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Editor’s note: This is part two in a two-part article covering the Upper County candidate forums hosted Wednesday. Part two addresses responses from Kittitas County Commissioner District 2 candidates.

With multiple county government positions up for grabs on the ballot in November, candidates recently had their first opportunity to voice their opinions on various topics in a public forum setting.

The Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum in Cle Elum Wednesday, inviting candidates for the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners and Kittitas County Sheriff. The event was moderated by Steve Dupont and Paul Jewell. District 2 Commissioner candidates Jerry Martens and Jessica Karraker attended the forum along with incumbent Commissioner Laura Osiadacz, along with Sheriff candidate Bart Olson and Incumbent Sheriff Clay Myers.

BUDGET PRIORITIES

KARRAKER: Although she said she was hopeful that cuts wouldn’t have to be made as the county looks for extra funding at the national level, she said extra expenses would have to be looked at in the case that they do need to be.

“Because we hired the Ferguson Group and we spent $60,000 to do so, my hope is that we don’t have to see those cuts in the long-term,” she said. “Hopefully that was money well-spent, and we can move forward.”

OSIADACZ: Commissioner Osiadacz said the good news on this subject is that the county has a history of conservative budgeting, and as a result of CARES Act funding, the county is set to meet or exceed their general fund budget.

“In those departments, we won’t see a need for cuts,” she said. “The areas where there will be additional challenges will be our enterprise funds. Those are inclusive of public works, our transfer station and community development services. Those areas are funded through the amount of business they bring into our community. We don’t think we’re going to get there, but if we had to it would be the place that would be most appropriate to start.”

MARTENS: Martens said the subject brings up the need to reexamine local government and what services it provides to residents.

“One of the places I could see immediately is the enterprise funds,” he said. “There’s places where we have overlap with private enterprise. If we have to start looking at the restructuring of government services and things like that, those are the places I would start. We have a licensing division through the county, we could start to get those privately. Services at CDS can be contracted out, so it’s not a cut in services but a redistribution. I think that private sector could assist our county government in and we start cutting the size and cost of government.”

LODGING TAXES

OSIADACZ: Although she said lodging tax structure is regularly a hot topic within the county, Osiadacz said she does support the current system. She said large grant allocations such as the funds that went to building the covered area at the Washington State Horse Park is an example she used of that.

“However, we are always looking to tweak things where needed,” she said. “That’s something that we have done since I’ve chaired that committee.”

An example Osiadacz used regarding modifications to the system include the development of micro grants. She said she has heard from the community that nonprofits and small organizations were not fairly represented, and that the work involved in applying for small grant amounts has been excessive.

“What we did was we worked together in a partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, and we developed the micro-grant program which has been very successful,” she said. “We’re now seeing smaller entities utilize these funds for some of our wonderful events within the community. There are groups that have never had access to those funds before, so that in my book is a real win for our community as a whole.”

MARTENS: Martens said he needs to learn more about the program, but he said his first take on the program is that he feels that nobody has been happy with the program over the last 20 years.

“All stakeholders seem to have a problem with it,” he said. “My first take on this is maybe reassessing just exactly why the program is in place. As we get into that, we start looking at where funds are supposed to be distributed.”

Moving forward, Martens said he feels like the program can’t be the only mechanism for funding within the county.

“We’ve got to make certain it’s purpose, it’s intent and if it’s actually doing what it’s supposed to do,” he said. “In most cases with a tax like that you never have any way of monitoring what it’s doing. In some cases, it provides good services like what’s been mentioned and in other cases it’s a penalty to somebody. I would want to relook and reassess, probably come up with an option or an idea of exactly what the program’s supposed to do and then I would take it forward.”

KARRAKER: Karraker said she has heard that Upper County entities have felt unrepresented when it comes to benefits from the tax funding. Although she acknowledged the funding for the horse arena, she questioned how much of the benefit from that project goes to Upper County residents.

“The other big thing about it is listening to individuals and seeing and making sure a percentage of that tax comes back to Upper County,” she said. “We’ve got Suncadia. We’ve got the horse park. We’ve got motels and tourism being driven into Roslyn. How much of that money goes to Lower County versus Upper County. We need to make sure funds are being appropriated correctly percentage-wise for Upper County versus Lower County.”

SMALL BUSINESS SUPPORT DURING PANDEMIC

MARTENS: Having felt the pressure of the pandemic as a small business owner himself, Martens said the first step is getting regulations out of the way.

“A lot of businesses are going to have to go back into their own homes,” he said. “They’re going to have to go back into their personal properties because they can’t afford to stay alive in a commercial setting. Our regulations have pretty much restricted much of that from happening.”

One change Martens said could be done at the county level is changes in zoning codes.

“I think there should be disallowed uses,” he said. “If you own a 20-acre piece of property, why should you be restricted from operating a small business out of there? It just makes sense that we provide the avenue for small businesses to thrive instead of penalizing them because they might want to work out of their own home.

KARRAKER: Also a small business owner, Karraker said she was motivated to run for commissioner because she sees a need for a commissioner that stands up for constitutional rights.

“They need to go out and clarify that mandates are not law,” she said. “Ultimately, I am from a logging family. I saw what the spotted owl did mandate-wise, and how it destroyed an entire industry and families. It also destroyed a private sector and ended up causing mega fires in our forest while we import timber from other countries. It’s unrealistic. We need to be working with our Legislature and our businesses around our communities, and we need to be standing up for them.”

Karraker said she wants to see government support for businesses, saying she has seen county commissioners stand up and support social movements on social media, while not standing up for businesses that were struggling for help.

“That’s what I’ll do for you as county commissioner,” she said. “I’ll stand up and I’ll fight for your constitutional protective rights.”

OSIADACZ: Commissioner Osiadacz said the county is taking multiple steps to support small businesses, including allocating CARES Act funds to small businesses.

“In addition to that, we have been communicating to the state as a county regularly to press the state to bring back local control,” she said. “I took this to the next level by rallying all of the counties from across the state of Washington together to be able to have conversations and develop a message which we could then present in a united fashion to the governor which strongly stated that he needs to give back our local control. These are the types of things that I will continue to do. I will continue to find legal ways to make a point and to bring a voice for our people. I will look for financial resources to assist small businesses and families who are employed by small businesses the means to be successful in their lives here in Kittitas County.”

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