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Q&A with Grant County Commissioner candidates

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | October 27, 2022 2:52 PM

GRANT COUNTY - With the general election just days away, the Columbia Basin Herald submitted some follow-up questions to the candidates running for public office. Incumbent Grant County Commissioner Cindy Carter and challenger Jeff Foster each got the same questions. Their answers are below and have been lightly edited for clarity and to fit in the available space. The Herald appreciates both candidates’ timely responses.

Q: You’ve been campaigning throughout the summer. Have you heard anything on the campaign trail that changed your mind about the most important issues facing the county and the commissioners?

Carter: Employee retention is still key in delivering county services; not all offices are short staffed but we are experiencing a shortage of CDL truck drivers at Public Works and corrections employees at the jail. Union negotiations are currently underway and should be settled soon. Until they are settled I can’t elaborate.

Foster: No. The number one issue that I continue to hear is centered around how our tax monies are being spent. Are we spending the taxpayers money on the essential services needed by our citizens?

Managing the budget is far more than simply making sure that Grant County doesn’t spend more than is received.

I continue to hear that various departments or offices are “shorthanded”. The Corrections Officers are down 10-12 bodies and are paid not much more than fast food restaurant workers for dangerous work. The Deputies are nearly 10 bodies short. Even my opponent said that the Planning Dept. is understaffed.

Are the decision makers making sure that the essential departments are being properly funded? What are the elected officials and department heads doing enough to recruit their own employees? If the County is losing good staff members to other employers, as the leaders at Grant County, the Commissioners should look at the funding of every department to be sure that we are taking care of the essential services provided by Grant County.

Q: The Grant County Jail project is approaching the cost analysis phase. What’s the next step if the cost turns out to be higher than the available funding?

Carter: There is funding secured for the jail, we are bonded and ready to go. If the cost of the jail is higher than the bond amount, the BOCC will revisit the building plans and start reducing space. There are reduction opportunities that will not impact the (prisoner capacity) of the jail.

Foster: A few years ago, a sales tax increase of 3 tenths of 1 percent was passed by a vote of the citizens for the Law and Justice System in Grant County. One of the main reasons the voters agreed with those of us that promoted the idea of the sales tax increase was the dire need of a new jail facility. Our existing jail is housing nearly 150 inmates in a facility designed for 84.

I have attended Commissioner meetings where the new jail was the topic. I am impressed with the work of Tom Gaines, Central Services Director and his staff on this very large project. I am pleased to learn and share with you that this new facility is being designed to be capable of handling the projected needs for the next 20-30 years.

Today’s regulations require much more in a facility of this type than what most of us consider a jail to be. For example, regulations require that those with drug overdose and mental health issues are given different accommodations than your average inmate. This means different types of services must also be managed.

The cost of everything has increased under the current administration in Washington DC and Olympia. Construction costs included. I fully expect that the cost of construction of the new jail will be higher than originally projected.

The good news is that with the population growth due to new jobs coming to Grant County, the sales tax revenues have increased as well. Based on what I know today, the sales tax revenue is forecasted to be enough to service the cost of the new facility. I look forward to putting my experiences and skills to help make sure the new jail facility meets the needs of the county and within costs that are manageable by the income generated by the sales tax revenue.

Q: Growth and its associated challenges - housing and housing costs and accommodating the industries that want to come here being the most obvious - are topics of discussion. What is the commission’s role in meeting some of those challenges, and what, in your opinion, should commissioners be doing?

Carter: As far as growth in the county, our biggest hurdle is Olympia. Washington’s building energy code is one of the most burdensome of any other state in the nation. We are constantly fighting for our growth in rural Washington. The HIRST Decision was a great example of halting all growth in the county. Currently, the battle is Shrub steppe, this overlay implemented by WDFW covers most of the sagebrush ground in Grant County making growth very difficult and expensive. We have some large developments coming into play, it takes time to put in these developments. Some of the growth issues are not in the county but within the city limits. It’s a problem and the county and cities need to continue working together to resolve it. We definitely need more affordable housing options so families are not forced to rent but can buy their future home/investment.

Foster: Housing is a major concern. I’ve been in this industry for over 27 years. Electeds often talk about providing “affordable housing” but then neglect to see how each new regulation, new fee and steps in the process added to develop property or build housing costs the end consumer. Not the developers.

As leaders, the commissioners need to be able to do what is right for Grant County! My opponent says “(Grant County) can’t do anything because of the rules and regulations handed down to us by Olympia.”

I disagree. Our county leaders need to question regulations that are pushed upon the citizens of Grant County from appointed bureaucrats.

Regulations designed for the west side don’t always make sense in Grant County. Our leaders need to do what makes sense in the planning process for Grant County. I will challenge those barriers to affordable housing and do what it takes to make housing more available and affordable.

Time for research:

Still not sure which candidate you’re going to vote for. Find out more information about Cindy Carter and Jeff Foster by visiting their websites or reaching out to them directly.

Cindy Carter

www.electcindycarter.com

electcindycarter@gmail.com

509-750-8007

Jeff Foster

www.electjefffoster.com

jeff@electjefffoster.com

509-760-9274

photo

FILE PHOTO

Jeff Foster is a former banker and current real estate professional. He and his wife, Sally Foster, have three children and two grandchildren whom he and Sally enjoy spoiling. He has served on several director boards, including the Moses Lake Irrigation District.

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