With less than 3 percent of the planet’s water drinkable and with more people accessing cell phones than clean water, one thing that Oak Lodge Water Board commissioner candidates have in common is the belief that water is a precious commodity and a vital resource.

The commissioners’ election will take place May 21: candidates for Position 1 are George K. Payne and David Gray; Jim Knapp and Nancy Gibson are vying for Position 2.

Payne and Knapp are members of the board and have similar priorities for the district if they are elected.

“My biggest priority is being completely debt-free by 2014,” said Knapp, current board treasurer and member of the board for 18 years. “I can’t stress that enough.”

Payne, who was elected to the board in 2005, also would like to maintain the way that the board has been doing things.

“Using the people’s money only when necessary, that’s just good business,” Payne said.

So far, the board has been hearing positive things when members from other boards came to meetings several times, Knapp said.

“When we asked them what they were doing there, they answered, ‘We like the way you’re doing business,’ ” he said.

While Knapp and Payne are hoping to keep their self-proclaimed “Mayberry” running smoothly, Gray and Gibson are hoping to break the status quo and make some changes.

“I have nothing against George. I’m not saying he’s doing a lousy job,” Gray said. “It’s just time to get some new people in there.”

Gray, who has a degree in technical engineering, would like to see the water district resume sending out reports and newsletters to customers, which elected officials agreed to discontinue in order to save money. Those with questions now are encouraged to visit the district website,, or call the district office, 503-654-7765.

Gibson, who has a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and lives in the Jennings Lodge community — an area at the south end of the district that is not currently represented on the board — agrees that the board should try harder to get the public involved and informed. She said that with researching knowledge she can easily find information about the board’s activities, but she is concerned about those with less experience and less time.

“We need to be more transparent,” she said.

Both Gibson and Knapp’s campaigns strongly emphasize goals and ideas on how to treat the ratepayers.

“Public money, to me, is sacred money,” said Knapp, who cited some gracious letters from the public who were happy with the direction the board has been going and would like to continue that streak. “We need to step up our agencies and walk the talk.”

Gibson also is greatly invested in the public. She hopes to create more community engagement and interest among youths in what the board is doing.

“How do we influence our young people to do these important jobs if we aren’t out there in the schools?” she asked.

Gibson thinks the water district lacks a sufficient disaster plan and would like to see one developed. She also believes that her knowledge of working with low-income communities and her fluency in Spanish will help her connect with ratepayers.

She also would like to emphasis Strategic Financial Planning so that incidents like last year’s 171 percent increase in the fixed-cost portion of residents’ water bills do not happen again. That was an increase Knapp felt was necessary since there had not been an increase for seven years.

Gray would like to see the board revisit the issue of joining with the sanitary district, an idea that the current board rejected because of the differences in the companies.

“I want to bring that back up,” Gray said. “It’s obvious, to me anyway, that we should combine the two bills.”

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