By Dave DeLuca
Benton County will be electing a new commissioner in November. The two major party candidates for the job met the public at a Kiwanis Club meeting on Wednesday before a crowd of about 50 members and guests.
Moderator Joe Raia, who edits CorvallisTidBits.com, shared the dais with candidates Anne Schuster (D) and Jerry Jackson (R). Both potential commissioners made brief statements and answered anonymous questions from the assembled crowd.
Schuster stated that one of her biggest priorities as a commissioner would be to address problems in the mental health field, particularly in the youth population. She also pointed out that the new commissioner would likely take over chairing the Homeless Oversight Committee. Relevant, Schuster said, because of the new population of homeless in Corvallis and the changing feel of downtown.
Jackson used his introduction to detail his professional experience working in Polk County government. He also highlighted his opponent’s lack of experience.
The audience wanted to know how the county could increase revenue in the future. Jackson displayed a general dislike for levies, and called for a conservative approach to budgeting with a close eye on waste. Schuster disagreed, stating that levies are a necessity in Oregon thanks to the ever-vilified Ballot Measure 5 from 1990, which established limits on real estate property taxes.
On the subject of whether or not a new jail should be built, Jackson hedged on the question. He said that the county needs a “jail solution” but suggested a modular and expandable approach that would save taxpayer expenses. Schuster said that an upcoming ballot measure would pay for a new jail.
Affordable housing was the next topic. Schuster had high hopes for Adair Village as a viable location for new housing. She also hoped that recent construction here in town would fulfill a need for OSU students, which, in turn, would free up already built homes and apartments for non-students. Jackson objected to the use of government money for housing.
In response to the question of whether OSU had shouldered its fair share of our local financial burden, Jackson said emphatically, “No.” Schuster hedged on that question. She stated that the county should maintain good relations with the school.
Several audience members asked about the future of the Bailey Branch Corridor. Both candidates agreed that the land should be sold back to farmers until such time as rail traffic becomes more feasible.
In his closing statement, Jackson asked the Kiwanis to imagine him as a potential member of their organization. Would they care about his party affiliation or merely judge his qualifications? He suggested that the position of county commissioner should be non-partisan and hoped that he would be judged the best candidate.
Schuster agreed with the anti-political sentiment. She then stated that she had put in the time and effort to become involved in the community through meetings and events. She said that her collaborative experience and personality make her the better candidate.
Jerry Jackson and Anne Schuster will be appearing together again on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. at the library. A third candidate for Benton County Commissioner, Libertarian Ed Seiner, will also be listed on the ballot, which will be mailed out Thursday, Oct. 16. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.