Blakeman challenges Bolon for treasurer
LISBON — The race for Columbiana County treasurer features incumbent Linda Bolon versus Columbiana Mayor Bryan Blakeman.
Bolon, 72, is the Democratic candidate and has been treasurer since 2013. This is her second stint as treasurer, having held the position for six years in the 2000s before serving two terms in the state legislature. She also served four years on East Palestine city council.
Prior to running for office, Bolon served as a school treasurer with the East Palestine and Edison Local school districts, worked as a private CPA and then 14 years as an audit manager, financial forecaster and fraud auditor for the state auditor’s office.
She and her husband Tom live in Columbiana and they have two daughters and two granddaughters.
Blakeman, 44, is the Republican nominee. He is in his second term as Columbiana mayor and prior to that he served one term on city council. Blakeman is general manager of the family business, Valley Office Solutions in Boardman, where he has worked since 1995.
He and his wife Joann have two daughters, Lauren, who is in college, and Lexi, a student at Columbiana High School.
Bolon had contemplated retiring and encouraged some people to run in her place but they declined because of the uncertainty that comes with being an elected official and the stress of campaigning.
“I love my job and enjoy serving as treasurer. After much thought and support from my family, I am excited to run for re-election. Contrary to rumor, if elected I plan to serve the full term. Columbiana County has been good to me, so I want to leave the county in good shape by building a bridge to the future,” she said.
Blakeman first filed to run for county commissioner but changed his mind after incumbent commissioner Tim Weigle officially filed to seek re-election. Blakeman decided in 2019 he wanted to take the next step in his career, and his plan was to run for commissioner, believing that was a good fit given his background in the private sector and as an elected official in Columbiana.
Blakeman said he never intended to challenge Weigle, which is why he withdrew. Still wanting to serve in a public office at a higher level, he chose treasurer believing it is compatible with his work and elected background.
“I oversee large budgets for our business and have been involved in 11 years of budget discussions and votes for the city of Columbiana,” he said.
Bolon said she should be re-elected based on her experience and job performance. “The treasurer is entrusted with and responsible for managing over $300 million each year. We, in Columbiana County, know all too well that this position should be filled with an individual who has governmental accounting experience because things can go very wrong real fast in the treasurer’s office,” she said.
If elected, Blakeman said he would take a more aggressive approach in collecting delinquent property taxes, citing East Liverpool as an example, where 1,750 parcels are delinquent.
“There are numerous properties that have been delinquent for over a decade and the oldest is approaching 25 years. My intention would be to work with these property owners to resolve and clean up the delinquency to bring much needed restoration to our communities,” he said
When the first issue was first raised by East Liverpool in 2019, Bolon said 75 percent of the delinquent parcels were uncollectible because it either involved properties that are in the process of being foreclosed against, the property owners were enrolled in a payment plan or awaiting final court certification to be declared delinquent.
Bolon pointed out her delinquent property tax collection rate is currently 96.1 percent for the entire county, and the rate in in East Liverpool has increased from 90.1 percent to 93.7 percent last year.
“Not all delinquent properties can be collected when folks are on a payment plan or have filed for bankruptcy,” she said, adding that since 2013 the treasurer’s office — with the help of the county prosecutor and sheriff’s office — has been able to collect $30 million in back taxes.
Blakeman said he would look to modernize the office’s computer network and make improvements to data security and public access to the system. “With my 26 years’ experience working in business-to-business information technology solutions, I believe it is another strength that I can bring to the office,” he said.
During her current term, Bolon said she has streamlined office operations and updated equipment. “We have been able to improve tax bill processing and deposits with updated scanning machines and credit card readers” which speeds up the the collection and distribution of tax collections, she said. “We have also improved accuracy and counterfeit detection with a new system paid for in the same manner.”
Bolon said they are currently looking at a new system that would give taxpayers the option of safely providing bank information for automatic payment from their account.
Blakeman was asked how he would juggle his duties as treasurer and running Valley Office Solutions and he does not see that as a problem. “To the contrary, I believe it gives me the flexibility to be where I need to be when I need to be, and modern technology guarantees that,” he said.