Would be officials introduce themselves
OROVILLE – Candidates seeking local county, state and federal offices were invited to Oroville last Thursday, Oct. 16 to introduce themselves and tell voters why they should cast a ballot in their favor.
Invited to talk were candidates for office where more than one person was seeking the office. Locally that meant Scott D. Furman and Les V. Stokes, both looking to win the County Assessor position; Dave Rodriguez and Gary V. Reams who would like to be the county’s first elected coroner and David Womack and Scott Vejraska vying for PUD Commissioner in District 1. Candidates seeking state offices are incumbent Brain Dansel for Senate, who appeared without his challenger, as did Joel Kretz, who wishes a return to the House of Representatives. While Clint Didier, candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives was on hand, their was no sign of fellow Republican Dan Newhouse who also seeks the Fourth Congressional District seat. Rep. Kretz, however, read a statement from Newhouse who was unable to attend.
In the case of the three offices where two candidates were present, the first at the podium was given 10 minutes, while the opponent was given 12. The first speaker was then given an extra two minutes for rebuttal.
Incumbent Furman said he started with the assessor’s office in 1984 under then assessor Bain Crowfoot and continued to serve under Jim Hand. When Hand got sick Furman took his place as County Assessor.
“We have 51 thousand parcels to appraise each year and over $41 billion in total property values in the county,” said Furman, who adds that the assessors office completes that task each year with 12 employees.
Furman said that since he has been in office information has gone from paper to online availability.
“You used to have to trek down to Okanogan to get the information, now it can all be done online,” said Furman. “Electronically we have also made many improvements in efficiency.”
He served as president of the Washington State Association of Assessors in 2005-2006, the first president of the association in 40 years, he said.
“Politics don’t get involved in how property is assessed. It is all done by WAC and spelled out by the state legislature,” he said.
Furman is proud of how quickly his office was able to assess the damage done to the 243 houses and 50 cabins that were burned in the Carlton Complex Fire. He said by doing a quick assessment it will help people to begin the recovery process.
“There were some 250,000 acres involved and of the 4600 parcels, 3800 were privately owned,” he said. “It involved a tremendous amount of work for my office and the staff worked hard… we just about have it wrapped up. I’m proud of my staff.”
The taxing district hardest hit he said was the Pateros School District which lost 20 percent of its taxable value.
“Next year that will have to be picked up by the remaining property owners because the bond has to be paid back. We’re hoping that maybe some will be gotten back from the federal or state government. There was a two percent overall loss to the county in property value,” he said.
Stokes, a general contractor for over 20 years, said he first considered running for Assessor in 1991 because he feels that property should be assessed at the value it can be sold at within 120 days.
“The original laws on property values are 100 years old,” he said.
Stokes said he was on the Twisp City Council in the 1990s when the town lost its sawmill, leaving Twisp without 40 percent of its revenue.
“By the time I left we had balance our budget. That’s one of the proudest things I was ever involved in,” he said, “and when it comes to running a tight ship you can’t get more experience having been on a volunteer fire department.”
Stokes said he has done a lot of refitting of homes so that they qualify for loans.
“I have a good eye and real experience at dating structures.”
Stokes said he applauded Furman for being “right on top of things” regarding the fires.
“If you don’t want to change ships I don’t blame you,” he said.
Furman was then given two minutes to address anything that was brought up by Stokes.
“Of the 51,000 real properties we assess we do mass appraisals. I’ll be the first one to admit we can’t get every one right. I encourage anyone to come in and talk to staff who will show them the appraisal info we used to assess the property. If that is not enough we welcome you to appeal to the local board of adjustment,” Furman said.
Reams said after graduating from Omak High School in 1970 he went on to college to become a Licensed Practical Nurse. He was drafted and stationed with a MASH unit in Germany from 1970-72. After the Army he started working at Brewster Hospital as an LPN and then became a Respiratory Care Practitioner. He worked in that field at Mid-Valley Hospital for 21 years. From there he worked in home health care, as well as Respiratory Care at Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster and Valley Care Center as an LPN. He has also worked at Legacy Funeral Home in body removal and transport. He said it was while working there he was encouraged to run for the newly formed Coroner’s position.
“I’m coming at the job strictly from the medical end. If elected I think I can work alongside law enforcement to establish the cause of death,” he said.
The new coroner will be expected to set up a budget, according to Reams.
“Anyone that has raised a family knows how to look at resources to do a budget properly.”
He said he believes he will be expected to hire a staff, but doesn’t know how many.
“What I don’t know about the job… what I do know I know well,” said Reams, adding that one thing the job will take is compassion.
Rodriguez said that while most elected positions are issue driven, when it comes to county coroner all you here are crickets.
“What we basically have here is an extended job interview. On January 1 the new coroner will walk into his office and it will be one man show,” he said.
Since there are only two candidates to choose from he said you have to ask yourselves who will do the best job “right out of the gate” that first date at the stroke of midnight.
Rodriguez said he had 25 years in law enforcement, 23 with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s office. He also has 13 years experience with emergency medical training and experience as an EMT.
“Plus I have direct training as a death investigator,” he said. “I have the training and can hit the ground running on day one.”
Rodriguez said before the county reached a population of 41,000 where an elected coroner was required the prosecutor or someone from the prosecutor’s office usually served as coroner.
“The bulk of the investigating was handled by law enforcement then. They were the first at the scene and then the prosecutor would show up with a clip board and go back to the office to do the paperwork. I’ve done all the first part already. So now I am uniquely qualified to do the rest of the job,” he said.
Rodriguez said by law the coroner is the first one to examine the body, even before law enforcement.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing you could screw up a crime scene. I’ve been to hundreds of thousands of crime scenes. I’m experience in the role of giving death notices,” he said, adding that the position comes with no budget for staff.
“My intent is to reduced law enforcements work load,” he concluded.
Scott Vejraska said he was a third generation rancher who graduated from Omak High School. He is also a trained lineman Nespelem Valley Electric Co-op.
“When I look at how the PUD is doing I can tell from my bills it is not doing good,” he said. “We’ve spent an extra $12,000 this year just on irrigation. If I’m elected the PUD will not spend one dollar if it will not do the ratepayers any good.”
Vejraska said that the Bonneville Power Administration, where Okanogan County PUD buys most of its power, has talked about rate increase from eight to 14 percent next year.
“I would call the BPA and talk to them. This is one agency that is wasting money hand over fist,” he said.
The candidate said he though that the Enloe Dam project was “a good project that has been done wrong.”
“We should have found a partner a long time ago. Can we afford another $30 to $40 million. I think we can if it is managed properly. I think in 20 years the project could be worth $150 million. In 10 years someone may want to partner with us just for the carbon tax credit,” he said, adding that he thought taking out the dam was not an option the PUD or anyone could afford.
He also felt that a second transmission line into the Methow could be valuable.
“We are already sitting on all the materials. It is a rarity that two lines burn,” he said.
Vejraska, like many detractors of the current PUD Commissioners, said that too much was paid for the new PUD building in Okanogan.
Womack, the incumbent, said he had been on the commission for 12 years. Prior to that he was on the Omak City Council and that he is a retired firefighter. He currently is the Meat Department manager at Gene’s Harvest Foods.
About a second transmission line into the Methow, something he says the court will soon rule in favor of the PUD doing.
“Even with a second line I think it would have burned, but I believe power could have been restored faster,” he said. “We need safe, reliable power.”
He said reenergizing Enloe would be the least overall expense to the ratepayers of Okanogan County and give the Oroville area power independence and not have to rely on the transmission line coming out of Tonasket.
Womack said many people believe that the PUD will get another 22 percent of the power from Wells Dam, but the district still has to work to protect its access to BPA power. The district also has to work to stabilize power rates for the next 40 to 50 years.
In answer to Vejraska’s criticism of the new PUD headquarters, he said, “The building was old, we had to have buckets out when it rained and we had three portable buildings outside. We did all the necessary studies first.’
Womack said that facility, equipment and labor costs continue to increase.
“Poll costs, transformer costs, they’re all up by over 100 percent,” he said. “The cost of living is only up by 30 percent. And, we’ve experienced an $8 million drop in power sales.”
The incumbent said that in hindsight the commissioners should have made slow, incremental increases, rather than keeping rates the same for several years.
“I believe in leaving the money in the ratepayers’ pockets as long as we can,” he said.
Womack also predicted that if Vejraska was elected he would have to abstain from voting on issues regarding labor costs because he belonged to the lineman’s union and the Nespelem Valley Electric Co-op agreement is tied to the one for Okanogan County PUD.
At the end of the forum, Oroville Chamber President Clyde Andrews reminded those present that all the candidates were “honorable people” and thanked them for their time.