Republican Andrew Barkis is hoping to oust Democratic incumbent Sandra Romero, who is seeking a second term as Thurston County Commissioner Position 2 in November.
Romero led in the August primary over Barkis by more than 5 percent, leaving ground for Barkis to cover heading into the general election.
Barkis said he is running for the position to “bring a fresh perspective” to the commission.
His priorities involve economic recovery, agriculture and funding central services such as the Sheriff’s Office.
“A good portion of our citizens are not being represented and are not being heard about how our county is heading,” Barkis said. “Leadership starts at the top – culture and everything defined at the courthouse comes from that culture.”
Barkis owns Hometown Property Management Inc. and has a degree in communications.
If elected, Barkis would focus on altering or eliminating some of the county’s regulatory requirements, with the recently adopted Critical Area’s Ordinance at the top of his list.
“The CAO as adopted is extremely burdensome and regulatory for development, business and agriculture,” Barkis said. “It’s one of the ones I would look at from the beginning.”
If elected to a second term, Romero said she would focus on getting the new Accountability and Restitution Center open, continue working on a sustainable budget and continue fostering relationships with the cities in Thurston County.
“We want to be able to share a lot more,” Romero said. “Like we do now with court services, we can expand on that.”
Romero said the new, empty county jail has been “a huge disservice” to the community for not functioning after construction was completed in 2010, but because of the state of the current jail, it was a necessity to build.
“We can’t budget for it,” Romero said. “We don’t know what is going to break next.”
Romero plans to continue with an anticipated opening date at the start of 2013.
Barkis said the entire jail project was “fraught with mistakes from the beginning.”
If elected, Barkis said he would not push to have the jail occupied by the first of the year.
“Sustainable budgeting to operate that is not just for one year, but to have it carry on many, many years down the road,” Barkis said. “There are staffing model needs, retrofitting and additional building that needs to be done ... Personally I would not rush it to open by a certain deadline.”
Romero said she hopes to continue building a sustainable budget while leaving room for “non-essential services,” such as the Thurston County Fair.
The projected budget shows the county will finish out the year with $15 million in reserves, more than enough to cover two or three months of county services.
“We monitor every account every week – every month – to see if they are spending at the right level,” Romero said. “They are balanced right where they are. We are not going to have any surprises.”
Handling the projected growth of the county is also a priority for both candidates.
Barkis said he envisions the county growing, accommodating the people who want to live in Thurston County while also protecting its “beautiful surroundings.”
“We have to make sure road structure and infrastructure that support that are in place,” Barkis said. “I want to see it preserved in the sense of the beauty that it is, but also be a thriving place.”
Barkis said he’s heard too often from the community that children are unable to stay and work in the towns where they grew up because of a lack of jobs.
“It’s an over-arching theme,” Barkis said. “The teachers and administrators are concerned seeing talented students that are not going to stay.”
Romero said the key lies in good land-use planning when dealing with growth.
“We base our long-range planning on figures from the Office of Financial Management,” Romero said. “They have brought numbers down somewhat in recent years.
“Due to the economy, people aren’t locating here as much.”
For those who are, Romero said, it’s important to steer away from urban sprawl.
“It’s really expensive and we are seeing that play out,” Romero said.
Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476