News

Board member upset over proposed cuts

By RICK LEVIN

Staff reporter

A number of elected positions within Island County government come to term this year, with many of the incumbents as yet unchallenged in their bids for re-election.

The positions of county Assessor, Auditor, Clerk, District 3 Commissioner, Coroner, Prosecuting Attorney, Sheriff and Treasurer are all up for grabs come the Nov. 5 general election. Anyone wishing to file for candidacy must do so at with the Auditor’s office during the last week of July.

Filing fees are $581.21 for all positions save Commissioner ($645.79), Prosecuting Attorney ($807.24) and Sheriff (645.79). Indigents can get around the fee by petition.

The largest issue facing all candidates would appear to be Island County’s current budget crisis, which has raised concerns over how to cut costs while maintaining a basic level of government services for the public. To overcome a shortfall of approximately $1 million in this year’s budget, the board of commissioners dug deep into county reserves.

Things don’t look much better for the 2003 budget, with many officials saying they expect the axe to fall on important social programs and government staffing next year. An 11 percent cut in the county’s Current Expense fund is expected, which amounts to a loss of approximately $2 million in revenues. With such difficulties looming on the horizon, all elected officials are certain to face many tough decisions that could determine the course of Island County government for years to come.

Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair is seeking re-election as a Republican candidate. She has held the assessor’s position since she was appointed for an unexpired term in November of 1997, taking over for retiring assessor Art Hyland. Sinclair was elected to a full term in ‘98.

“I feel like I have works in progress,” Sinclair said of her decision to seek re-election. “I’d like to see them to completion.”

Sinclair, who is as yet running unopposed, said she enjoys working with the issues particular to the assessor’s office, especially when it comes to running public elections.

“I enjoy the civic process,” Sinclair said on Thursday. “It’s an endless source of change and interest. I find that given half a chance, people are very interested in what their government is doing. I like that interchange with the public.”

First elected in 1998, incumbent District 3 Commissioner Bill Thorn, a Democrat, is seeking election to a second term. During his tenure as a county commissioner, Thorn has served as chair of the Island Transit Board and is currently chair of the Northwest Regional Council. He said he gives high priority to acting as a voice for all residents of the county, and that he will continue to support the development of new businesses while also seeking to preserve Island County’s “rural character” and way of life.

Despite the present and ongoing budget setbacks now being suffered by county government, Thorn said he has no interest in abandoning ship. “I don’t want to leave in the middle of the job,” he said. The biggest challenge over the next few years, he added, will be to provide continuing and adequate government services under tight fiscal constraints.

“I just simply don’t feel finished with the work I came to do,” Thorn said on Thursday. He said that the county now faces some serious challenges that need solving. “I want to be a part of that solution,” he added.

Sheriff Mike Hawley also had decided to see his department though its current budget woes. First appointed to the position in November of 1996, Hawley has been re-elected twice as a Republican. Technically, he said, this is now his third term.

Hawley said that when he first became sheriff, he inherited a crisis-riddled department that was wrapped up in multiple law suits. “The department was making headlines,” Hawley said on Thursday, “but it wasn’t for catching bad guys.” Since that time, Hawley said he has worked to “calm things down” to their present state.

“My background is emergency services,” he said. “I like to think I’m pretty good at dealing with crisis.”

As for his accomplishments over the last six years, Hawley feels he’s helped build a sheriff’s department that is “effective, efficient and professional.” Now, he added, his job is to keep the place running despite what he called “the fiscal situation” occurring throughout Island County government.

“My job’s not done,” Hawley said.

Maxine Sauter has been Island County’s treasurer since she was first elected to the position in 1986. A Republican who also claims strong support from local Democrats, Sauter is seeking re-election to what would be her fifth consecutive term. So far, she is running unopposed.

Sauter said on Thursday that she is “very comfortable” with her position, and that she’s succeeded in surrounding herself with an excellent staff. Using the mechanism of “cross-training,” Sauter said she’s been able to cut back on staff while also creating an efficient and reliable workplace. Never once in her time as auditor has a single penny gone missing, she added. However, the Washington State Auditor’s Office has criticized some aspects of how she handles money.

“The office is run very, very well,” Sauter said. “We’ve made a lot of money.” She said that over the last five years, she’s earned about $17,315,000 in interest income for the county. This is money earned through smart investing, Sauter said.

“This is a time when we’re very tight with money,” Sauter said, referring to the county’s current budget crunch. “We need someone in here that’s worked with it. I’m extremely comfortable with it.”

Incumbent Jane Koetje is seeking first-time election as county clerk. She was appointed last October as a Republican by the board of commissioners after former Island County clerk Marilee Black resigned in September.

Koetje, who has already announced her candidacy, was unavailable for comment.

Island County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks was elected as a Democrat in 1998. He has not announced whether he will seek re-election.

Incumbent county assessor Tom Baenen, a Republican, said Friday that he intends on running for a third term, having first been elected to the position in 1994. Baenen said when he ran eight years ago, he had specific goals he hoped to accomplish in the assessor’s office, and that while he’s achieved many of them — primarily technological upgrades of services — he feels that there are still a number remaining to be completed.

“I pledged eight years ago, and renew the pledge now to keep the public informed about what the assessor’s office is doing,” Baenen said.

“I’m constantly searching for a more equitable valuation of county properties,” he said, adding that his office recently completed a new evaluation program for the county.

Coroner Robert Bishop is running as a Republican for what would be his third term. He was first elected to the coroner’s office in 1994.

Bishop said that he enjoys the challenge of his job as well as the ability to serve the public in the town where he grew up.

“It’s really unique to love the place you’re living in, and really enjoy your job, too,” Bishop said on Friday.

He added that the biggest challenge he would face over the next four years is the county’s current budget crisis. “The job goes on and the service has to go on despite the budget,” Bishop said.

Candidate filing forms can be obtained at Island County’s official web site (www.island

county.net/auditor/elections

.htm) or call (360) 679-7366 for more information.

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