Blaine County voters will have a clear ideological choice this fall when they choose a District 1 county commissioner—between an incumbent intent on ensuring a strong voice for the county’s values and concerns on all issues that might affect it and a challenger who would like to pare government to its essentials.
District 2 Commissioner Jacob Greenberg is running unopposed for a two-year seat.
During each biennial election, one commissioner’s seat is up for a two-year term and one for a four-year term.
Running on a theme of fiscal responsibility, Carey Mayor Randy Patterson, a Republican, is challenging incumbent Democrat Larry Schoen for a four-year term.
Patterson, formerly a co-owner of C&R Electric, now runs an online organic supplements business. He served two terms as a Carey city councilman and was re-elected in an unopposed election last November for his second term as mayor.
Patterson said his most significant accomplishment as mayor was creating a budget that cut property taxes in Carey by 22 percent beginning in 2011.
“This year is the first year that we took our 3 percent [allowed increase in revenue],” he said. “We held it for four years.”
Patterson said he decided to enter the commissioner race firstly because he believes that voters should always have a choice. He said that if he is elected, his main goal will be to restrain spending at the county level.
As an example of overspending, he pointed to the road-and-bridge levy that was defeated by voters in May. The two-year levy would have raised up to $5.24 million each year in additional property-tax revenue, of which about $1.7 million would have gone to the valley’s cities. The Road and Bridge Department has been running a maintenance-funding deficit of $300,000 to $500,000 annually, and even so falling behind on road maintenance.
Patterson said a levy to raise about $400,000 may have been acceptable, but the $5.4 million requested from property owners was “over the top.”
Patterson said elected officials too often target property owners when they want to raise revenue. He said some longtime residents are living on low fixed incomes and can’t afford to pay a higher tax. Instead, he said, money should be raised from those using the service.
“The right way to go is to increase the gas tax,” he said.
Legislation to raise the state tax was introduced in the 2014 session but was not acted on.
“I think they’re more aware of it now,” Patterson said. “It really needs to be done bad.”
Patterson also objected to the $12,381 raise, phased in over three years, that the commissioners awarded themselves beginning in fiscal year 2014.
“They had a community that said don’t give yourselves a raise, and they went ahead and did it,” he said.
Patterson said he disagreed that the commissioner position should be a full-time job.
“If they’re strictly doing the business of the county, it should be part-time,” he said.
He said that if he is elected, he will try to reduce the commissioners’ salary to between $30,000 and $35,000 per year.
He said no one should be seeking the job for the money.
Schoen, a south-county grain and hay farmer, has a long résumé of public service that includes eight years as a Carey Fire District commissioner, four years as a Blaine Soil Conservation District supervisor and more than three years as a Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commissioner member. He is now serving his eighth year on the County Commission and is seeking a fourth term.
“I like coming to understand complex challenges and working with people to resolve them,” he said about the job.
Among his most significant accomplishments, Schoen pointed to:
l His instigation of outcome-based budgeting and the hiring of a city administrator familiar with that process, which he called “one of the most accessible, transparent and open” budget systems in Idaho. Each department’s budget request must be made in terms of how the expense will further its goal of service to the public. “The county has moved more toward a customer-service model,” Schoen said.
l His votes against increasing property taxes and general salary levels for three years. “The county has weathered the recession in good financial condition,” he said. “We really dug into the county’s finances to find efficiencies.”
l His role in transforming the county’s recycling program into what he claims is the best in the state.
l His involvement in water-supply issues and understanding of the conflicts between residential and agricultural use. “I’m one of the most engaged county commissioners in Idaho on water issues,” he said.
l His initiation of regular meetings between the county and federal land managers. “I’ve helped to sustain the tradition of cooperative relationships. That is not the case in many other places,” he said.
l His push as commission chair to get the county out of managing a senior-care facility and find a private business to take over that role. Despite the issue being what he called one of the most difficult for him emotionally, he said he’s convinced that the county made the right decision. “It removed a long-term liability for its citizens,” he said. “I’ve made some tough decisions, but that’s my job—not to pass problems on to those who follow.”
Schoen said he could not predict the issues that will confront the commission over the next four years, but said he will bring the same values and skills that he has put to use during the past eight years. Among those, he said, are a conviction that it is a commissioner’s job to listen to constituents’ needs and address them. As an example, he pointed to his involvement in getting state mortgage rules changed after hearing complaints from valley residents during the housing crash.
He said that among his skills are an in-depth knowledge of land-use issues, an ability to communicate Blaine County’s values in local, state and national forums, and an ability to keep an open mind throughout every decision-making process.
“I try to evaluate everything fairly,” he said.
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.