring out how much revenue they can generate and spending it all.

“I want to look at what we spend today and at least level it off if not reduce it,” he said.

Harris felt the way to reduce it was to have a fair and consistent property assessment process.

He also felt they had to have reasonable and fiscally responsible budgets and monitor them on a month-to-month basis.

Next they were asked about creating a county wide sales tax and if they would support it.

Harris felt a lot of the discussion centered around the fact Sedgwick County and Wichita were considering it.

“I am not at this particular point in favor of a sales tax,” he said.

He said if the property taxes were lowered by the 10 mills it would generate and voters approved it, he would be in favor of it.

Engels felt a sales tax would be a way to generate revenues that would be raised off of the shoulders of the property owners. While he did support a sales tax, he was strict on the structure of it.

“I think if we could structure like Sedgwick County has, where the county is the taxing agent and the rest of the communities share in that I would be in favor of a sales tax if it was structured properly,” he said.

Another question was how they would connect the western urban setting with the rural area of eastern Butler County and keep in touch with constituents.

Engels said he felt all parts were rural. He would keep in touch with his constituents because half of his constituents are rural and he is rural.

Harris agreed the western part was becoming more urban. He hoped they would expand their development in or around the incorporated cities to protect the rural areas.

To keep in touch, he said he would make his contact information available to all of his constituents.

The next question asked was about their hands-on experience in economic development.

Engels said in most cases that tends to be really secretive because it is competitive. He said the county is a member of the greater economic development coalition and in a story last spring, it pointed out that they play a role with the cities behind the scenes. He said he would want to continue that.

Harris said he has been active for a number of years in county development, including El Dorado Inc. for over 15 years. He said he was familiar with the industrial parks and business parks in the county. He said as manager for a public utility he worked closely with industrial development.

Harris said he had found most communities to be open minded. He said any growth is economic development.

The next question was if Butler County should take refuge from other counties to make money.

“It’s a difficult question,” Harris said, pointing out the current discussion with Marion County.

He said the contract being offered to Marion County would raise a quarter million dollars with the same employees and equipment.

“At this particular point I think it would be reasonable to review those on a case by case situation,” he said.

Engels also agreed with the current proposal.

“If you can increase revenues without increasing costs, that’s something that needs to be taken real seriously,” he said, adding that when it started increasing costs or damaging roads more factors needed to be looked at.

The final question was about budget preparation and management and their experience in such.

Engels said at the Boeing Company he prepared department budgets and those budgets were sometimes cut by half.

“I’m experienced at cutting costs,” he said. “I also have unique experience working for Butler County. I was the finance officer for two years. So I have detailed knowledge with these budgets.”

Harris said he was responsible for multiple budgets in multiple departments and was held accountable at the end of the year to make sure they were not above them.

The candidates also made closing statements.

Harris said they do live in the country and they have lived in the county for 18 years. They came back after his retirement.

“This is where we want to live,” he said. “Serving as your commissioner will be my priority.”
He also wants to approve fiscally responsible budgets and make sure they do not overspend.
Engels reiterated that he is running as an Independent and is the only Independent running in a four-county area.

“I want votes from everyone,” he said.