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Candidate Q&A: Wabash Township trustee, Hoppenjans vs. Valentin
Democrat Angel Valentin, appointed trustee, will face Republican Eric Hoppenjans to be trustee for the next four years.
Wabash Township continues to clean up after the contentious administration of former Trustee Jennifer Teising, who was convicted in early 2022 on 21 felony theft charges tied to accusations that she no longer lived in the township.
Democrat Angel Valentin, appointed trustee, will face Republican Eric Hoppenjans to be trustee for the next four years.
Here, Valentin and Hoppenjans answer questions about their approach to the four-year position that oversees emergency township assistance, township cemeteries and fire protection.
For more: Find bios of each candidate, along with information about where and when to vote, along with links to other candidate Q&As in other races, at the end of this article.
Why are you running?
Eric Hoppenjans: My grandfather was a volunteer firefighter, and my father was a volunteer fire chief in my hometown. I grew up around firefighters and I understand the passion they have for the community they serve. However, that service isn’t free. They need proper support from elected leaders, and I will provide that support. I believe I can bring my life experiences to bear for the benefit of our township, and I feel it’s now time that I step up and give back.
Angel Valentin: As a Purdue graduate who chose to remain in West Lafayette, I am passionate about ensuring the success of my adopted community for years to come. As Greater Lafayette continues to grow and prosper economically, it is important that we select leaders who will meet the challenges that we'll face along the way. I am running for Wabash Township Trustee because I want to continue working with our fire department's leadership and local elected officials to meet the emergency response needs of our community. I also want to continue working with nonprofit organizations and communities of faith to more comprehensively provide assistance to those in need.
What are two priorities you want to get done during your term, if elected? And how would you get those done?
Eric Hoppenjans: My first priority will be to rebuild and grow the fire department in a fiscally responsible manner. We can accomplish this by embracing our heritage as a volunteer department and truly focus our attention on recruiting and retaining volunteer members, then supplement with the needed career members. Also, we should leverage assets within our community such as Purdue University and establish a student resident program to further increase on-call personnel.
Township assistance is another area of improvement that will need to be addressed. A well-defined, consistent approach to township assistance with clearly defined guidelines is needed. Current inflation rates are far outpacing growth in income levels. Economic conditions such as these will have a very negative impact on those who are vulnerable, so it’s imperative that the township office maximizes the funds available.
Angel Valentin: Our township government has two primary responsibilities: providing fire and EMS protection and providing financial assistance to residents in need. Our biggest priority is ensuring that we have sufficient career and volunteer firefighting staff to meet the needs of our growing unincorporated community. Our Fire Department leadership has identified the need to staff a minimum of three career firefighters per shift. Our adopted 2023 budget will allow us to bring on that personnel, and continue to invest towards our goal of having 50 volunteer firefighters by 2028. We will also continue to seek out grants, such as the SAFER grant, that will allow us to bring on additional career firefighters while decreasing the impact to our taxpayers.
Our second priority is to continue working with nonprofit organizations and communities of faith to provide financial assistance to families in need. Throughout the ebbs and flows of the economic downturns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how critical resources from local government and community groups are for the least fortunate among us. I believe that we can lead within our community by working with other groups to streamline our application processes, as well as more effectively facilitating the access to other financial assistance resources.
What is the biggest challenge facing Wabash Township in the next four years? How would you propose to solve or deal with it?
Eric Hoppenjans: The past four years have identified several areas where the township should improve. First and foremost, though, is how we will rebuild and staff the fire department. After many discussions with fire chiefs around the state and country that serve populations like ours, I have developed a plan that can do this in a cost-effective way.
Angel Valentin: As our community continues to see strong economic development, the population of Greater Lafayette continues to grow. The unincorporated part of our Township is among the fastest growing parts of the county (with over 21% population increase in the last decade) given the proximity to the engine of our economic development: Purdue University. That growth and success is the driver behind the biggest challenge our township faces: the need to increase the ranks of our career and volunteer firefighters. Fire Chief Ed Ward, our department's leadership, our board and I have worked together to implement a plan that will allow us to meet the needs of our community. We believe that our volunteers are a critically important asset to our department, and we must invest in them; but our growth requires us to simultaneously make a serious investment in paid career firefighters as well.
Next year, our investment in three career firefighters per shift will allow us to respond more quickly and effectively to emergency situations. This will enable us to provide our constituents a better emergency response, while keeping our firefighters safe. As we look to hire paramedic firefighters, we will also be able to provide higher quality care during medical calls. By providing advanced medical care, we will have better outcomes for the residents we serve on a daily basis.
The past four years have been rough for the township’s administration, ending with the conviction of Trustee Jennifer Teising. What is your assessment of the state of the township trustee’s office now, and what’s your plan to stabilize things?
Eric Hoppenjans: Financially speaking, with the increase in the maximum firefighting levy, the office is stable for the long-term. The fire department now has options for how they can grow and meet both immediate and future needs. However, there are still several areas of much-needed improvements in the management of the office. First, we need to establish and strictly adhere to a well-defined credit/debit card policy. Unfortunately, the debit card is still overused in the office to pay for expenses that have not been approved by the board members. Furthermore, the debit card has been used several times at grocery stores and restaurants. This is a clear violation of the ethical use of taxpayer money.
Another responsibility of the township office is the care and maintenance of township cemeteries. A car accident at the corner of Klondike Road and U.S. 52 early this year damaged the fence and several tombstones in Burton Cemetery. This has gone unrepaired for almost 10 months. It’s not only an eyesore but also disrespectful to those laid to rest there. If elected trustee, misuse of the credit card will stop, and cemeteries will be cared for in a timely and respectful way.
Angel Valentin: There is no doubt that my predecessor's actions presented a challenge for us when we came into office this January. However, we got right to work to stabilize the office. We worked round the clock to get the 2021 financials organized, pay outstanding bills and rehire our firefighters. Since then, we have worked to tackle other outstanding issues: getting our firefighters enrolled in the state's pension retirement system for first responders, getting them and their loved ones healthcare coverage, and securing a sustainable source of income that can meet the needs of our community. We have also continued working to make sure that our website has accessible information, including meeting notices, agendas, minutes and recordings. We have also sought to provide more detailed financial information for interested constituents.
We also had to restart our Township Assistance program, given that we had not been providing assistance to folks in our community under my predecessor's administration. We have worked to reach out to partners in the community, including nonprofit organizations and churches in Greater Lafayette, to ensure that we could better direct individuals to other resources when we couldn't meet their needs. Our hard work has paid off, and we have been able to provide over $22,000 in financial assistance to people in need over the course of this year.
Next year, we get to have a clean start with a budget that meets our township's needs and provides adequate funding for our township to perform its duties. We will continue to work with our Township Board, our Fire Department, nonprofit organizations and communities of faith to ensure that our township has our constituents’ backs whenever a situation arises, be it a fire, a medical emergency or the threat of an eviction.
What is your plan to staff the Wabash Township Fire Department, whether through volunteers or paid firefighters, over the next four years? And how would you pay for it?
Eric Hoppenjans: WTFD, at its core, is a volunteer department and my plan focuses on recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters first. I will supplement them in the short term with six career firefighters plus a chief and will establish a student resident program as a cost-effective means of increasing full-time staffing. As with all firefighting operations, the short-term department growth will be paid for via property tax. Once we are at the required staffing levels, I will work to bring back an ambulance service. This not only helps to solve an identified need within the community but will generate additional revenue for the department to help pay for future growth.
Angel Valentin: As I've stated above, our fire department's leadership has indicated that we need at least three paid career firefighters per shift. Thanks to the population growth appeal we submitted for our maximum firefighting levy, the 2023 budget will allow us to meet the minimum staffing that our department has identified as being necessary. Simultaneously, we are investing $15,000 into recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters. The recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters is extremely important, given that they complement our career firefighters. Over the coming years, we will continue to seek out grants and other sources of funding that will reduce the impact on our taxpayers as we seek to meet the needs of our growing community and our firefighters.
As a result of our plan's robust investments in both career and volunteer firefighters, taxpayers within the unincorporated part of our township will pay a rate that is only 25% of what residents of Lafayette and West Lafayette pay for their firefighting operations. Over the next four years, residents of the township can continue to expect to pay a fraction of what their neighbors pay, while receiving a higher level of service than they currently do. This will keep our residents safe, as well as protect their investment in our growing community.
Name two ways you’d have the township office deal with population and housing growth around West Lafayette?
Eric Hoppenjans: I am currently part of a community focus group working with the Area Plan Commission to help define zoning plans for some of the soon to be developed property around West Lafayette. As trustee and working with the group, I would ensure zoning regulations are set to minimize fire risk imposed by dense housing developments. Second, I would ensure the growth of the fire department is managed in such a way that allows the growth of the population and housing to fund future needs of the department without having to continually increase property taxes for current residents.
Angel Valentin: In the past, our township failed to plan for the continuing growth of our community. It is imperative that the township trustee and the board engage with other leaders within our community so that we can meet the challenges we'll face in years to come. We have begun that work by reaching out to the Area Plan Commission (APC), the city of West Lafayette, the city of Lafayette, the Tippecanoe School Corp., etc. As trustee, I will work with other community leaders on the APC's upcoming Land Use Study. That will allow us to have a better road map of our expected population and housing growth.
Once the Land Use Study is completed, we will continue to work with our Fire Department and our board to ensure that we are planning for the expected development and population growth. It is of utmost importance that we have sufficient staffing to meet the current needs of our community, as well as being prepared to further expand career and volunteer staffing as our community continues to grow. We must also take a look at the services we provide, and expand them if necessary. That is why we are working with the Tippecanoe Emergency Ambulance Service (TEAS) to have paramedic firefighters that can begin providing a higher quality of care to our patients when an emergency arises, while an ambulance is en route. This will particularly help us alleviate the impact of one of our community's biggest challenges: the distance to and from our hospitals on the southeastern end of Lafayette.
What are two things that separate you from your opponent and make you the best fit for the job?
Eric Hoppenjans: I have 12 years of experience running a small business that has taught me the skills that are required to balance the funding and the organizational needs of the township office. I am also a resident and property taxpayer of the unincorporated area of the township. Decisions on how the department is grown, and how it is paid for directly affects myself, my family, my neighbors, and my fellow residents. I have spent many hours discussing department growth strategies with chiefs and experts around the country and with current department members. I did this to find solutions that effectively grow and maintain a combination department that serves both the immediate needs of the township and remains flexible enough to respond to changes within the community. I believe I have found the right solution.
Angel Valentin: We have worked hand-in-hand with our department to meet the challenges of recent years. The work we have done, and our willingness to listen to the concerns of our firefighters, is a big part of the reason I have earned the support of state and local firefighters’ unions, including the Wabash Township Professional Firefighters (Local 5383). The work we've done in recent years has allowed us to build strong relationships with leaders in the community, which we will continue to leverage to meet the needs of our growing community.
Secondly, prior to being appointed as the Wabash Township Trustee, I worked at our local food bank as a resource coordinator. My experience working at Food Finders Food Bank has helped me gain a better understanding of the financial assistance resources that are available to folks within our community. Over the coming years, I will continue using my experience to help Township Assistance applicants navigate the web of resources that are available to them.
BALLOTS, ETC.: Who will be on your ballot? Need to check your voter registration? That and more, available at Indiana’s voter portal, Indianavoters.in.gov.
EARLY VOTING: For a list of early voting sites in Tippecanoe County ahead of the Nov. 8 election, here’s the schedule.
Occupation: Electrical Engineer
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degree in Electrical Engineering Technology
Past elected positions, if any: None
Immediate family: Wife: Carrie Hoppenjans Kids: Maddox and Merrin Hoppenjans
Your campaign site online: eric-for-trustee.com
Occupation: Wabash Township Trustee
Education: B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, with minors in Political Sciences, Intellectual Property Law, and Entrepreneurship.
Past elected positions, if any: Wabash Township Trustee (January 2022 to Present); Wabash Township Board President (January 2021 to January 2022); Wabash Township Board Member (August 2020 to January 2021)
Immediate family: My girlfriend, Apoorva, is a PhD student at Purdue University. My parents (Javier and Millie) and my sister (Lizbeth) live and work in Rolla, Missouri.
Your campaign site online: www.voteforangel.com
FOR EVEN MORE: A TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE CANDIDATE DEBATE
Here are links to a Wabash Township trustee candidates debate the League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette and WLFI hosted Oct. 6 at Lafayette Jefferson High School.
THANKS FOR MAKING THE FIRST YEAR OF THE BASED IN LAFAYETTE REPORTING PROJECT WORK. READY TO SUBSCRIBE? FREE AND FULL-RIDE VERSIONS ARE THERE FOR YOU.