October 27, 2008

The following questions and answers were published in the Newport Miner newspaper as part of their series of candidate interviews. Although the questions were specific to Pend Oreille County issues, some apply broadly across the 7th District, and the answers will give you insight into my approach to solving problems.

Q. The U.S. Congress recently renewed the Secure Rural Schools county payments program for another four years. Only in Washington state do schools not receive the federal money directly. Instead it is filtered through OSPI, and each district's state funding is reduced dollar-per-dollar with what the Secure Rural Schools law brings in. Would you work to change this, and what strategies would you use?

A. This money is intended to make up for the impact on a school district when a large percentage of the district area is in federal hands and therefore not contributing it’s share in local property taxes to pay for bonds and levies. The money should go directly to the school district, rather than being used to reimburse OSPI for fulfilling its obligations for basic education. I will work to change this by first working with the superintendents of the affected districts to establish the value of the lost revenue, then organizing a summit meeting with the Superintendent of Public Instruction to present the case. The value of the lost revenue needs to be based not on the lost timber tax, but on the impact of federal ownership on the tax base. In addition, I do not expect this program to be renewed again in four years, and we need to lay the groundwork now for a new approach to hold the federal government accountable as a landowner for impact on counties and local school and other service districts. I have already contacted Rep. McMorris Rodgers regarding the need to establish a new relationship between federal lands and the local taxing districts, with an effective Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program that flows to the junior taxing districts such as fire districts who bear a particular burden for first response to fires yet often receive none of the PILT payments.

Q. Pend Oreille County is once again without a resident fish and wildlife officer after the most recent officer was let go. He had filled the position that had been empty for nearly two years. What could you do, as our representative, to help make sure that position is filled and stays filled?

A. I have contacted the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife officer in charge of recruiting and training, Lt. Steve Crown, to find out the status of re-filling the position yet again, and am satisfied that he is working on it with all deliberate speed. If all goes well, there will be a new officer in place as a lateral hire by the end of the year, unfortunately too late for this year’s hunting season. I have Steve’s office and mobile numbers, and I believe he is also convinced that I will be calling him weekly to check on progress. As for retention, I plan to follow up on the personnel policies within the department to verify if the local rumors about difficult personalities in some positions up the chain of supervision are contributing to the local difficulties in retention. As a business owner, I know how critical good human resources policies and implementation are to finding and retaining highly qualified employees.

Q. The Usk Bridge is one of only three bridges in Pend Oreille County that crosses the Pend Oreille River, and some say it is in dire need of replacement. How could you help the county receive the funding necessary to replace that bridge?

A. As an architect, I am well aware of the price jumps in construction materials over the last 6 years that have left the county in the position of not having an adequate budget to fund replacement. The Pend Oreille County Public Works Department is on track for a Major Maintenance Project to buy an additional 10 – 15 years of time to plan for replacement. I have talked with the County Engineer and reviewed the WSDOT minutes from the project kick-off meeting, and it appears that the plan to complete design and permitting for construction occurring in 2010 is realistic. The Usk Bridge is a perfect symbol of the infrastructure problems throughout the 7th District and the state of Washington. It is too easy to operate on a crisis basis, and now is the time to be planning for the major repair or replacement of the Ione bridge as well. The County Road Administration Board (CRAB) needs support from the legislature to prioritize repairs to our aging bridges and roads before they need replacement when possible, and to plan for replacement with adequate time to set money aside. The legislature needs to take as much interest in decidedly “un-sexy” repair projects as it does in new projects with an opportunity for a photo-op at a ribbon cutting. We can’t keep building new infrastructure if we can’t afford to take care of what we already have.