It's about local business
Judge, commissioner, DA candidates field questions at Chamber of Commerce event
A public forum for the county judge, commissioner and district attorney candidates focusing on business and tourism issues was hosted last night by the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce at the Pine Theater on Main Street.
Aside from the obligatory destination resort queries, the Chamber probed the candidate's stances on commerce-related topics including tourism, business promotion and building relationships between regional communities.
The district attorney candidates also got the chance to speak to a large audience for the first time. The 100 or so people in attendance got to hear Daina Vitolins, the current deputy district attorney, and her challenger, Steven Chappell speak out on issues including jail space, expanding the victim advocate office, and minimum sentencing for repeat offenders.
The opening question of the night asked what the commissioner and judge candidates would do to enhance the business climate in Crook County. All seemed in accordance that existing businesses need the utmost support and the county needs to diversify what it attempts to bring in.
"One of the things we need to think about right now, in our county and our city, is how can we support one another?" Democratic judge candidate Kim Kambak asked. "Capitalism thrives on competition. Our marketplace has to be diverse and it has to have support, one to the other. I believe we need to support small business to the hilt."
"We need to look at what we have in place today, and we can improve it," Democratic commissioner hopeful Newell Clarno said. "We need to work with the chamber and enhance it and encourage it, it's one of our best ambassadors."
"We've got at least three groups already working on our enterprise zones and tax breaks, and they are EDCO (Economic Development for Central Oregon), the chamber of commerce and the City of Prineville Railway," said Arleen Curths, also a Democrat. "I'm happy to say the county actually supports those people in our budget and I think that's something the county has to keep doing."
"It is very important to bring new businesses in, but the most important thing is to promote local businesses and not lose those businesses," Republican commissioner candidate Seth Crawford said. "We can do that by shopping here in town. It may cost a little bit more, but we're hoping people here in our community will do that."
The following question asked what the candidates would do to bolster relationships with the county's neighbors. The issue of commuter traffic on Highway 126 was also addressed.
"Transportation is definitely one of the big issues," Republican Ken Fahlgren said. "The travel between Prineville and Powell Butte on that highway has increased. I was told it's at around 1,000 cars per day. All we can do is work with those other entities, like ODOT, to increase abilities of traffic. And it looks like we are."
"I'd like to see us create commuters from Bend and Redmond to Prineville so they can shop here," judge candidate Walt Wagner, also a Republican said. "If you look at where the resorts are, where do they go to shop? Bend and Redmond; so that's where their money is going. The traffic on 126 is horrendous at times. However ODOT, the state police, the sheriff's office and the residents are working on it and trying to do something about it."
The closing question inquired what the candidates would do to promote tourism in the county.
"Tourism is an essential part of this economy," said Republican judge hopeful Mike McCabe. "We need to always be tourism-conscious. It does bring in a lot of dollars for our community. We need to keep our fairgrounds open and keep people coming in on a regular basis."
"Madras has a wonderful pool facility that is being used by the entire community. To have people come to this community and have a beautiful swimming pool would attract tourism," John Mitchell, also a Republican said.
"I've always been a supporter of tourism in this community and I'll continue to support tourism," Democrat Dick Brown said. "I was one of the three responsible for re-building the fairgrounds after it closed in 1976 and putting it back into use."