Candidates face offDistrict 5 hopefuls discuss issues at forum
The six candidates hoping to fill the District 5 Supervisor seat for the one year remaining in the term had a chance to discuss their plans if elected during a special candidates forum held Monday evening at the Washington Public Library.
During the forum, Washington County Auditor Dan Widmer said that absentee voting is already open for the special election and that ballots could be mailed to a voter or picked up at the auditor’s office in the Washington County Courthouse. The special election will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8. The polling place is the former Washington Library at 120 E. Main St. People wishing to get a ballot or who have questions can call the auditor’s office at 653-7715. The seat was vacated when former supervisor Ron Bennett resigned, citing health reasons.
Independent candidates Allen Fuhr, Merle Hagie, Jerry King, and Randy Payne, Democrat Terry Philips, and Republican Richard Young answered questions regarding many issues facing the county. The first hour of the forum was made up of questions the candidates had been supplied before the forum, while the second hour was dedicated to questions from the 50 people who attended the event.
In an opening statement, King said that he is not a politician and not a “yes man.” Philips said that he has been involved with Washington County programs and hopes to bring that experience to the board. Payne said that he had served previously as a supervisor and said he believes it is an opportunity to serve the community. Fuhr said that he is retired and hopes to serve on the board. Hagie said that he has served on the city council, going through budgets, capital improvement plans and comprehensive plans. Young said that his working relationship with the board, as well as working with state legislators on emergency medical service bills, would make him a good choice.
Moderator Ed Raber asked the candidates what the top issues will be in the coming years and how should the supervisors address them. Payne identified the sewer problems in Richmond and Rubio, as well as gravel roads and health care. Fuhr said that reducing spending and work on roads and bridges, as well as keeping county government at a manageable size are top issues. Hagie said a building for public health is the top issue, and Richmond/Rubio is important. Young said keeping young people in the area or having them return after their education is a top priority, and creating jobs. He also said working on the mental health system is important. King also cited the Richmond and Rubio issue, as well as the Lake Darling renovation. He also said several people had approached him with concerns about the Regional Utility Service Systems (RUSS). Philips said the “three Rs – Rubio, Richmond and RUSS” are the top issues. He also cited mental health and infrastructure of secondary roads, as well as minimizing cost of government.
When asked if he supported raising the state gas tax for repair of roads and bridges, Philips said that he did support an increase. He said that the roads need more attention. Payne said that while he is generally not in favor of raising taxes, he feels an increase in the gas tax would ensure people using the roads are paying for the upkeep. Fuhr said he did not support raising the gas tax, saying it would open up the whole structure and that the county would end up with less money for the roads. He said a possible solution is a local option sales tax on farm fuel, which is used in the equipment that uses secondary roads. Hagie said he has “mixed emotions” about raising the gas tax. He said that it is the fairest way to support roads; however, it had been discussed for years and a consensus had never been reached. Young said he believed raising the gas tax would mostly help large, metropolitan areas, but it is probably the fairest way. He also said bonding and borrowing money would not be a good idea. King said he was not in favor of raising the gas tax because he didn’t know how much of the money would stay in Washington County.
In answer to a question about what city of Washington residents should expect from the county, Hagie said the county provides courthouse service. He also said there are many areas that the city and county partner, including 911 services. Young had many of the same answers. He said other things include the county maintaining secondary roads, and does some economic development for the area. King said the voters expect “a job well done – holding down size, holding down taxes and hold down cost.” Philips said the supervisor would represent the whole county and not just the city of Washington. Payne said the city is the largest population base in the county. He said most of what the county does is “transparent” and people don’t see it until they call 911 or wait for the county to plow roads in the winter. Fuhr said he agreed with the other candidates and said the county needs to listen to the city’s concerns and act accordingly within the budget.
When asked the role of the county in land use planning, Young said the zoning ordinance has been repealed, making it a non-issue. He said the county’s comprehensive plan should be a “working document” and should be revisited every five years. He said the subdivision ordinance seems to be working and it is important the ordinance be developed correctly. King said he is not for a “blanket type zoning.” He believes the county needs to work with the landowners and use it the way that it benefits everyone. Philips said the county has a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of its residents and the first responders. He said he is comfortable with the subdivision ordinance. He said the zoning ordinance was “ too much” for Washington County. Payne said he was in favor of the zoning ordinance, but had seen it was put in against the will of the people. He believes the supervisors should listen more to the people than the county. He also pushed for the new comprehensive plan. He said the subdivision ordinance is working. Fuhr said he believes the county is doing just fine right now. Hagie said the zoning and subdivision ordinances and comprehensive plan were linked at one time. He said now that zoning is rescinded, the other two parts need some attention.
On the topic of developing a plan to bring wastewater treatment in Richmond and Rubio to Department of Natural Resources standards, Fuhr said the board has the situation under control. He said the board has an agreement with the DNR and is working with the city. He said the improvements should be paid with money from the Rural Basic Services Fund. Hagie said the county is proceeding to make the improvements and he is optimistic there will be a good outcome. He said the expense would be borne by homeowners as they upgrade. Young said he agreed that the new member should continue working with the residents and the DNR. King said the board has gone a long way getting things taken care of. Philips said he agreed it is under control. He said that most of the money would come out of rural services, but he is concerned about the agreement with RUSS. He also said this gives the board a chance to look at the rest of the county. Payne said a county program could be created to help people install septic tanks, with the cost being repaid on property tax.
When asked if they intended to run for the seat after the year was over, all but Philips said that they were interested in running again, if the citizens thought they did a good job. Philips said that he was not ruling out running for the office, but at this point he is not planning to.