Bob Bugert and Shon Smith, the two men running for Chelan County commissioner, spoke at a candidate forum Wednesday hosted by the Wenatchee Rotary Club. Candidates addressed the full room for roughly 30 minutes over the din of lunch service.
The forum was moderated by Wenatchee World editor Jeff Ackerman, who warmed up the crowd with a handful of cannibalism jokes. Next it was on to the candidates, who were each allowed a three minute introduction, 10 minutes to speak on whatever issues the candidate wanted, and then a final three minutes to address a specific question.
Both candidates opted to open with a quote. Bugert, having grown up in a strict Catholic household, used a Latin phrase his father once imparted on him, “Qui multum datum est, multum Dei expectat” or “Much is expected of he who is given much.”
Smith instead used a quote from former South African president and humanitarian Nelson Mandela, “Money will not create success; it’s the freedom to make it that will.”
Other than detailing their own respective experiences, the candidates rarely spoke on the same issue during the half-hour forum. Bugert reminded the room of the economic booms such projects as irrigation and later hydro power have brought to Wenatchee, and sees the development of outdoor recreation as the next economic opportunity for the valley. “We know that Mission Ridge, the Wenatchee foothills, and alpine lakes bring in tourist dollars and jobs. These assets right here in our community create lots of business opportunities that befit our restaurants, motels, and other service industries.”
Property taxes and housing was the primary focus of Smith, “I don’t know about you, but I pay plenty of property tax on my house up in Cashmere, and that’s a concern for me because it seems to be going up every year. Which is a two-fold problem, because we’re happy to have something that’s worth a lot of money and is increasing in value, but the tough part is if we want to stay here we have to continue to pay to stay in the area that we are. A lot of that influx is coming in from the other side of the mountains. We’re all seeing our property taxes go up because of the property values going up around us.”
Finally, both candidates were given three minutes to answer the question ‘What is the biggest issue facing rural Washington counties in the next four years?’
“Housing…traffic, jobs and wildfires.” said Bugert, “There is a common denominator to all that, and that’s growth. As more people move here there are increased demands on our infrastructure, our homes, our public services, and our natural resources. Without a plan to accommodate that growth we will soon be overwhelmed; we will really be struggling to make things affordable for us. Our ag industry will be marginalized, our roads will be clogged, and our economy weakened.”
“Attracting people is not the issue. The next part of getting people here is going to be ‘Where are they going to work?’ and ‘Where are they going to live?'” explained Smith,”We have so little taxes that we can even spend from the county. A small part comes from property taxes, about one percent, but the other [portion] comes from building, and construction, and building permits. And that’s where we really need to focus on: where we’re guiding the county for that construction, and where we’re guiding it for that development, so that we don’t turn into an urban sprawl with rooftops as far as the eyes can see.”