By Kristine Thomas
Should Marion County voters approve a ballot measure in the May 18 Primary Election to increase the number of country commissioners from three to five?
That depends on whom you ask.
At the April 9 Silverton Chamber of Commerce Lunch Forum, Rick Kimball shared why voters should vote “yes” on Measure 24-292 while Marion County Commissioners Sam Brentano, Janet Carlson and Patti Milne explained why they are encouraging voters to say “no.”
Kimball wants voters to think of Marion County as a business with the citizens being both the owners and customers. If voters were to approve Measure 24-292, it would change the model of the business by establishing five districts instead of one large district and increase the number of commissioners, therefore giving citizens better access to the people who make decisions for them, Kimball said.
“The commissioners would be nonpartisan,” he said, adding an approval of the measure would put into place a Home Rule Charter in Marion County.
“We think it would be better to have five heads at the table to deliberate issues.”
Commissioners would be elected by districts, Kimball said. Approval of the measure would eliminate the elected position of country treasurer and, to fund the two additional commissioners, Kimball said the county’s three policy advisers’ jobs would be eliminated.
Overall, the measure doesn’t “change how the county operates” according to “Yes on 24-292” literature.
Milne doesn’t see any advantages in Measure 24-292. If voters wanted to increase the number of commissioners or create districts, she said that could be done without an election, adding “We can improve county government without a charter,” she said.
She also doesn’t agree with proponents of Measure 24-292 who believe the measure would save money by eliminating the treasurer and three paid staff members.
Milne said both the Marion County sheriff and district attorney are opposed to the measure. The “No on Measure 24-292” literature states “By passing Measure 24-292 – expanding county commissioners from three to five, the county would be forced to make tough financial decisions about vital county services like public safety, decreasing sheriff patrol response time, Search and Rescue operations and maintaining the jail.” The No on Measure 24-292 campaign projects the change would cost an additional $500,000 while restricting voters to selecting one commissioner instead of three.
The “Yes on Measure 24-292” campaign argues passing the measure would increase accountability, representation and responsible use of tax dollars.
In a separate interview, Silverton resident Rick Stucky said proponents of Measure 24-292 spent two years gathering public input.
“There was general concern among rural and small town voters that Salem development and business interests were having a disproportional influence on the commission,” Stucky said. “They liked the idea of having a locally elected commissioner responsive to their concerns.”
At least two and possibly three of the commissioners would come from Salem under the five-commissioner plan.
Current county commissioners said the document is poorly written, saying the home rule charter would allow commissioners to impose taxes without a vote of the people and opens the door to restricting the right to the initiative process.
When asked what was “broken” with the current Marion County government, Kimball said, “I can’t tell you what’s broke. We are trying to keep things from breaking.”
Milne said commissioners are working to revive the economy so people can work again. “Unfortunately, if the initiative passes, we would have to take money out of the general fund and that means we could be forced to cut public safety and other county services.”