Finance department an issue in county commissioner candidate debate

PORT ANGELES — Two candidates for the Clallam County Board of County Commissioners District 3 seat challenged incumbent Bill Peach over the board’s efforts to create a finance department.

Opponents Dale Wilson and Mike Doherty questioned the initiative during the League of Women Voters forum at the Port Angeles City Hall on Monday evening.

“It’s a solution going searching for a problem,” said Wilson, the publisher of Port O Call, once a monthly publication that is now an online blog. “I’m much more comfortable knowing that four or five constitutional officers — state required officers — are putting together the budget. I’m very uncomfortable with all that power going to one person.”

The Clallam County commissioners are looking to use existing positions from the Auditor’s Office and Commissioner’s Office to create the Office of Financial Services and Economic Analysis, a department that is intended to streamline county finances.

To do so would require a change of the county charter and vote of the people.

The commissioners said they would set a hearing for 10:30 a.m. July 31 about the proposed changes to the county charter. After that hearing, the county would draft language that would go on the November ballot.

Doherty, a Democrat who held four consecutive four-year terms before deciding against seeking reelection in 2014, said “I would agree with Dale.

“You have three elected officials who have to face the voters,” he said. The treasurer, the auditor and the chairman of the board of commissioners have to be responsible in the finance committee for these large sums of money.

“I’m a little hesitant to support something where you would take that away and replace it with … a staff person under the board of commissioners.”

Peach, a Republican who is running for a second term on the Board of County Commissioners, said the county currently doesn’t have a system that marries revenues and costs.

“That’s what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.

Wilson responded that the finances of the county need to be taken in “in a fair manner.”

Wilson and Doherty both said that the county’s Opportunity Fund has been misused in recent years.

“The Opportunity Fund has already been overextended,” Wilson said. “It has built a $10 million sewer, it has built these pools, it has built part of the infrastructure at the housing development.”

The Opportunity Fund is a portion of state sales tax — 0.9 percent of the state’s 6.5 percent cut — that supports infrastructure projects in economically-distressed rural counties.

The William Shore Memorial Pool had asked to borrow $750,000 from the Opportunity Fund earlier this year to help in its expansion, but found funding from another source. It still requested a $50,000 grant that would act as matching funds.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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