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Candidates for Jackson County Commissioner

Position 3, Democratic Primary

Question 1: Most people would agree Jackson County has done a good job of shoring up its finances during a difficult economic time. If more belt-tightening were needed, where would you look for savings?

Question 2: What can Jackson County do to help create and retain living-wage jobs in the area?

Question 3: Do you believe Jackson County should help ensure the survival of the Southern Oregon Historical Society? Why? If your answer is yes, what steps should the county take?

Question 4: Several of Jackson County's decisions on land-use laws have been overturned by the state in recent years. How would you balance property owners' rights against the state's interpretation of land-use law?

Question 5: Concerns have been raised over the starting salary for commissioners of $90,000, a substantial increase from two years ago. What are your thoughts?

Buck Eichler

Age: 59

Residence: Medford

1. The general fund is short $5.7 million for the upcoming year, which we can cover with our reserves. All department budgets are balanced except for the library, development services and roads and parks, the latter further threatened if an effort to put the new gas tax on the statewide ballot is successful. If our economy worsens, we need to develop a "triage matrix" prioritizing mandated services, critical need and return on investment.

2. We need a laser focus on growing local small businesses, as well as attracting relocating businesses. We need to partner with our local organizations and schools to help provide reasonable incentives, infrastructure and a well-trained workforce. We've missed two rounds of the rural broadband initiative and hopefully won't miss again if I'm elected.

3. Preserving and displaying our buildings and artifacts is essential to our community identity, community attractiveness and tourist trade. I support temporary funding of SOHS for emergency repairs and preserving our buildings. This may also qualify the society for matching fund grants. It needs reform, including changing to an elected board of directors and developing its long-awaited business plan, and developing a taxing district, sharing proportioned proceeds with the five small historic groups in the county.

4. The legal role of county government is not to balance state land-use laws with property rights, but to enforce state laws. We are allowed only to be more restrictive, not more permissive, excepting the RPS (Regional Problem Solving) process. When we need interpretive help, we need to work with the state, not through the courts. When a state regulation needs changing, we need to develop a consensus of interested parties and work through our state legislators.

5. As the recession has continued to worsen and so many citizens are struggling, this raise has become a distraction and focal point of frustration. One thing I'll do to help us unify and make progress is spend $24,000 of my commissioner's salary for at least two years to hire a part-time grant writer to work with our local agencies on ensuring we apply for all available resources to help create and retain local jobs.

Jim Sims

Age: 65

Residence: Medford

1. We will be in budget balance without O&C revenues (federal timber subsidies) in about a year. County departments now operate on a self-supporting basis funding services from the filing fees for project applications. Interest earned on the invested O&C funds and savings after a few more staff attrition closures will avoid property tax increases. Savings by attrition will probably come from law enforcement and administration and some from short-term curtailing of public works projects.

2. Producing living-wage jobs is a matter of local self-reliance. The revitalization of small acreage farming has already begun in our valley. Business is calling for the public to recognize the advantages of maximizing the turnover of the local dollar. Community organizations and programs such as Thrive, CSAs (community supported agriculture programs), the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative, the Agriculture Recovery Act, and our local Chambers of Commerce, the RCC Small Business Center and SOREDI (Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc.) are laying the groundwork.

3. Although it is complicated, I would favor putting some presently owned historic properties into private-sector use to establish a revenue stream to support historic preservation. Because of tight county budgeting, we're not in a position to dramatically increase presently unfunded mandates. We do, however, have historical property interests in county ownership and we should explore the legal opportunities and limitations of privatizing their use to supplement historical preservation.

4. As with all rights, including our constitutional rights, the liberty afforded in exercising our rights has an attendant responsibility not to exercise our rights irresponsibly to the disadvantage of one another. While land area remains a constant, expanding population causes potential growth conflicts. Incompatibility such as the expanding urban development over farmlands and into the forest interface requires the preservation of economic opportunity and maintenance of community livability.

5. The job of commissioner should have parity with similar leadership positions with other Oregon county governments and with the incomes in our local professional and business community. I would support Jackson County citizens' right to vote through the initiative process regarding the commissioners' salary levels. People successful in their business and professional lives shouldn't be disinclined to perform this public service.

Mark Wisnovsky

Age: 45

Residence: Jacksonville

1. Our best approach is to expand on the current precedence of increasing efficiency. For example: Collaborating with cities to provide contracted services will increase efficiency while saving taxpayer dollars (such as the new 9-1-1 center and Shady Cove contracting with the sheriff's department). After all, cities are struggling just like the county. We should take advantage of federal opportunities such as Byrne JAG (Justice Assistance Grant). Every business is looking at salaries and benefit packages, so should government.

2. Jackson County is rich in diverse agricultural lands and has a growing local market for sustainably-produced, high-quality, value-added products. We can leverage the "buy local" movement to grow jobs, while branding the region more effectively to appeal to tourists and regional consumers. We should also focus on building a high-tech "corridor" throughout the region to attract clean, green technology-based businesses and fully fund SOREDI so they can be even more successful.

3. SOHS played a crucial role in my parents' decision to grow wine grapes and help start a multimillion-dollar wine industry; sometimes looking back can provide a brighter future. We pay taxes to preserve the history of Jackson County; some portion should go to maintaining these assets. SOHS should not be in the "building maintenance business." Research shows that heritage tourists spend more and stay longer: SOHS should have adequate funds to maintain and display important artifacts of our history throughout Jackson County.

4. The cases referred to were overturned because county planners did not follow their own rules. We need to ensure that land-use laws are clearly written, universally applied and not so open you could drive an aggregate truck through them. We also need to stand behind our decisions with legal support. And, if decisions are remanded, we need to make sure the same mistake is not repeated. Decision-makers need to be held accountable.

5. The large increase could not have happened at a worse time. We should review all salaries at least every two years to adjust for current economic conditions just as private businesses do. We also need to address the performance and productivity of commissioners; this is a full-time job, and I will spend at least 40 hours per week as county commissioner.

Michael Wisnovsky, left, Jerry Evans, Mark Wisnovsky, and Platon Mantheakis are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Valley View Winery.