CORVALLIS — Before Pat Malone raised his right hand to take the oath of office Thursday morning, Benton County's newest commissioner had already heard plenty about a few of the issues from those he now represents.
Malone, 70, who lives in Kings Valley, brings the perspective of a rural landowner to the county commissioners' table. What sparked his interest in wanting to serve on the board?
"I've been thinking about it for a while. We've reduced the amount of work that I do on the farm and so I have gradually become politically more active with the Legislature and locally," Malone said after taking the oath along with Sheriff Scott Jackson from Circuit Court Judge Locke Williams at the Benton County Courthouse. "I've been more in the background working on Legislation that I thought was important or helping other candidates get into office and gradually thought, 'I could do that.' We'll find out, huh?"
Malone, who grew up in Portland, has been a longtime Kings Valley resident with his wife, Betty.
"My wife's folks bought the property in 1968 and had some big plans about moving up here that didn't materialize and so after college, we got to puttering around the farm and started slowly and gradually turned it into a business," Malone said.
Sunrise Tree Farm grows Christmas trees from seedling until they're ready for market. According to the business's website, Sunrise farms Christmas trees on about 70 acres and timber on 35 acres. Malone said the business has moved toward planting fewer Christmas trees with more woodland planting.
"It's quiet and I've really grown to appreciate trees and starting them off," Malone said when asked what he liked about living in Kings Valley. "It's kinda self-taught but I've learned quite a bit about silviculture."
Malone has also been involved in his community in various ways. Although he's not active right now, Malone said he was a longtime volunteer firefighter and had the distinction of becoming Kings Valley's first fire chief.
"I have some interest in improving our emergency preparedness and I'm glad to see there's a proposal to upgrade the 911 system, because it needs improvement," Malone said about the dispatch center that dates back to 1983. "It's over 30 years old and it's showing his age."
Age doesn't seen to be an issue for Malone. When it comes to issues, the recent Coffin Butte Landfill rate hike has dominated a lot of his early conversations with residents.
"I've heard quite a bit about that from people — forest landowners that already have some problems with illegal dumping and could see tripling the fees would just really make that a much-worse problem," Malone said.
A priority early in his term will revolve around the budget, a particular area of interest for the longtime business owner.
"The county's developing a biennial budget as we speak and I want to get up to speed on that," Malone said. "I have some budgeting background from our tree farm and on the Linn-Benton Community College budget committee, so I know what the ups and downs can do to state budgets and county budgets and so I'll be paying attention to that — not the minutiae but the big picture and is what we're currently doing sustainable?"
In November’s general election, Malone, a Democrat, won the Position 1 seat with 50.16 percent of the vote — nearly twice as many votes as his nearest competitor. Malone had run for the position in 2014, losing in the primary election to Anne Schuster, but he obviously had some folks in his corner with 36 percent of the vote.
During his campaign, Malone received support from a number of well-known area Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, state Sen. Sara Gelser, state Rep. Dan Rayfield and County Commissioner Annabelle Jaramillo.
The three-member Board of Commissioners is the county’s elected legislative body, setting policy and enacting ordinances. The commissioners supervise the county administrator and preside over an organization with about 450 employees and an annual budget of around $122 million. The starting salary for a first-term commissioner is about $84,000 a year.
Jackson, who ran unopposed, is beginning his second full four-year term as sheriff. The former Benton County Jail commander has held the top job since 2013, when he was appointed to fill out the remainder of Diana Simpson’s term.
Malone's four-year term officially began with Thursday's ceremony. The commissioners typically meet for their regular meetings on the first and third Tuesdays each month in their downtown Corvallis office at 205 NW Fifth St. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 15 with a work session at 9 a.m. and the regular meeting at noon.