A trio of Democrats is jockeying to win the primary this May 20 as they set their sights on the Jackson County commissioner seat now held by C.W. Smith.

A trio of Democrats is jockeying to win the primary this May 20 as they set their sights on the Jackson County commissioner seat now held by C.W. Smith.

Colestin Valley resident Scott Keith and Ashland residents John Morrrison and Jim Olney are competing in the race.

Olney, 56 has criticized both his Democratic opponent, John Morrison, and the incumbent, Smith.

He said Morrison has failed to file financial papers with the Oregon Elections Division, which is required if a candidate spends more than $300.

"If you're running for county commissioner, an oversight like that is not good," he said.

Olney knocked Smith's handling of the budget problems facing Jackson County and lack of leadership in developing other economic opportunities locally.

"C.W. Smith is talking about his experience, but he's not talking about what he did for the county," he said.

Olney said Smith wants to give himself and other commissioners a raise in the next budget cycle while the county still faces budget problems and has laid off staff.

"There's no way the commissioners deserve a raise," he said.

If elected, Olney said he would first talk to residents of the county before hammering out a budget and pose the question, "What kind of county government do you want and how much do you want to pay for it?"

Olney said the expected loss of federal timber dollars will lead to another crisis in Jackson County. He said the county's handling of its budget has been divisive.

He said the county has also shown a disregard for public involvement in general and an inability to work with local communities.

Commissioner Smith, responding to Olney's accusation that he doesn't include the public in the process, said, "Oh, hogwash."

The 61-year-old Eagle Point resident and former county sheriff said the county has conducted at least a half dozen meetings to discuss the proposed budget that were open to the public.

"I never saw him or anyone at those meetings," he said.

Smith said he also formed a task force of local citizens who have made recommendations about the county's financial situation.

Commissioners and some elected officials will likely receive raises this year, he said. But Smith said a salary increase this year helps make up for a small salary boost last year.

Morrison, 63, said he might have made about $300 in expenditures for the voter pamphlet, and it might be an oversight on his part to have not filed with the state.

"I will have to check and see if there is something I should have complied with," he said.

Morrison, who gets a stipend of $500 a year as Ashland's mayor, did agree that the commissioners shouldn't get a raise.

"I think its also a well-paid position at this point," he said, referring to the commissioner salary of more than $70,000.

While he hasn't attended budget meetings, Morrison said he has kept apprised of the county's financial situation through county Administrator Danny Jordan.

He said the budget is difficult because most of the money that flows into the county must be earmarked for a particular use such as roads or health.

"My criticism is if you look at the county, they haven't had a long-term financial plan for about 20 years," he said.

Morrison praised Jordan for developing a financial plan and for finding ways to make the budget work despite the hurdles faced.

Nevertheless, he said the county has only been playing catch up and hasn't adequately planned for an anticipated loss of money.

"The library was the canary in the coal mine that something was amiss," he said. Libraries closed last year in Jackson County but have since reopened.

Morrison said he thinks the federal government has an obligation to continue sending timer payments under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, created to aid timber-dependent counties hard hit by federal environmental regulations.

At the same time, the county needs to think about creating another economic base so it doesn't have to rely on the federal dollars, he said.

"You have to work on your plan B and not after the crisis has hit," said Morrison.

Colestin Valley resident Scott Keith said the No. 1 issue for him is job creation, particularly because the recession has hurt the valley.

He said Oregon and the county now have an opportunity to create jobs and keep money in Oregon by jumping on board.

Under Senate Bill 838, passed in 2007, the state will be required to derive 25 percent of its electricity from renewable energy.

"We are going to create a multi-billion market," he said.

Oregon spends about $10 billion annually on energy, but $8.5 billion of that leaves the state to pay for coal-fired or hydro plants in other states.

When the legislation was passed, Keith said, "The very next day the Board of Commissioners should have developed a panel to pursue this business."

He said the largest solar panel manufacturer in the state is located near Portland, but there is no reason why one couldn't be established in Southern Oregon.

"We truly could bring a lot of jobs to Jackson County," he said.

He said Jackson could do well to follow Josephine County's lead in attracting a destination resort that could pump millions into the local economy.

This area needs to attract a convention center that will help keep hotels and restaurants full, he said.

To keep the public informed about county government, Keith suggested the commissioners take turns running a weekly column in the newspaper.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.