Jefferson County commissioner, PUD candidates discuss growth, housing

The same candidates have been invited to a candidates night in Brinnon on Monday.

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioner candidates discussed how county government could responsibly foster economic growth at a forum.

Kate Dean and Tim Thomas, who are vying for the District 1 spot currently held by Phil Johnson, and Commissioner David Sullivan, who is unopposed in his bid for another term in District 2 in the Nov. 8 general election, agreed during a Thursday forum that lack of housing hinders growth and that it was the county’s job not to provide the housing but to facilitate a situation in which more homes can be built at affordable prices.

“I think high-density housing isn’t utilized enough,” Thomas said at the forum at the Port Townsend Community Center, which drew more than 100 people.

“Part of that is a lack of infrastructure that makes it hard to build up like that.”

Sullivan and Dean also agreed that a lack of infrastructure was making it difficult for businesses to grow and homes to be built.

This led to a question about how many people from Jefferson County choose to drive to larger shopping centers outside of the county to do their shopping.

“This is a problem,” Thomas said. “What are we saying about our carbon footprint as a county if we’re assuming people are driving elsewhere, not to mention the lost revenue?”

However, Dean cautioned against allowing too much growth.

“We’re all guilty of spending money outside of the county, and we can all do better,” Dean said. “However, many of us live here to avoid the type of sprawl that supports big-box stores.”

All three candidates are Democrats.

Candidates for Position 1 on the Jefferson County Public Utility District spoke primarily about the utility’s finances.

“My first concern is getting the PUD budget and fiscal situation under control,” Jeff Randall, who is challenging incumbent Barney Burke, said in his opening statement.

Burke said that although the PUD is on a tight budget, the financial health of the department is good.

Randall disagreed with Burke, calling the PUD’s financial health “poor,” and said there had been talks about taking out a loan to cover the costs of operations.

Burke said that was simply not true.

“We would never take out a loan for operations, and no one would give us a loan for operations,” Burke said.

“We’ve cut it close, but really, now that we have the 2015 numbers in, we know we’re doing OK.”

In his statements, Burke talked about his experience with the PUD and related entities. He’s been with the PUD for seven years, is vice president for Energy Northwest and is the vice chair of the Port Townsend-Jefferson County Climate Committee.

In response to Randall’s comments that the PUD is failing financially and with public relations, Burke said there had been some “growing pains” in the district, which took over provision of electrical service in 2013.

“This year, our accounting is much better just because we have the correct software,” Burke said.

“It’s stunning that when you knock on doors how many people think the PUD is doing well. When you’re in this job, you are consumed by all the things that can go wrong.”

Just in the past year, the PUD had to deal with three storms in Jefferson County that qualified for relief money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The two candidates agreed on the need to continue promoting conservation and renewable energy sources.

Randall said the key difference between him and his opponent is his ability to engage the public.

Randall also promoted his position as an “outsider” and said his skills as a licensed attorney and solar design professional with Power Trip Energy would translate well into the PUD commissioner position.

“I come with an energy background which Barney didn’t have when he started,” Randall said. “However, the fact that I’m a PUD outsider is a good thing because currently, the PUD isn’t in a good spot.”

The same candidates have been invited to a candidates night in Brinnon on Monday. The public forum will start at 7 p.m. and take place at the Brinnon Booster Club at 151 Corey St.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.

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