Helen Price Johnson, the District 1 Island County commissioner, has easily earned a second term after a four-year trial by fire in which she steered a steady course through one budgetary storm after another, managing to keep all county departments as intact as possible.
There’s no doubt she made tough decisions. She asked voters for a tax increase, a proposal that failed solidly at the polls. Then, voting with fellow Democrats, she imposed a $10 per parcel fee to mainly support farm planning by the Conservation District; and a more controversial Clean Water Utility Tax, costing most homeowners about $40 annually.
Give Price Johnson credit for making tough decisions in hard times under withering criticism. The Conservation District tax will help rural landowners become farmers, or sustain the farms they already have. This is crucial to Island County’s rural future. The clean water tax will help islanders do their share to protect the waters of Puget Sound, a moral imperative and requirement of state law. The move also took some of the sting out of the septic inspection program, eliminating the onerous $64 inspection filing fee.
But Price Johnson spent most of her time cutting costs as revenues plummeted in the recession. To her credit, she spread the pain to keep important departments effective if impaired.
Price Johnson’s opponent, Jeff Lauderdale, has campaigned hard, mainly complaining about necessary fees and programs. He certainly can’t match her deep roots in the community, as she goes back decades as a native born islander with long experience in the retail and construction industries, as a school board member and friend to hundreds. As a newcomer, Lauderdale might cut and slash some programs, but we need Price Johnson’s caring experience and deep community ties to keep the county functioning on all cylinders.
The other county commissioner race, in Oak Harbor’s District 2, is a tougher call. Incumbent Democrat Angie Homola can be hard to work with and her liberal Democratic credentials don’t match those of her conservative constituents. She won in 2008 by a hairsbreadth, becoming the first Democratic commissioner to serve the Oak Harbor area in decades, if ever.
Her hard-driving opponent, Jill Johnson, has been executive director of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and has leadership skills. However, from a District 1 perspective, she’s too quick to promote growth at the expense of the environment.
Oak Harbor wants to continue its rapid growth to the west, not a good idea for the island as we know it today. Homola, a hard worker with impeccable environmental credentials, serves as a hedge against such growth and for that reason she too deserves re-election.