Voters have choice in commissioner race
Thursday, October 11, 2012View full version
WENATCHEE — Voters need to decide if they like what they’ve had for the last 12 years or if they want to shake things up for Chelan County Commissioner District 1.
Commissioner Ron Walter, in seeking his fourth term, said, “I absolutely love this job.”
His challenger, Gary Schoessler, said he believes he has a lot of innovative ideas for making government more cost-effective and easier on its citizens.
“Things can be different,” he said. “They really and truly can.”
District 1 stretches from the southern end of Wenatchee to the county line and includes the Malaga community and the prime fruit-growing Stemilt Basin. But all three county commissioners set policies and establish the budget for the entire county and have direct oversight of the jail, public works, planning and natural resources.
Walter said the commission was forced by the economy to make tough choices in 2008 and 2009 that scaled back services and employees. They’ve held the line on wages, capped health-care benefits and implemented new ideas — like a new technique for repaving roads — to control costs.
But they have also been able to put money into reserves, restart a vehicle-replacement fund, and added a human resources position that has helped reduce employee grievances and lawsuits against the county.
“Tight budgets are good. They make you look at what you’re doing and how you do things,” Walter said, adding, “We are still taking a conservative approach on the budget.”
Schoessler said he believes there are ways to cut spending and use money better.
He said that during the four months he spent as mayor of Wenatchee in 2000, “we were doing a lot of neat stuff and saving money.”
He said he would like to go through the budget to see what the needs really are. He noted that the state auditor has found problems with the county’s budget for several years.
“I have managed multi-million dollar budgets and mom-and-pop businesses,” Schoessler said.
Where does he think the county budget could be cut?
“The department of natural resources,” he said. Though the department is funded by grant money, he said the county uses its own vehicles and other resources to support it.
“I’m all for clean water and fish,” he said. “But the PUDs, the tribes, the federal government and the state government are all doing this work.”
Walter has been heavily involved in salmon recovery efforts in the county over the years and is now focusing his attention on an effort to create a forest cooperative involving numerous agencies that he hopes will lead to increased logging and, ultimately, healthier forests in the county.
“If I could get that accomplished in the next four years, I’d be a happy man,” he said.
Both candidates agree the jail has been a challenge for the county. But they differ on how to address it. Walter believes the jail will be OK with Douglas County moving its prisoners to Okanogan County. He said retirements and vacancies in the jail staffing should avoid the need for additional layoffs.
Schoessler said that rather than figuring out how to live with the situation, Chelan County should be trying to fix it.
“The problem with the jail partnership is one of arrogance and stubbornness,” he said. “I am committed to rebuilding the partnership because it’s the right thing to do for both counties.”
Planning is another area the candidates differ. Walter said the county has taken steps to make it easier for people to do creative things with their land, particularly in the areas of agriculture tourism and farm-worker housing.
Schoessler said he believes the county, through its land-use regulations, is “anti-growth, anti-tourism and anti-business.”
He said the county’s rules for summer rentals are inconsistent, the new noise ordinance seems arbitrary, and the county drags its feet giving out permits. He cited one Chelan-area business owner who threatened a lawsuit and got his permit approved a week later.
Schoessler was elected mayor of Wenatchee in 1999 and served just four months before he was removed from office by the state Supreme Court for failing to meet residency requirements.
“I think I have a lot to offer,” he said. “I feel like I have something to prove to myself, my family and the community. I know I can do it.”
Walter said, “People know what to expect with me. I’ve got the experience. ... When I first ran for office, I talked about honesty, commitment, integrity. That’s still what I’m about.”
Michelle McNiel: 664-7152