PORT TOWNSEND — Finances and economic developments continue to dominate the discussion in the races for Jefferson County Public Utilities District 1 (PUD) and County Commissioner District 1.
At the Elks Lodge in Port Townsend on Monday, candidates were able to answer questions from the public at a public forums hosted by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.
In the race for PUD in November’s election, Jeff Randall is challenging incumbent Barney Burke for a spot on a three-person board responsible for the public utilities.
Many of Monday’s questions for the candidates revolved around how to balance funding the PUD while also making sure to promote the conservation of energy in Jefferson County.
On the topic of green energy and conservation, the two candidates have very similar ideas — promoting conservation and extending state incentives to encourage a smaller carbon foot print and investment in renewable energies.
Randall said his background in solar energy would make him an ideal candidate to move the PUD into the future, where renewable energy will become a bigger part of how people get their power.
Burke agreed that the electricity industry need to be able to evolve with new technologies and people’s desire to be more energy efficient. However, less energy consumption does mean less revenue for the PUD, which is still dealing with budget woes.
Burke said they have had some trial and error in getting the PUD started only three years ago, when Jefferson County became the first county in Washington state to switch to public power in roughly 60 years. However he said they have kept their heads above water financially and people have been satisfied with the services the PUD has provided.
“Launching public utilities is no walk in the park,” said Burke. “It’s not surprising that this is basically a full time gig.”
Randall, who plans to continue working if elected, said he has a record for success and that it’s time for a change in the PUD — especially where finances are concerned.
“I’m not discounting my opponent’s service,” said Randall. “I think he did the best he could, but it’s time for a change.”
In the county commissioners race, Kate Dean and Tim Thomas are running for the district 1 spot being vacated by Phil Johnson. David Sullivan is also running unopposed for a re-election as commissioner for district 2.
Dean and Thomas spoke Monday, primarily on the best ways to create growth and development for Jefferson County without breaking the bank.
Thomas, owner of Bernt Ericsen Excavating, said he is running because he feels the county is all talk and no action. He wants to make headway on the long planned sewer in Port Hadlock and work to promote affordable housing, which he said is lacking in Jefferson County.
Dean had a similar message, that people love to live in Jefferson County but find it hard to find a house, a job and pay the bills. However, she said she is looking forward to promoting growth in a post recession Jefferson County that is looking to grow, but grow sustainably.
Thomas said he wants commissioners to better prioritize and fund issues — starting with the infrastructure that will promote economic growth in the area. He said, especially in the case of the Hadlock sewer, too much time and money was wasted on multiple consultants and studies.
“The more we talk about it the more expensive it’s going to get,” said Thomas. “I think the county has failed at its job so far and my opponent is endorsed by all three county commissioners. So if you’re looking for more of the same, I’d expect you to vote for her.”
Dean said she wants to focus on growing the economy of the county while making sure the environment and natural beauty — which she said is much of the reason people move here to begin with — stay intact.
“I’m excited to see people of my generation and women stepping up now,” said Dean. “I think we’re coming out of the weeds of the recession and need to look forward.”
More public forums with the county candidates will be held before November’s election.