(Editor’s Note: Each of the five candidates in the race for Ohio County Sheriff was asked to reply to six questions concerning the future of criminal activity and tax collection so that their answers could be published free of charge. The stories will be published based on the order the replies were received from a total of 16 candidates running for Assessor, the Board of Education, County Clerk, and County Sheriff.)
Tom Howard is celebrating his 20th year as a member of the Wheeling Police Department, and there may even be a cake involved because he’s surrounded by children when reporting to duty each day.
That’s because Howard’s assignment since 2011 has been as a Prevention Resource Officer, and these days he’s stationed at Triadelphia Middle School. Running as one four Democrats in the race for Ohio County Sheriff, Howard is a member of the department’s Youth Outreach Unit and has been a D.A.R.E instructor since 2007.
Howard has served as a firearm instructor for the past 15 years, is a certified sniper, and is one of the department’s field training officers. He also has been the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Wheeling Lodge No. 38 since 2008. A part of Howard’s campaign platform involves improving the relationship between the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office and the community because he believes the citizens and law enforcement should work together more often.
What are the main reasons you have decided to run for this position at this time?
As a 20-year veteran of the Wheeling Police Department, as well as having specific knowledge and experience as a D.A.R.E instructor and a Prevention Resource Officer, I believe it was a perfect time in my career to pursue the office of Ohio County Sheriff. The experience, training, and knowledge in these positions make me uniquely qualified to best serve the citizens of Ohio County. I plan to work hard to ensure the critical issues we face as a community are brought to the forefront and that both citizens and local law enforcement work together to promote a safe place to live, work, and grow.
To help us achieve our objectives, I believe the county is in need of a strategic plan that is both preventive and proactive. As your Ohio County Sheriff, using the resources of my business degree from West Liberty and the years of experience in law enforcement and drug prevention awareness, I would assist in the development of a plan that would define our priorities and detail the resources needed to meet our goals of a safe and viable Ohio County community.
Do you feel the Sheriff’s Office is in need of more than 27 deputies at this time, and if so, why? If not, why not?
Upon election to the position of Ohio County Sheriff, I would evaluate the existing manpower and budget situation. By looking collectively at the overtime occurring and as well as our patrol coverage, my decisions on the necessary number of deputies would address two key issues. Foremost, it would be the safety of all Ohio County residents. It is also my plan to be fiscally responsible with the department budget. Evaluating our resources and then using those resources in the most efficient and effective manner is all part of those key objectives. In addition, as business activity continues to grow in the county, working with all Ohio County officials will be important to ensure we maintain a budget that will support staffing levels needed to provide a safe environment throughout all of Ohio County.
How would you attempt to decrease the amount of illegal drug activity that is taking place in all corners of Ohio County?
The sheriff’s department will work with the Ohio County Drug Task Force and create a new Countywide Street Crimes unit that can tackle the illegal drug activity throughout the county. Furthermore as sheriff, using my experience as a national presenter and D.A.R.E instructor, I would be proactive with preventive drug education forums to reach all members of the community. Education and prevention programs as well as viable treatment options are essential to winning this war on drugs.
As your Ohio County Sheriff, I believe to build a safer community, it is critical that we all work together to address this problem. The task force, as well as increased educational forums, are just the first steps in combatting this activity.
Under your command, would Ohio County deputies enforce all laws within the borders of the city of Wheeling as well as throughout Ohio County? If so, how, and if not, why not?
The sheriff’s department will enforce all state laws within the county, whether it is in the city limits or countywide. Although the emphasis is for deputies to patrol the county, when a crime occurs in a deputy’s presence, the duty to act will take precedence. A mutual partnership with all law enforcement officers only strengthens our community.
Sheriff Pat Butler has set records with the amount of collected taxes in the recorded history of Ohio County. How do you plan to continue that trend, and if you believe you can increase it, please explain how you would accomplish that goal?
The increase in collected taxes can mostly be attributed to the new taxes implemented by the state of West Virginia on royalty owners and increased assessments on property. The current year collections will remain high, but we will most likely see a natural decline over the next few years. This decline can be attributed to the reduction in royalties as a result of well-production being slowed or terminated because of low prices for natural gas and oil.
Some tax assessments on real property have increased but may not be sufficient to offset the decline from royalty tax decreases. However, with the continued growth at The Highlands, as well as other parts of the county, we hope to at least maintain the tax base until the natural gas and oil prices recover. The recovery will bring back natural gas and oil operations to Ohio County because of rich deposits of wet and dry gas. Once this recovery occurs and with the continued development in the County, we will once again see increases to the tax base that has the potential of reaching even higher collections than in the past.
How would you attempt to increase the percentage of taxes successfully collected from those owing taxes to Ohio County?
As sheriff, I will work to ensure that all taxes owed the county are successfully collected through continuous and possibly aggressive tax collection procedures. I will work with taxpayers who have fallen behind in payment to ensure the properties maintain a tax-producing base. If needed, the assistance and cooperation of the court system will be used. We will continually work through the collection process to ensure all citizens are treated equally and fairly. Through this process, we will attempt to increase tax collections for the betterment of Ohio County as a whole.
(Photos provided by the candidate)