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Commission candidates trade barbs during debate

Debating even how much time it takes to be a Jackson County commissioner, candidates Ric Holt and Dave Gilmour argued their differences Thursday night at a League of Women Voters debate that was spiced with antagonism.

There's a clear-cut difference in this race. My opponent only wants to work half-time and cut the commissioners' pay, said Republican incumbent Holt in his opening statement.

Democratic challenger Gilmour returned to the time commitment necessary to fill a commissioner's seat several times during the debate. Responding to a question from a caller, he said he left his seat on the Central Point City Council to focus on the commissioner race, not because he needed time for his medical practice.

I can give what's needed because I work more efficiently than my opponent and will do more research, but I won't spend 60 hours a week at it, Gilmour said.

It does take 60 hours to do this job, countered Holt, noting that constituents expect commissioners to return their phone calls and solve their problems.

Is that government by law or government by man? questioned moderator Bill Mansfield.

It's government by government, Holt said. Gilmour said, however, such personal attention from commissioners prompted concerns about favors for friends and the equal application of rules to all citizens.

On commissioner compensation, Gilmour said that because the county budget committee has increased commissioners' salaries while cutting programs, he will donate part of his salary after taxes to programs, such as the historical society and public health, that have been hit by cuts.

Holt said commissioners earn their salary and again accused Gilmour of not understanding the time commitment necessary. Gilmour criticized Holt for missing meetings, but Holt said he was attending to county business outside of the area when he was absent. Gilmour questioned the travel expenses and suggested Holt conduct more business over the phone.

The two candidates continued sniping at one another as they discussed the future of Elk Creek Dam, salvage logging, land-use planning, the economy, prison construction and transportation.

Gilmour said he supports a proposal to notch Elk Creek Dam to enable salmon to pass. The notched dam could be rebuilt later if needed, he said.

Holt said the water stored behind the dam would be needed in the future and if it is notched, or blown up as he described it, reconstruction would be impossible because the integrity of the structure would be compromised.

In the forests affected by this summer's fires, Holt envisions a salvage-logging program that could raise &

36;1 billion for the state to help offset budget gaps. Some of the burned areas have roads and quickly removing the trees and replanting would aid forest recovery, he said.

Gilmour said his research indicated that in the Biscuit fire area about 20 percent of the forest was damaged beyond salvage and in more than 40 percent of the area, the fire removed only brush and enhanced forest health.

He estimated only about 20 percent of the timber could be harvested through salvage logging, which should be done via helicopter and without clearcuts. He estimated the revenue would be far below &

36;1 billion. Holt has polarized past forest debates and lacks rapport with environmentalists, Gilmour added.

In discussing how much control local government should have in land-use planning, Holt targeted Central Point, where Gilmour served on the planning commission, as a problem area where farmland had been developed unnecessarily.

Gilmour answered that he wasn't on the planning commission when developments sprang up on farmland and he ran for his Central Point council seat to counter past, poor planning decisions. Central Point now has a plan to protect farmland, guide growth and provide for parks, he said.

On a question regarding unemployment in the county, Holt championed the commissioners' work to diversify the county's economy and recruit new employers to the area. Gilmour said economic development efforts should focus on nurturing small, local companies.

Holt said he saw no benefit to having a living-wage regulation that would require companies doing business with the county pay a higher standard wage, and would rather focus on attracting and promoting businesses to the area that paid well.

Gilmour said he was disturbed to know that many county residents had to work several jobs to meet their basic needs, but he was unsure a living-wage rule would help.

About the proposed construction of a state prison in Jackson County, Holt said it didn't fit the culture and lifestyle of residents here, so it should be built in an area that wanted the prison for the economic boost it might provide a depressed area.

Gilmour said that with the state budget crunch, the likelihood of construction is slim. He said he didn't like the site proposed, but he recognized that the region must shoulder responsibility for housing prisoners, some of whom come from the area.

On transportation issues, Gilmour said the county owns substandard roads that have been engulfed by urbanization and need to be upgraded.

While the current economic downturn is not the time to introduce new taxes, a gas tax might need to be considered to provide funding later. Any new taxes would require public input and consensus, he said.

Holt said the idea of a gas tax appalled him and he thought it would kill local businesses, as Interstate 5 traffic would no longer stop in the county to fuel up. Instead of building new roads, he encouraged public transportation.

Gilmour said he too favored public transportation and would like to see bus service subsidized to encourage more people to ride.

Commuter rail is also an option worth more study, Holt said, adding that he had helped preserve the railroad tracks that could serve a commuter line from Josephine County through the Rogue Valley to Ashland.

Gilmour said the rail lines are decrepit and would be costly to improve, while buses could serve a broader area cheaply.

Anita Burke is a free-lance writer living in Talent. E-mail her at