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Kittitas County Commissioner candidate Laci

Candidates for Kittitas County Commissioner District 1 are weighing in on the issues that are most important to them and what they feel like makes them the best candidate for the position. Democratic candidates Laci Harrison and Nancy Lillquist’s responses are included in today’s article. Republican Cory Wright’s responses will be published in Monday’s edition. This race is on the Aug. 6 primary ballot with the top two advancing regardless of party affiliation

What do you see as the most important issues currently facing the county, and how do you intend on addressing those issues if elected?

Lillquist:

First, maintaining our quality of life as our population grows. Many of our neighbors are stretched thin between low-paying jobs and high home prices. Some roads already feel congested at peak times. County leadership must support home-grown businesses with business training and mentorship programs, support smart investment in the kinds of infrastructure that businesses of the future need, and support policies that sustain our agricultural economy. Commissioners must invest in maintaining existing roads and bridges, and plan for future projects.

Second, preparing for the growing threats of wildfire and drought. It is critical we prepare for the next big wildfire by steering new homes away from high risk areas, building fire resistant homes and landscapes, ensuring evacuation routes, providing resources for emergency responders, and working with partners to promote long-term forest health. We need to support the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan to ensure sustainable and reliable water supply and work with federal, state and local partners to protect our water rights and resources.

Third, ensuring government efficiency. The county will work better for citizens and better address important challenges if commissioners spend money more wisely, attract and retain good employees, and operate efficiently. Commissioners owe it to taxpayers to be strategic about spending on contracts and buildings. For example, purchase of the bowling alley and trailer park have not benefited the public but have added maintenance costs. I would review maintenance costs versus public benefits to determine each facilities future.

Harrison:

The most important issues facing Kittitas County right now are water, fire danger, and housing; all of which have interagency teams whom have been working tirelessly on solutions for many years. The board on commissioners plays an integral part on these teams. The issue that I find equally important is economic improvement to bring commercial tax dollars and jobs with good wages to support the growing demographic of young families. While tourism is a critical part of our economy and provides a high volume of jobs, many of these jobs are low wage and not stable year-round. If elected I will work with our economic development organizations to create a plan to recruit small and medium-sized businesses in industries that bring steady jobs with wages that can afford home ownership. Our kids deserve to have opportunities to stay here in the valley if they choose and enjoy the lifestyle that strong jobs can provide.

Kittitas County has seen explosive population growth in recent years. Do you see this as a potential benefit to the county? If elected, what measures would you take to plan to accommodate future growth?

Harrison:

I grew up here, went to college here, and have stayed in Ellensburg since graduation so I’ve seen first had the growth and changes that have happened over the last 20 years. In general growth is a good thing, but that growth needs to be planned and managed to be balanced for the benefit of the residents now and the residents of the future. It needs to be planned to adapt to the climate change effects we are already experiencing and planned to sustain the services that will be required for the projected population. I will take measures to encourage growth to happen within the urban centers and the Urban Growth Areas and reduce the rate of growth in undeveloped rural lands. A big part of our rural character is our natural rural landscapes and undeveloped lands. These undeveloped natural areas need to be preserved and maintained as they are an important part of what makes Kittitas County so beautiful, versatile, and attractive.

Lillquist:

The state predicts we will add 20,000 new residents over the next 20 years. Growth can (but may not) bring new people who will invest in creating local businesses, a more diverse retail base, and perhaps more clout in the legislature. On the other hand, growth puts pressure on housing availability resulting in high prices, creates competition for existing employment opportunities, congests transportation systems, creates need for additional services, and puts strain on already limited water resources.

We need to ensure our laws, policies, and spending will effectively implement our local vision and goals as we grow. The recently adopted county Comprehensive Plan drew on extensive citizen input to create a vision for the future. As a Commissioner, I will keep that vision in mind when making decisions. More importantly, we need to make sure the county code and our spending priorities will implement that vision and get us to the future we want. If we aren’t prepared, growth will just happen to us and we will lose what we love about Kittitas County — our small-town character and beautiful landscape. Having grown up in Kent, I’ve seen first-hand how a community without a plan can lose its best attributes.

What qualifications do you bring to the position, and how do feel those make you the best candidate for the job?

Lillquist:

No candidate brings more experience to the County Commission than I do. I have 17 years of experience in the hard work of governing: bringing people together to create workable policies; researching issues so decisions are based on fact; holding accountable the people who receive public money and the public employees who do the work of voters.

I have been elected to the Ellensburg City Council four times and have represented the citizens and City Council on many boards and commissions on a variety of topics through which I have gained an understanding of land use, water and fish, transportation, and so many other issues. I have met and built trusting relationships with numerous people I will work with as County Commissioner. I know the fundamental rules governing public officials in Washington state including Appearance of Fairness and Open Public Meetings laws. My previous employment for the states of Oregon and Utah in the water resources field as well as my educational background in Geography (BA) and Water Resources Management (MS), will be useful in addressing land use, transportation, wildfire, as well as one of the most pressing issues in the County — adequate, sustainable water supply for people, farms and fisheries. In short, I have the background, knowledge, skills to start working for citizens on the issues they care about on day one.

Harrison:

I’ve been a member of this community my whole life, and my family has many generations here as Knudson’s, Sorenson’s, and the many other family names that the incredible women in my family have taken. The development and growth of this county has been an interest of mine since I was a student and I’ve always wanted to serve my community. One of the benefits of working for small local businesses in Ellensburg is the opportunities to invest myself in them with a sense of ownership to help the business succeed. I’ve had the opportunity to work with licensing, state and federal regulations, marketing, product development, business planning, staffing, and budgeting. All while learning how to specifically apply these things to a Kittitas County demographic.

But what most qualifies me for this position is my passion for the people of this county. For the past seven years I’ve been part of a team of admins who run the Community Connect group online. It’s a volunteer position managing a group that is now over 9,000 local residents. I’ve strived to be fair and focus the group on sharing local information for the whole county. I’ve managed conflict both in person and online, mediated problems, and helped people find solutions. I research things thoroughly and seek credible sources of information. When something important needs to be done I’m ready to jump in and do it myself if I have the necessary skills or recruit someone who can do a better job than me.

I am the best candidate for this position because I will put people first in the decisions I will make as a commissioner. I will make policy to create a plan for smart growth and intentionally seek community input and buy-in when planning for the future. If we are to have government by the people and for the people, we have to make sure the people of our communities are involved in the decisions being made for them. This takes deliberately seeking community feedback and engaging enough people for a realistic sampling of our communities. As a commissioner I will bring county government into the light to the people of this county and I look forward to the opportunity to give my full-time attention to the issues facing our county.

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