By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Maggie Roth, who is running against incumbent county Commissioner Mike Chapman, said voters should have a chance to weigh in.
“If you don’t want it, don’t vote for it,” Roth said in a Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce debate Monday.
“But if you do want it, you should have that opportunity [to vote].
“People need to have the opportunity to say yes or no on issues that go on that pertain to them or will affect them in the long term.”
Roth, 58, framed her remarks by citing the county’s budget challenges and growing crime rate, including what Sheriff Bill Benedict described as an “uptick” in burglaries east of Port Angeles.
“Law and justice is an important issue in this county,” said Roth, a Republican from the Port Angeles area.
“We’ve had a great many break-ins in this community.”
Chapman, 48, said law and justice is the county’s top priority. Sheriff, prosecutor, juvenile services and court budgets have grown while the rest of county government has been cut, he said.
“Public safety is first and foremost,” said Chapman, a Port Angeles independent running for a fourth four-year term.
“We will always put public safety first.”
Chapman said he is “pretty proud” that the county has a balanced budget, no debt and no taxes on the ballot.
“I may be the only person running for re-election criticized for not moving a tax forward during the great recession,” he said.
“You know what? I’ll take full responsibility.”
Clallam County has averaged a 30 percent reserve in its general fund budget over the past five years and is “probably now the last county in the state with no general fund debt,” Chapman said.
“We work with unions, department heads, elected officials to maintain a balanced budget, maintain adequate reserves without moving a new tax forward,” he said.
“Why is that a problem here? I’m having a hard time understanding that. Isn’t that exactly what the people of this country are demanding of their government: to live within your means, balance the budget and keep a little for a rainy day?”
Roth said the county will be facing a dilemma next year when 2012-2013 employee concessions expire.
“We’ve done some concessions with the unions that the county’s going to have to address in 2013,” she said.
“Once addressed in 2013, we’re going to be $3.5 million short.”
The county built up a reserve fund during the housing boom six to eight years ago, of which $10.1 million remains. Seven million dollars is restricted for emergencies.
“We’ve not put any funds back into these reserves that we’re using,” said Roth, who regularly attends commissioners’ meetings and community forums on important county issues.
“When they’re gone, what’s going to happen to our county? We have promises that we’ve made to the unions. We have promises that we’ve made to over 400 people who work for the county.
“He keeps telling you we have a balanced budget,” Roth added.
“We do now, but what are we going to do next year?”
Chapman reminded the chamber membership that another round of union negotiations will take place this fall.
The candidates touched on transportation projects, the Carlsborg sewer project, the Wild Olympics campaign and the state Department of Ecology’s water management rule for the Dungeness Valley.
“Water is a property right,” Roth said of the latter.
“Without water, you can’t develop. You can’t have economic development. People can’t sell houses. It’s very important issue for us here in this community.”
Chapman said the plan for the water rule is to work with state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam — who represents the 24th District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula — and others in the state Legislature to acquire mitigation water from the state’s capital budget.
“That mitigation water will be available to those who want to move forward with a single-family dwelling at no additional cost from what people are paying today to get a well permit,” Chapman said, adding that the board has a “lengthy track record on this issue.”
Questions from the audience brought the conversation back to taxes.
“I think we do need a tax for law and justice,” Roth said.
“Law and justice is just not for the Sheriff’s Office; it covers the prosecutor, it covers the public defender, it covers some of the court system.”
Chapman said there are three taxes specifically dedicated to law and justice: a three-tenths-of-1 percent sales tax increase for general law and justice, a one-tenth-of-1 percent sales tax for jail and juvenile programs, and a 50-cent-per-$1,000-assessed-valuation levy lid lift for law and justice.
“There are about 15 other taxes that many counties collect that we don’t collect,” Chapman said.
Roth said a new tax may be the only way to keep the county of debt.
“I don’t see a lot of new businesses coming here, so I think we’re looking at some hard times,” she said.
“I don’t think that the budget next year is any better than this year, and I think it’s going to be worse in 2013-2014.”
Under state law, the county could collect a property tax of $1.80 per $1,000 valuation.
Instead, it collects $1.28 per $1,000, the ninth lowest out of 39 counties in the state, Chapman said.
“I think my track record is I’m not exactly real interested and excited about raising a bunch of new taxes,” Chapman said.
“We’ve talked about it, we’ve discussed it, and we haven’t moved forward with it because I just think during these times, people want government to live within their means.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.