The 2009 county budget and the necessary commitment to the county commissioner position were the highlights of Thursday's League of Women Voters debate between incumbent Mike Chapman, running as an independent, and Republican challenger Terry Roth at Sequim High School.
"I have the experience working with the budget," Chapman told about 60 people in the high school's auditorium.
Clallam County is one of three in the state that doesn't have any debt, although the commissioners could have taken out as much as $123 million in bonds during the past several years, he said.
The county's general fund also has a $12.5 million "rainy day fund" that was created back during the boom times because the commissioners knew those wouldn't last, Chapman said. The commissioners also have said "no" to $4 million in budget requests, he noted.
Roth said the $12.5 million general fund balance is the result of a real estate excise tax windfall from a large number of real estate sales that won't happen again. It already has been drawn down to $11 million, he said.
Chapman said the county's reserves are $12.5 million and the commissioners haven't dipped into them, just used some of the money until the property tax payments arrive in October. Chapman added the draft 2009 county budget will cut spending by
$2 million, leave five positions unfilled, defer capital projects and includes $300,000 in previously undiscovered savings.
"It's always a work in progress. We set aside money so as not to spend it unwisely. Two county administrators have bought into our conservative fiscal policy," Chapman said.
Roth questioned whether Chapman really wanted to be county commissioner.
Chapman was elected to the position twice but also wanted to run for county sheriff and work as a pastor in his church, Roth said.
"This is a full-time position. It's not a hobby or a part-time position," he said.
Chapman said he takes pride in answering all his e-mails and returning all his telephone calls, even if it's in the evening while he is walking his dog. It was the best decision he made to let Bill Benedict become sheriff, he's the best in the state, Chapman said.
He spent two years in a volunteer position at his church, Chapman said. He also has served on volunteer boards of directors, although the easy thing to do would be hiding in the county courthouse for 40 hours a week, Chapman said.
"I get more information at the ballpark than sitting in my office," he said.
Roth said he would make the county more active in recruiting businesses to relocate here. The county's two biggest industries right now are retirement and tourism, he said.
"You have to bring businesses here and the county doesn't have the leadership to do that," Roth said.
Asked about the county's most serious problem, Roth said it was drug addiction, specifically methamphetamine. It's important that the sheriff have the tools necessary to arrest people involved with drugs and also get them the necessary help once they get to jail, he said.
"Give agencies the tools they need to make it work. It's an epidemic," Roth said.
Chapman said the most serious problem was the county budget, that it will spend $1.5 million less than in 2008 without any loss in services. It was hard for the commissioners to set aside money when they saw needs that weren't being met but they didn't want a repeat of the layoffs that occurred in 2002, he said.
Now the county will be able to plow snow-covered roads and finish a jail remodeling with no debt, Chapman noted.
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