DAYTON — Longtime residents face off in the Columbia County commissioner race
Tom Bensel and Mike Talbott are running to replace Dick Jones as Columbia County Commissioner for District 2. Both candidates are longtime Dayton residents and graduates of Dayton High School.
Despite these similarities, they bring very different backgrounds to the race, and they focus on different strengths in their campaigns.
Bensel worked for 18 years as road superintendent for Columbia County, leaving that position in 2004. He says that experience gives him an intimate knowledge of many areas of the county’s business, including the road department and public works.
However, he says, “I have no agenda or ax to grind.”
Bensel says one of the most important things he wants to do as commissioner is to improve communications among county departments and staff.
“I have no problem going to any area of county government and talking to people and finding out how things can be improved,” he says.
Bensel is concerned about the future of the outside funding the county receives.
“The external resources that will be available to the county from the state and the federal government in the future are a complete unknown,” he says. “Therefore, the county needs to be as independent and autonomous as possible.”
Despite budget constraints however, Bensel says many services provided in the county are important, and he will work to see they are maintained. These include Columbia County Public Transportation, the Dayton library, the senior center and the Columbia County Fair.
After high school, Bensel attended Walla Walla Community College and Eastern Washington State College. Since leaving his position with the county, Bensel has worked as a construction inspector for Puget Sound Energy on several wind energy projects.
Talbott began working on his family’s wheat farm while still in school. He has been manager of Talbott Family Farms, Inc., for 28 years.
Talbott feels his experience running a private business will be an important asset as commissioner. He attributes his success in farming to a conservative financial approach, and he plans to take the same approach to county government.
“We have to find ways to do things as cost-effectively as possible,” he says. “It’s important that the commissioners carefully manage the budget.”
Talbott says he particularly sees a need for strong oversight of the public works department and the Columbia County Fairgrounds.
Economic development is another area where Talbott plans to be a strong advocate.
“We need to do everything we can to bring business to the area,” he says. “What the Port of Columbia is doing at Blue Mountain Station is great, and I’ll do everything I can to support that.”
Talbott points to his long history of community involvement as another important asset. He served on the Dayton School Board for 17 years, leaving that position in 2004. He has served on the board of the Columbia County Grain Growers for the past seven years and is also on the committee overseeing grant awards from the Dayton/Columbia County Fund. For 23 years, he has been administrator for the Norgaard Trust, which uses farm proceeds to provide scholarships for Dayton High School graduates.