Ken Stanton initially overestimated the amount that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office budget has increased over the last 10 years. The error has been corrected in this version.
WATERVILLE — The need for more economic development in Douglas County is emerging as a campaign issue between incumbent Douglas County Commissioner Ken Stanton and his challengers, Tom D. Irvin and Carol Kavanaugh.
Stanton, who has held the District 1 position for 12 years, ran unopposed in 2008, but this year is facing two opponents in his bid for reelection.
The two candidates receiving the most votes in the Aug. 7 primary will advance to the general election on Nov. 6.
Irvin said he doesn’t like to see anyone make a career out of the county commissioner’s post, so after three terms in office, he’s hoping his fresh ideas will convince voters will replace Stanton.
He said his background as a longtime small business owner gives him the knowledge of what constitutes a favorable business climate. And, as a financial planner, he deals with budgets every day.
Irvin said he thinks Douglas County needs to actively seek out new businesses and industries to locate in the county.
“I’m looking for economic development based on the resources we have,” he said, and that’s cheap power. “The national average for power is 12 cents per kilowatt hour. In the Northwest, it’s 8 cents. And in Douglas County, it’s less than 3 cents,” he said. “To me it’s a no brainer” that the county should be using that to attract industries — like server farms — that require large amounts of power.
“Understandably, we can’t give away our power. But there’s no reason in the world why we haven’t attracted any of these businesses.”
Irvin also said that, instead of looking to raise revenue by attracting new business, Stanton and other commissioners were ready to raise taxes to resolve budget increasing criminal justice costs.
The commissioners voted in May to place a 0.2 percent sales tax on the Aug. 7 ballot to boost those budgets, but rescinded the decision later that month.
“When you need more revenue, you can do a couple of things. You can continue to increase taxes, or you can look to new finding sources,” he said.
Attracting new industries — like server farms — could bring in those extra funds, he said.
Kavanaugh agreed that the county needs to increase revenue through economic development. She said she’d also like to decrease overregulation of private property, and restore citizen trust and participation in county government.
Kavanaugh said that as a real estate agent and a volunteer on the county planning commission, she hears the same issues. One of those is that people who own a few acres cannot divide those into a few lots without unreasonable requirements. “Because, in the eyes of the planning department, they are identified as developers, and developers are required to put in curbs, gutters and sidewalks,” she said.
If elected, Kavanaugh said she plans to review the county codes, and eliminate unnecessary or burdensome requirements related to private property development. She said she’d also compile an inventory of all existing parcels of industrial and commercial property so Douglas County can advertise itself.
And, she said, she would interview all county employees, asking for their experiences and ideas on how the county could better serve its citizens and businesses. She added that workers who are happy workers have better interactions with the public.
“What I really am proposing is, we need consistency, and we need predictability. And we need for people, when they are coming to the county for help, to be treated respectfully,” she said.
Kavanaugh said that opponents have tried to say she represents a special interest group. “Realtors are a nonpartisan group,” she said. “And do you know what our special interests are? Homeowners and taxpayers.”
She said that as commissioner, she will not make a decision without listening to the public and reviewing the facts. “I do my homework,” she said.
Stanton defended the county’s efforts to promote economic growth. He said recently, they’ve worked closely with the Town Auto Group to bring two dealerships to Douglas County, and are discussing two others in the next 18 months.
He said Douglas County already attracted a large Sabey facility near Pangborn Memorial Airport, which has a permit for another data center. “The issue with data centers is not a county issue, it’s a PUD issue,” he added, because the cost of that power will go up if the utility has to buy electricity from other sources.
Stanton said the county has expanded its industrial lands, both at the Pangborn Industrial Park and Baker Flats.
He said he lobbied for funds for the next phase of construction at the Pangborn park. “We were successful, and we’re doing that project now,” he said.
The county has also completed many road improvements, including a second access to Fancher Heights.
“We’re doing a lot of things to help promote economic development,” he added.
He said the prpperty issues that Kavanaugh complained about are growth management issues, and requirements are dictated by the state. “I think we’ve really looked outside the box to try to accommodate people’s property rights,” he said.
As for the 0.2 percent tax proposal, Stanton said criminal justice takes up about 70 percent of the county’s budget, and the sheriff’s budget alone has gone up 58 percent in 10 years. Commissioners pulled the request off the ballot after realizing there were too many unknowns at this time.
Stanton said he’s served on just about every board involving a county commissioner, and that experience counts for a lot.
“When I came into office, I did not have any personal agenda. I had been in the City Council in East Wenatchee for two years, and was a small business owner for most of my life. I really enjoyed public service and wanted to go to the next level,” he said. “I didn’t have any agenda or backing of special interest groups, and I’ve held true to that for the last 12 years,” he said.