By Caitlin Forsha
The Highland County Press

Barbara Color 72dpi RGB ClipHillsboro resident Barb Cole has announced her candidacy for Highland County commissioner.

Cole, a Republican and member of the Highland County Tea Party, is running for the seat currently held by Highland County Commissioner Tom Horst. Cole will face Terry Britton in the March 15 primary. Also running for commissioner is Democrat Tara Matthews Campbell.

Cole has been a Highland County resident for nearly 25 years, living on a 72-acre farm in Brushcreek Township for 20 years, before moving to the city of Hillsboro four years ago. Cole said that she has a “wonderful family,” including “a bunch of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Since moving to the city, Cole said she has become “more involved in local issues,” including regular attendance at city council and county commissioner meetings.

Before retiring in 2007, Cole said that she worked in “the national financial world, with sophisticated financial instruments,” which was one of the reasons she was interested in running for commissioner.

“They are the county’s taxing, budgeting and purchasing authority, so digging into the financials with fresh eyes and holding down or lowering property taxes is really important to me,” Cole said.

Cole said that if elected commissioner, she would bring “new eyes, new projects and new energy.” Along with her commitment to being a self-proclaimed “watchdog” for local finances, Cole plans to work on expanding economic development, cleaning blighted properties and finding ways for the community to help combat local drug issues.

Cole said that she is interested in spearheading projects that can bring new jobs or revenue to the county. One such project is the proposed extension of Roberts Lane in Hillsboro, which Cole, along with other county residents, has been involved with since a local resident developed the plan.

“While we’re trying to be a guardian of taxpayer dollars, at the same time, we have to look for avenues of new revenue,” Cole said. “That’s where the Roberts Lane extension comes in. It’s connecting Harry Sauner Road into Fenner Lane into (state Route) 73.

“This will open up for us new businesses, new housing, but most importantly, new revenue and new jobs. I’m really excited for the future for the Roberts Lane extension, bringing in jobs and bringing in more money.”

Another economic development plan for the county, Cole said, focuses on the “jewel in our community that we are not utilizing or supporting to the extent that I would like to see,” Rocky Fork Lake and its surrounding community.

“Tourism should be a primary thing for our county,” Cole said. “We have a beautiful jewel of a lake. How many people know that our lake is some of the best bass fishing in the state?

“What can we do to polish our jewel so that kids can come and make it a part of their life like they used to? So that boaters can leave their boats docked with security? We want to make it a safe, clean recreational place for visitors and our kids.”

After meeting with members of the Rocky Fork Lake Community Alliance, Cole said that they have thought of several ideas for new programs at the lake that could be implemented, including nature hikes, hunting programs, “fostering” existing fishing tournaments and starting air shows at the Highland County Airport.

Another local issue that Cole would like to tackle is blighted properties, working with banks to clean up abandoned and dilapidated properties in the county.

“I’d like to propose a new initiative, and it’s ‘rehab or restore now,’” Cole said.

Finally, Cole wants to help the community team up with local leaders to help with the “drug epidemic” in the area. Cole said that the drug abuse problems in the Highland County are not unique to Ohio or even to the country, but her solution would be finding ways to implement community involvement to fight the issue.

“There’s been a number of meetings about the drug epidemic,” Cole said. “Every meeting, they’ll say ‘the community has to work together. The community has to help us to handle this problem.’ No one ever tells you how.

“As citizens, we sit back there and we’re very concerned about the drug problem. We’re seeing our sons, our daughters, our family members, people we know fighting with drug problems. We have some wonderful facilities to help them, but how exactly does the community get involved?”

After attending a public meeting last year, Cole said that she helped develop a community program, “Grandma’s Girls,” which is “based on kids being responsible and choosing.”

“Yesterday, I met with Dr. Charles Russell, who is a drug physician and counselor, an expert in the field for the past 25 years,” Cole said. “I laid out some of the ideas and the concept we had for the community involvement. He was thrilled. I was very heartened by our conversation.”

In addition to her goals for the county, Cole also wants to respond to the “specific needs” of four local groups of people: farmers and rural residents; residents who live in the city of Hillsboro and the villages of Greenfield, Highland, Leesburg, Lynchburg, Mowrystown and Sinking Spring; the Rocky Fork Lake community and its residents; and who she calls the “unsung heroes” of the county, the township trustees.

“Because of the role of the commissioner, being a financial collaborative effort, I think I can make a huge contribution,” Cole said.

“There are a lot of things the commission is doing right. My desire is to strengthen it and bring renewed energy and renewed insight.

“I sincerely ask for the community’s support, help and vote.”