PARTY AFFILIATION: Republican
Occupation: State senator-select, District 8; former educator and state representative
Family: Husband Christopher Close, daughter Abi Jablonski and sons Jacob Close, Josiah Close and Matt Close
Education: MS, Oregon State University; BA in education, Central Washington University; BA, Washington State University
Political Experience: State representative, District 15, 1999-2005; assistant majority leader, 2001-2005; chair, House Water & Environment Committee; co-chair, Joint Natural Resources Committee; chair, House Business, Labor, and Consumer Affairs Committee; Oregon Commission for Women; Tax Reform Task Force; Oregon Coin Commission; Palestine Rural Fire Board; Zone 1 School Committee, Albany; 5th Congressional District chair, Oregon Republican Party; chief of staff, Rep. Dennis Richardson
Community Service: Steering committee, founder, Options Pregnancy Care Centers (nonprofit); Habitat for Humanity, Salem; Kiwanis, Paint Your Heart Out; Albany Salvation Army, Back to School project; contributor to Southside Youth Center, Teen Challenge Northwest, Salem Gospel Mission; Compassion International, child sponsor
Question: As always, budget constraints are a major issue facing our county. As you make decisions about what to cut from the county’s budget, what criteria would you use to decide what to protect and what to cut? What specific areas would you try to cut and what specific areas would you work to protect? Do you see any possible areas where county government could generate additional revenue?
Answer: I do not begin a budget process with the idea of cuts. Theoretically one could cut nothing and give everything $1. I approach budgeting from the idea of streamlining and finding efficiencies. My first task would be to look at a complete budget that includes all line items and all funding options. Next, I would prioritize services by how critical they are to the county’s needs. Services are delivered by agencies. This list becomes the outline for zero-based budgeting. In other words, every category starts from zero and presents their case. For example, law enforcement would head the list as it is a responsibility given to government in the U.S. Constitution. (It’s a “gotta.” Other things may be “wannas.”) I would hold public hearings with each agency and ask them to present an outline of their budgets from the last five years as an overview. We might offer bonuses to agencies that find their own efficiencies. We (the commission) would look at our revenues and begin allotting money based on the agency priority list and the hearings. Agencies would have input on what they must fund and what could be reduced. There are many ways to save money: furlough days, step reductions, and not filling unfilled positions. None of these cause job loss, which I would want to avoid if possible.
County government has lands and buildings that they could charge rents on. They could remodel the old church at Adair and lease it for weddings, just as they lease the Benton County Clubhouse right beside it. They could harvest timber off forested lands the county owns. (This would be done, of course, following all laws governing timber harvest and replanting of forests.) They could sell property that is not essential. Many vacant plots of land are owned by the county. They may need to charge more for services that are not covering the cost of the service. These are my ideas, but I would be working, of course, in concert with two other commissioners.
Q: If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
A: • Pass a sustainable budget, fully funding critical areas of service, using existing financial resources.
• Include all five cities in Benton County in decision-making through awarding them seats on county committees. I will conduct a town hall in each city, quarterly, this coming biennium.
• Be an ambassador for Benton County to promote job growth in our area. We must improve infrastructure and streamline our permitting process so as to aid existing and future businesses who want to locate here.
Q: Why are you the best person for the job?
A: I am the best person for the job because I have been uniquely prepared for the position. As a legislator, I have chaired three committees: Water & Environment, Natural Resources, and Business and Labor. I have listened to months of hearings on key issues that affect Benton County: land use, the needs of business and industry, the needs of the work force, and economic development. I have worked as a job developer for Benton County, placing economically disadvantaged people in on-the-job training. I have worked at Oregon State University, teaching classes there. I understand the needs of our largest employer and have worked and voted on the budgets of OSU and LBCC. I am known as a fair chairman that gets things done quickly and efficiently. I provide a fresh, new outlook, with experience.
Benton County is listed this year by Marple’s Business Newsletter as the No. 1 county in the Northwest. Our citizenry is well-educated and in good health. We have low unemployment and good quality of life. I want to keep it that way. There are storm clouds on the horizon. Unemployment has begun to rise. OSU, our major employer, is at the mercy of a state funding system that is seeing falling revenues. Major corporations have left our area: Hewlett-Packard, Evanite, and Stahlbush Island Farms, which were million-dollar taxpayers. Others have left the state, due to a 9 percent capital gains tax. We are unable to access and manage our O&C lands, which once funded schools and roads. I pledge to defend Benton County’s interests and assist wherever I can in job creation and developing a business-friendly climate so revenue flows to Benton County and we prosper anew.
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation: County commissioner
Family: Husband Richard Medley, daughter Lisa DeLashmutt, sons Greg Garcia and Rick Garcia
Education: BA and MA in biology, Portland State University
Political Experience: County commissioner (12 years); chair, Benton County Democratic Central Committee (about four years); Democratic Party of Oregon State Central Committee; state political director, Clinton-Gore 1996; campaign manager, No on 02-06 (1991); county leader, Roberts for Governor and Kitzhaber for Governor campaigns
Community Service: Community Services Consortium; United Way of Benton County; Foster Grandparents; Marys Peak Natural Resources Interpretive Center; American Leadership Forum, senior fellow; American Civil Liberties Union, Oregon affiliate; Oregon Women’s Political Caucus; NOW; National Image Inc.
Q: As always, budget constraints are a major issue facing our county. As you make decisions about what to cut from the county’s budget, what criteria would you use to decide what to protect and what to cut? What specific areas would you try to cut and what specific areas would you work to protect? Do you see any possible areas where county government could generate additional revenue?
A: As commissioners we are required to adopt a balanced budget; our expenditures cannot exceed our revenues. Approximately 20 percent of the county’s budget is property taxes (about 18 cents per dollar) and is discretionary. The county budget includes federal and state dollars to deliver services required by them. Subsequently, cuts can only be made in the general fund. The general fund primarily funds public safety programs such as the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office and juvenile services. Some health services are also funded. Public works programs are funded through gasoline taxes and motor vehicle registration fees. Community Development and Natural Areas and Parks account for less than $6 million in a biennial budget of about $175 million.
It is clear that if the local option levy now up for consideration by the voters fails, public safety — the Sheriff’s Office, prosecution and juvenile services — will take major cuts.
Q: If elected to the commission, what would be your top three priorities?
A: I want to continue working with economic development strategies that can improve revenue for county services. I also want to work with legislators to address reforming Oregon’s structural deficits by finding solutions to Oregon’s broken revenue system.
Q: Why are you the best person for the job?
A: I have worked at the federal, state and local level for 37 years. I became a county commissioner to respond to local needs and to determine the best policy and solutions that will meet the need of our constituents. Knowledge and experience count. I am the best candidate for that work.
My colleagues and I have a good working relationship. Although we don’t always agree, we manage to work out our differences so that the residents of Benton County benefit. I have outlined the problems facing us; and although many of them will likely take longer-term solutions, I believe that the current board will continue to develop creative strategies for positive results.
Good government provides the means of collective attention to issues and challenges facing our communities and residents. Benton County is blessed with creative and committed workers who take pride in their service. As a commissioner, I am committed to working with officials from our communities and at the state and federal level.
I am committed to providing leadership and good stewardship for Benton County. My colleagues and I work to create a government that supports our communities. Through federally funded health centers we provide for those in need. We foster natural areas and conserve habitats with willing landowners. Fiscal challenges are met with diligence and creativity. We invest in economic prosperity through partnerships with others.
I want to continue this work! I am committed to Benton County, where we and future generations can experience rich and rewarding lives.