WENATCHEE — The Chelan County Commission seat representing the Upper Wenatchee Valley including Leavenworth and Cashmere is up for grabs this November election.
The two candidates — Anne Hessburg and Shon Smith — are running for post currently held by Bob Bugert, who announced earlier this year he would retire at the end of his term. The two answered questions Thursday evening in a public forum at Pybus Public Market.
Smith of Cashmere is the owner of the Wok-About Grill restaurants in Wenatchee and Leavenworth. He is also a member on the board of directors for Building North Central Washington. He filed as a Republican for this race.
Hessburg of Leavenworth, who currently serves on the Leavenworth City Council, works as an environmental planner for Grette Associates LLC, an environmental consulting firm with offices in Tacoma and Wenatchee. She filed as an Independent.
Questions answered by the two candidates were sourced from members of the audience, The Wenatchee World and people who made submissions via email. The responses below include only the first three questions. More of their responses will be published Tuesday.
The candidates’ responses were edited for clarity and brevity.
WW: What policy changes or investments are necessary to encourage broader employment in the county?
Smith: We’re doing a really good job right now with encouraging businesses to come to the community.
A lot of (our tax base) revolves around our property taxes. A lot of the county’s functions comes off that very small portion, though, it’s only about 20%. That’s not enough to keep things going.
So we need to encourage businesses to come here, and we need to encourage big businesses to come here if we have the land for that, which is shrinking very much.
Every time we sell something, or we have a tax dollar that is spent here, it comes back to us. We’re able to use those monies for the functions that the county does, that keeps our lives running smoothly.
Hessburg: I think one of our biggest challenges right now facing business, economic development and the prosperity of our county as a whole is our Community Development Department.
I want to restore the confidence in the permit process so that property owners can develop their properties, residential or agricultural property development, so that business owners can come to Chelan County to invest in current businesses want to stay here and grow.
We do need to expand our jobs. But we can’t expand our jobs unless we expand our business opportunities. And that starts with community development and strong leadership within that department.
WW: What is one part of county government that would receive more attention if you were elected?
Hessburg: I really think the main focus is our Community Development Department.
We need to have an engaged department that wants to seek those solutions and wants to solve residents’ problems. I don’t think we need to be over-regulating and making the permitting process so cumbersome that the process takes a year to get a permit.
I have clients that I work with where their permitting process is so complex and so cumbersome that by the time they get all the permits in hand that they need for their project, their project is no longer feasible. Building materials are skyrocketing and you can’t hold on to a builder or contractor for your project.
This is really hurting the prosperity in our community.
Smith: As important as community development is, there’s some other things in our county that are really going to be pressing on us. And we’re starting to see some of that come out of the city and into the county.
Currently, I’m concerned about crime, and I’m concerned about homelessness. Those are two big ones for me.
We need to support our law enforcement, our first responders, through programs and tax incentives that we get back from the state government that we can turn back into these programs to support the needs that we have in this community.
WW: As a commissioner what would you do to reduce the wildfire risk in the Chumstick area and how would you manage urban growth in these areas?
Smith: It’s really hard with private property rights to tell you what you can do with your own land, and I’m a private property rights guy. I want to do what I want to do in my backyard, as long as it doesn’t affect my neighbor, and vice versa. Their action should not affect me as a neighbor.
As far as the Chumstick goes, they’re already taking actions right now. They’re buying portable water tanks that can be set up for rapid response water that they can get to a fire very quickly.
And now, with the (Wildland Urban Interface) code that we’re talking about implementing for next year, the new commissioner will be working on and talking about the fire issues we have, especially in that corridor.
The new requirements (in the new proposed code) for houses — some of them are unrealistic in my mind when it comes to a building expense, but some of them are realistic.
Hessburg: As a past wildland firefighter, I know firsthand the devastation that wildland fires can cause on residential homes, communities in the surrounding area. I believe that we are moving in the right direction, but we haven’t taken enough action yet to prepare.
I believe in building relationships with organizations like the Chumstick Wildfire Coalition and coordinating with local fire districts and fire departments in how you can best set yourself up for success.
The county needs to follow suit in adopting wildland urban interface code. Local communities, cities have already adopted these regulations, and I think it’s time for the county to move forward and adopt those regulations as well.
Hessburg and Smith also touched on the area’s affordable housing shortage, whether to raise or lower taxes, how they might handle working the other commissioners and more. Read more about it Tuesday.