LISBON - Former Columbiana County Treasurer Linda Bolon wants her old job back, and standing in her way in the Nov. 6 general election is Middleton Township Trustee Eldena Gearhart.
Bolon, 64, a Democrat, served as county treasurer from 2000 to 2006 before leaving to run for state representative. She served in that capacity for two terms before being defeated in 2010 by Craig Newbold.
The treasurer position came open this year after Nick Barborak, a Democrat, decided to run for state representative.
When asked why she opted to run for her old job instead of a rematch with Newbold, Bolon said it appears the Democrats would remain in the minority in the state legislature for the near future, and she dislikes not being able to get things done. She said being treasurer would also allow her to remain in the county and closer to her two granddaughters in Columbiana.
Gearhart, 63, said she was approached by the county Republican Party about running for the position, and, after much prayer and consideration, agreed to give it a shot. She enjoys a new challenge, and being elected treasurer would certainly fall into that category.
During her first stint as treasurer, Bolon said she focused on updating the office computer system and making other changes to streamline operations, including hiring a company to process tax bills instead of the staff continuing to do it by hand. She also came up with a user-friendly tax bill that shows property owners where their real estate taxes go.
As for collecting delinquent property taxes, Bolon said she developed a payment plan for those behind on their taxes and made it easier for others to pay by using their credit card or having the money deducted from their income tax return.
"I had a lot of things to do when I took office," she said.
When asked if it was possible to be more aggressive in collecting delinquent taxes, Bolon said many tax delinquencies are impossible to collect, a problem made worse by the recession.
"I think this is one area where you have to use some compassion, and each particular situation has to be looked at on an individual basis," she said. "It's a tedious, tedious job, and so you have to look at cost versus benefit ... The issue may not be worth pursuing."
Gearhart said those who can pay should be made to do so. "I know it's hard times for a lot of people, but all of us have to budget accordingly. So whether you enter into a payment plan or something, the debt just doesn't go away," she said, adding the money is needed by the school districts, cities, townships and villages that rely on the revenue.
Real estate tax delinquencies total $8.5 million. "That seems like a lot of money to me, and much of it goes back a lot of years," Gearhart said, adding she will research the issue and come up with a plan after taking office.
Bolon said she will draw on her four years' experience as a legislator to lobby for changes that would allow treasurers to operate more efficiently and better serve the public.
As trustee, Gearhart said she helped obtain new health insurance coverage that saved the township $18,000 and instituted a first-ever personnel policy. She said they also had to lay off an employee.
"It was a tough decision, but when you only have a certain amount of dollars, you have to call it as you see it," she said.
Gearhart decided to run for trustee because she did not want to be one of those people who complains about problems without trying to do something. "I'm not one to sit around the table and talk about what should be done and then not be willing to do something about it," she said.
Prior to first being elected trustee three years ago, Gearhart and her husband operated the county airport for 23 years, where she also served as clerk-treasurer of the airport authority board. They sold the business in 2004 after her husband, Jerry, became ill and later died.
Gearhart also worked as a flight attendant from 2000 to 2008, and before that as a credit manager for the former Hall China Co. in East Liverpool and assistant controller for the Li'l Shopper chain of convenience stores.
Gearhart said she has never been afraid to pitch in and do what is necessary to get the job done, and she would take the same approach if elected "because I look at the treasurer's job as being mostly a worker bee."
Bolon is a bit sensitive about the charge she might be a "career politician," but she views her experience as a plus rather than a negative.
"I'm proud of my political resume .... Do I think I have helped make this county a better place and given people a better future? I think I have," she said,
Gearhart said she has no intention of climbing the political ladder beyond being treasurer. "Sometimes you need a fresh outlook, someone who is here to do the job and not looking to build a staircase," she said.
The treasurer's job pays $61,247.