The job of a Columbia County commissioner is more than just overseeing local land-use issues, approving a budget and attending assigned meetings; it’s also about extending a reach beyond the county to build a positive regional reputation and establish a presence in Oregon. This role encompasses everything from the occasional trip to Salem — or even Washington, D.C. — to discussions with agency officials in neighboring Multnomah, Washington and Clatsop counties.

But perhaps the most important value, especially in this time of troubling county finances, is that of creative vision.

In the race between incumbent Henry Heimuller and challenger Wayne Mayo for Position 2 on the Columbia County commission, we have been impressed with Mayo’s creative, think-outside-the-box approach toward the jail funding fiasco. Mayo has advanced the idea of increasing the existing fee on aggregate rock extracted from county lands by mining companies, a potential source he estimates could generate $1.92 million in additional annual revenue for the county.

We believe that is exactly the kind of thinking necessary to move the county out of its entrenched position of relying on bursts of increased taxes via operating levies from the electorate. For background, voters approved the depletion fee in 1990 at 10 cents per ton, and authorized an increase in 1996 to 15 cents per ton. In 2013, the Spotlight reported the county anticipated $383,613 in revenue from the fee. Mayo’s suggestion is to increase it to 65 cents per ton.

Some county officials have claimed any increase in fee would be detrimental to local mining operations, which the officials say have very slim profit margins.

That’s a hard argument to swallow, however. Columbia County hosts some of the richest aggregate lands in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, miners have explained to us the incredible benefit of there being very little overburden — or topsoil that must be removed to access the rock. Hence, the labor costs are arguably lower here than they would be elsewhere. It seems reasonable, then, that this industry, which extracts and removes from the county a nonrenewable resource in massive quantities, could be just the one to contribute back to the community with revenue to fund some of the critical county operations. We like Mayo’s plan and, should he be elected, we will be interested to watch him pitch it to a Board of Commissioners that is accustomed to taking campaign cash from local mining companies.

And his concept on the depletion fee is only one of many fresh ideas he has presented to us. When asked, Mayo was able to produce specific plans for improving Columbia County. Though his depletion fee ordinance is his top priority, others include a final reckoning on the failed Columbia Health District hospital as a measure to restore the public’s condfidence in local government’s fiscal management and a recruitment effort targeting select businesses in nearby Portland that have been priced out of the market and are looking for a move. As he notes, because of the Columbia River PUD’s comparatively lower utility rates — also something many attribute to Mayo, who helped spearhead a campaign to move south Columbia County out from under Enron and PGE’s thumb — operational expenses are arguably less expensive here than in PGE-controlled Portland. It’s also true that industrial land inventories in Portland are low, which raises questions for why Columbia County, with its close proximity to Portland and healthy quantity of industrial land, struggles so hard to recruit those businesses.

Mayo is not an easy sell, however. He blundered when he advanced an ill-conceived and poorly executed effort to usurp the federal government’s authority to enforce immigration policy in 2010, an action that left a bad taste in some people’s mouths. Specifically, Mayo wanted the county, via the Sheriff’s Office, to force local businesses to adhere to an anti-illegal alien policy, including large signs at construction sites alerting passersby that the worksite was free of undocumented immigrants.

Not only did the policies promise to define Columbia County as an intolerant, backward community, they were poorly worded and cobbled together from a similar effort in Arizona, resulting in lawsuits and a judge’s ultimate determination that they were “illegal and unenforceable.”

But some of his ideas have worked very well. As we mentioned, Mayo was a leading force for bringing the current Columbia River PUD system into existence at a time when Enron held sway through PGE. He has independently communicated with the Port of Morrow regarding Ambre Energy’s Morrow-Pacific plan to transload coal via barge at Port Westward, and has consistently moved dialogue forward regarding rail safety as Global Partners LP has upped the presence of volatile train traffic through the county to Port Westward.

We want to hear more from Mayo and see what he could accomplish if given the legitimacy of a position with the county. We believe he would be hard-working, transparent and, with the right guidance and peer influence at his side, could be just the variable to move the county out of its current slump.

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