County chair candidates split on issues at Pacific forum
Voters looking to find common ground between the two candidates for the chairmanship of the Washington County's Board of Commissioners this week were likely disappointed.
Speaking at a forum at Pacific University on Monday, Sept. 24, candidates Kathryn Harrington and Bob Terry found little they agreed on, differing on everything from approaches to taxation to the future of the Washington County Fairgrounds.
The pair are running to head the county's five-member board of commissioners. Both hope to succeed current Chairman Andy Duyck, who is not seeing re-election.
Terry has represented Hillsboro and Forest Grove on the county commission for the past eight years. He believes the county is currently moving in the right direction.
"I want to see Washington County continue the way it is," Terry said. The county hasn't raised its taxes in 20 years, a fact Terry is proud of. This year, the county's budget was reduced by $200,000, which Terry credits to smartly spending taxpayer money.
"It doesn't need fixing," Terry said.
Harrington has served much of Washington County on the Metro council since 2006. As Portland's regional agency, Metro is tasked with land use and sewer issues, as well as operation of the Oregon Zoo.
Harrington points to issues of congestion and affordable housing as major areas of improvement in Washington County, as well as the need to protect the county's farms and forest lands from development.
"I believe the next chair will need to shape the opportunities for the benefit of all," Harrington said. "They will need to navigate our challenges so no one is left behind."
'A good reputation'
Monday's forum was the first of seven forums between the two candidates over the next few weeks. The pair will meet for a forum at the Hillsboro Civic Center on Oct. 10.
Harrington received the most voters in a four-way primary race in May, with Terry coming receiving the second-most votes. As no candidate claimed enough votes to win outright, a runoff election in November will determine the winner.
More than two dozen people move to Washington County every week, Terry said. Growth at Intel, Nike and other major employers has drawn in people, as well as the county's reputation as a great place to live.
"People are moving here no matter what we do," Terry said. "People come here because we have a good reputation all over the country."
Jim Moore, an assistant professor at Pacific and director of the university's Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation, led Monday's forum.
Asked about ways the county could better support the arts in Washington County as it grows, Terry said the board of commissioners has worked with local nonprofits to fund their operations.
"We've given them lots of money," Terry said. "Washington County services have helped arts of all types, and we're adding additional money in the next budget."
Harrington said venues such as Bag&Baggage Theatre and the Glenn & Viola Walters Cultural Arts Center in downtown Hillsboro are success stories in Washington County. As the county grows, more money will be available to work with the local arts communities, she said.
"It's important that year over year we look at the current services and the future opportunities and challenges," she said. "How do we make adjustments?"
County partners with outside groups
Terry said the county has thrived without raising taxes. Work began this week on a new events center at the Washington County Fairgrounds, a $46 million project the county is paying for without asking voters for additional money.
"This county is managed and run like a business, and it's run better than any other county in the state," Terry said.
The county government employs fewer people per capita than any other county in Oregon, Terry said, and the county has the lowest taxes in the Portland area.
"We haven't seen any bad tradeoffs from that," he said.
The county has, instead, partnered with private businesses and nonprofits to provide some services, Terry said.
"Nonprofits, we have found, are very committed to what they're doing," Terry said. "And they make great partners."
Harrington said she wants to ensure voters have their say before any taxes are raised. Metro, where Harrington currently serves, has commonly placed bond measures on Oregon ballots, asking voters to pay for improvements in a wide variety of areas, from construction at the Oregon Zoo to the purchase of parkland and, on this year's ballot, an increase in affordable housing.
"I didn't vote to increase taxes. The voters have made the decision to increase taxes or not," she said. "I very much support those types of proposals."
Affordable housing is a major issue in Washington County, Harrington said. Metro worked for years with local jurisdictions, including Washington County, to address the issue, she said.
"Eventually, you realize that applying the same old tools just wasn't enough," she said.
Harrington said not addressing these issues has come back to bite the Portland area, as housing prices have skyrocketed and many are priced out of neighborhoods they lived in for years.
"You are talking about real community benefits and risks if we do (go out for bonds) or if we don't," she said. "This is your money. We serve you, and we need to do a better job. If we don't, you'll have every reason to believe that your government is detached from your everyday life."
"Kathryn is a very good sales person," Terry retorted, "but she's not selling you all the facts."
Metro has regularly asked voters to support various bond measures, he said, with limited results.
"Every year, Metro has promised you a lot of things, but they never come true as much as they promise," Terry said.
Terry laid the blame on the region's affordable housing crisis on Metro, which has tight restrictions on where development can occur.
"We don't have any land (to develop on)," he said. "I know farmers don't want to see their land taken away, but we have used very few acres of land in Washington County because of land restrictions."
Washington County is often described as the economic engine of the state, with Oregon's largest business located here. Harrington said there is a lot to be thankful for in Washington County,
"We have many different great businesses here, and it's important to ensure that we're helping the companies that are already here continue to succeed," Harrington said. "We should be looking at the programs in place now, how they're working and how those programs and industries change. Change is a constant. We have to look forward and not be satisfied with the way things are or that they'll always remain this way."
Terry said the county has adapted well to changes, and he said the county's successes are largely due to how it manages its money.
"If we're guilty of anything, it's that we've managed our work too well," he said.
Road maintenance is paid for, in large part, through the state's gas tax, Harrington said, but as cars get better and better gas mileage, and the use of electric and hybrid cars becomes more widespread, gas tax dollars dwindle.
The federal government, too, has pulled back on its funding for state and county projects, Harrington said.
"We gave grim realities we have to face," Harrington said. "The federal government is not supporting our transportation needs as it once was. We must rely more on our own resources to do this."
Terry said the county is hard at work addressing transportation issues across the county, including syncing up traffic lights across the county and working on plans to revamp Cornelius Pass Road, which has long faced congestion issues.
"Transportation has many facets," he said. "Every ounce of gas and gravel that comes into this county comes up Cornelius Pass Road. When it's stopped up, those roads have to go down Interstate 5 into Highway 217 and into the county. That's expensive, it's dangerous and (we) need to fix it."
Harrington and Terry also split on the future of the Washington County Fairgrounds. Critics have complained for years that the fairgrounds have lost their connection to the community as it moves to bring in more corporate events.
The county's new events center, Harrington opined, isn't aimed at community groups, as the fairgrounds traditionally have been.
"I go the distinct impression (talking with county staff) that the business plan has not been sorted out," Harrington said. "(Staff) didn't have an answer for how community groups would utilize the events center."
Terry said the fairgrounds may be growing, but they aren't changing.
"The fairgrounds are being designed so the entire county can use them," he said. "They are for the entire county. Everything the fair does today, it will do in the future."
Voters will decide on Nov. 6 which of the two candidates will lead Washington County.
By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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