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Commissioner candidates split on most issues

County Commissioner candidates Dean Enell and Mike Shelton do have one thing in common. They both agree that South Whidbey’s rural quality of life is its main asset. But that’s where the similarities end.

After being questioned about their qualifications for office, why they want to become commissioner and major problems facing the county as a whole and the South Whidbey area, the two County Commissioner, Position One candidates gave two very different outlines of why they want to be elected commissioner.

Shelton, a self-described fiscal conservative Republican and three-term incumbent, said important issues are resources to fund county services and the county’s mental health care services, ensuring that the Freeland sub-area plan to install a sewer system goes through and understanding water resources in Island County to show the need for caution for those resources.

Shelton wants to expand the criminal justice system, hire more sheriff deputies and bring in more county government staff to help with an expanding workload. He said he wants to continue using the county’s Growth Management Act comprehensive plan to find ways to balance environment and private property rights, modify the way conservation futures money are used to buy property in South Whidbey and acquire more money from the state government.

Enell, who views himself as a progressive Democrat, said his issues are the county government and county departments need to become more progressive. He also said having a Democratic county commissioner would better represent a part of the county’s population not presently represented. Enell said he plans to research impact fees as a way to pay for the cost of increased growth as well.

He said he would work to entice cottage industry business to the county and improve communications between county departments. Other plans are creating a county budget that’s easier to understand and more geared to the future, encouraging more interaction from the public and a more interactive county Web site to obtain specific information, such as county commissioner minutes.

Specific plans for office

When asked about their qualifications for the office, Shelton, a 12 year commissioner and 35-year Island County resident, pointed to his track record. He said the county has kept the budget balanced despite declining revenue partly due to Initiatives and increasing costs and worked to pass a comprehensive plan in the county for the Growth Management Act.

In addition, before becoming commissioner, he said he worked for Island Septic and in the banking world. So he said he’s dealt with the county as a business person and as a commissioner.

“I’ve seen it from both sides of the desk,” Shelton said.

Enell, a retired high-tech businessman, said his business background, which he said dealt with facts and data, prepares him to make a more progressive government. An active participation on several local environmental organizations has also shown him that there’s a need for wider political representation.

“It’s my perception from my years of local activism, that there’s a large segment of our population that’s not represented by our current government,” the 15-year county resident said. Enell said Island County’s a progressive community that’s not represented by a progressive government. He often referred to a progressive government as proactive, which always plans years ahead when making decisions, especially for certain portions of the population.

“This proactivity would significantly apply to the needs of the seniors and youth and combatting the growing drug problem,” Enell said.

Both men agreed the major issue facing Island County is preserving it’s rural character while under the pressures of increasing growth. But their views on how to deal with the pressures of growth varied.

Enell said he supports the idea of impact fees, which is something approximately 50 neighboring cities already add onto the cost of new construction. Enell said the money goes toward roads, schools, parks and fire prevention. If begun in Island County, Enell said he estimates it would cost an additional $3,000 per new construction. The fee would be tacked onto the fee of the building permit.

Enell and Shelton both said they plan to with the Island County Economic development Council to work on business to the area. But how they will bring more business to the area varies.

Enell said he wants to encourage cottage industries to the area, especially small high tech companies to the county. He said those types of businesses do not put the strain on the county that private residences do. So they would bring in more money and cost the county less in services. He said he would work with the Port of South Whidbey to create office space and push for the construction of more office space, as well.

“Have to spend money to make money,” he said.

Shelton, however, said that its unlikely many businesses would come to the county, especially Whidbey Island. He said dependence on the ferries or Deception Pass to access the island would make it difficult to bring businesses that rely on transportation.

Shelton also pointed out that South Whidbey tends to accept businesses that are arts-oriented.

“We need to be realistic about the business that want to be here and is accepted,” Shelton said. It’s preferable to have people working and living in the county, he said, but it’s probably better to protect the businesses already here.

Shelton said elected offices, such as the auditor, assessor’s and coroner’s offices are becoming overburdened and the county’s criminal justice system needs expanding. In addition, programs not paid for by the state, including the Washington State Extension and the parks need more funding.

To help cover those costs, Shelton said the state government should provide more money to the county. “County government is an extension of state government,” he said.

He said since he’s spent time at the state legislature and built relationships, he can work to convince the legislators to send more money to Island County. If the state, who must deal with a $1 billion deficit, do not send funding, Shelton said then the county might need to raise money from the county’s residents.

When talking about the county’s comprehensive plan for the Growth Management Act, Shelton said it’s done a good job of preserving the environment and rural character, while at the same time not divesting people of their property rights.

But Enell said the only reason the GMA comp plan exists in Island County is because activists groups applied pressure. He said if elected he would encourage groups to continue applying that pressure to the county. To keep people updated about what is happening, Enell said he would begin posting property values, county valuations, county commissioner minutes and other information on the county’s web page, as well.

In keeping with the theme of a high tech update, he said he would work to create a data storage place where the county department could communicate with each other. He said the departments do not communicate with each other, something the county can’t afford. Enell said he would also appoint more progressive-minded people onto planning boards, water resource committee and other county boards.

Enell and Shelton each have ways to cut down on the population in the county jail. Enell said the county needs to spend money for new programs.

“Programs that offer positive alternatives and avenues to succeed in our society,” he said.

Shelton also supports alternatives to sending someone to jail, especially a well-funded community mental health program . By putting those with mental illnesses in a mental health venue rather than jail, they can receive a case manager and medication for help treat the illness, he said. If they go to jail, the illness is not treated and the taxpayer must pay a higher cost for the time the person spends in jail.

Another subject is the use of conservation futures funds in South Whidbey. The fund comes from a property tax of $6.25 dollars per $1,000 of every county land owner. It has paid for the acquisition and conservation of several properties throughout the county by the county

Shelton said the county should continuing buying the property, but should stop taking care of it. Instead, the county should just buy the development rights and allow the previous owner to maintain and preserve it.

Enell said he wants to end the location criteria, which requires funding to go equally among north, central and south Whidbey Island and all of Camano Island. The county commissioners amended the law in 1997, when commissioner Mac McDowell argued that South Whidbey received mot of the funding and any properties south of Penn Cove should receive any money until an equal amount is spent on North Whidbey properties. Since then South Whidbey has received $52,000 in funding, while North Whidbey gas received more than $2.1. However, since the beginning of the futures funding in 1994, $3.43 million in funding has been spent in South Whidbey—mainly on the 1997 purchase of Greenbank farm— while $2.83 million has been spent in North Whidbey.

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