The race for the District 2 commission seat at the Thurston Public Utility District features two candidates who so far have been more focused on their campaigns than each other.
Incumbent commissioner Russ Olsen and challenger Brian Hess have had one candidate forum so far, which was before a small audience of the Washington Federation of State Employees, Local 872.
“There hasn’t been this grand exchange,” Olsen said Wednesday about the nature of the campaign to date.
So, Olsen is focused on and touting what the commission has accomplished since he was appointed following former commissioner Alan Corwin’s resignation, including the creation of an asset management plan for the long-term viability of the PUD.
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The PUD, a water utility, manages more than 150 water systems, the largest of which is in the Tanglewilde area of the county. The PUD has about 3,500 customers.
The commission also during Olsen’s tenure has approved spending up to $30,000 to explore offering wholesale broadband to areas within Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater, he said. PUDs aren’t allowed to sell retail Internet services directly to consumers, but they can sell the service through the cities.
Olsen said this effort shouldn’t be viewed as a challenge to major service providers because they want to offer Internet service to those areas of the city that are already underserved or to those who can’t afford it. The three cities have been asked to provide pilot projects as part of a feasibility study, Olsen said.
Hess said Wednesday that if the PUD is set to spend up to $30,000, they should seek to recover those costs from the three cities.
Olsen countered that it’s more important to be a good partner to the cities, particularly when many local governments are strapped for cash, he said. He also doesn’t think the PUD will come close to spending $30,000.
Hess, meanwhile, has run a low-profile campaign, spending his own money and not accepting donations, he said. Expenses so far include buying a case of paper and printer cartridges.
But he has tried to distinguish himself from Olsen, he said. He thinks that not only should the PUD answer to its ratepayers, but also to a larger constituency because the utility district levies a countywide property tax.
Hess also thinks that the PUD should explore cost-sharing when it comes to acquiring a water system that has run up some debts. Rather than asking only the users of the system to pay a surcharge to cover those debts, maybe the surcharges should be spread among all PUD ratepayers, he said.
Another idea is to make the PUD a one-stop destination for not only information about its services, but about other utilities and rebates available to consumers, Hess said.
A PUD commissioner typically serves six years, but in this race the winner will complete former commissioner Corwin’s term, and then will have to decide whether to run again in two years. Corwin was re-elected in 2010 and then resigned following the 2012 election. He died in July. The general election is Nov. 4. Commissioners earn an annual salary of $19,800 or $1,650 per month. They also are paid a per diem rate of $114, such as when they gather for meetings.