OCCUPATION: Owner/manager of a diversified farming operation. Incumbent county commissioner.
COMMUNITY SERVICE: Past president Washington Association of Wheat Growers; former commissioner with Washington State Barley Commission; Northwest Grain Growers board member and former president; former chairman of Waitsburg Economic Development Committee; former Walla Walla County Planning Commissioner; former little league and youth football coach; Blue Mountain Humane Society volunteer.
EDUCATION: Prescott High School graduate. Whitman College, Bachelor of Arts Degree in economics
FAMILY: Wife, Darleen, and two sons.
What do you see as the most important duty or responsibility a county commissioner has?
The most important responsibility now has become the budget. A county commissioner acts much like a CEO of a large, diversified business. We have many departments and elected officials with their own departments beneath the Board of County Commissioners. Some of the many duties of a commissioner are policy setting, land use issues, representing the county on numerous boards and the oversight of the entire county's budget. As a commissioner, we have to have a macro-economic view and balance the budget to be able to provide the many services to our county's residents.
What is your understanding of the relationship of county commissioners to other county elected officials?
Walla Walla County has 13 elected officials. Of these, three are commissioners. We are all elected by the residents of Walla Walla County, and the non-commissioners have jurisdiction and control over their department. Two years ago the commissioners passed a resolution to have an individual commissioner be a liaison to elected and department heads. This gives the elected official a commissioner who they can maintain communication with as needed. The commissioners do have budgetary oversight, yet we do not micromanage their budgets. We provide the elected officials with their total budget monies.
What do you see as the top issues facing the county?
The top issue facing the county is being able to continue to supply, at a minimum, the current level of service to residents. Some departments, such as the Department of Health and Department of Human Services, are state and federally funded, so we have no control over the monies received. The elected officials' departments make up our current expense budget with about 71 percent dedicated to law enforcement, court services and the judicial system. The poor economy has left the county with stagnant revenues and increasing costs. Before the downturn in the economy the county was generating in excess of $1 million a year in new revenue. Currently the county is not generating these monies due to economic stress. With these tough economic times, it is very difficult to provide the same level of service much less increase it.
How would you approach a solution for the issue you see as the top priority?
This is difficult in that it involves increasing revenue. For current expense, this is attained in two ways: the economy improving, creating economic and residential development, thus providing more tax revenue or increasing taxes. The latter of the two, increasing taxes, is difficult as the economy has affected all residents adversely. Cutting expenses is difficult as it may lead to job loss and a decrease in services the county provides. This will have a negative effect on our community, and I do not wish to see people lose their jobs.
If the county did not spend all budgeted current expense funds, how would you propose savings be allocated?
The unspent funds would first need to be allocated to the current expense reserve. By resolution, that amount shall be equal to three months of expenditures of the current year's budget. Any remaining amount, I would propose going into dedicated reserves to be used to meet unexpected expenses during the next year's budget. Some of these are for building maintenance, vehicles, capital projects, etc. This money would be available to be used as a budget amendment. These reserve funds would help alleviate the negative effects on a department's budget as unexpected expenses occur which would not be on a maintenance or repair schedule.
Is there an issue you would like to address not covered by the previous questions?
The county, along with the city and fire districts, are faced with repair and upgrades of our communications system. This is important not only for the safety of the residents but also the first responders. It has the potential to be costly but is also necessary. I also feel it is important to maintain our county roads to the high standards they are now. This will help to provide safe transportation for the many visitors and residents as they travel by motor vehicle or bicycles.