Three candidates in race for County Commissioner seat 1

Republican and incumbent John Lindsey: Things good in county

John Lindsey

 Through hard times, Linn County and its Board of Commissioners have performed, says Commissioner John Lindsey, who is running for what would be his sixth four-year term in office.

They’ve done more with less, he said. “We’ve performed. Right now, we’re running with 80 less employees than the day I was elected.”

At one point, Linn County operated with more than 100 fewer employees than the day he was elected, he said. “And we produce more.”

The Board of Commissioners has made great selections along the way, he said, and today Linn County has “very good employees.”

“We have seen the longest sustained economic investment in Linn County history,” Lindsey said, more job creation, construction and expansion of business in county history.

Lindsey is the incumbent on the Board of Commissioners Position 1. The Republican faces two challengers, Democrat Stephanie Newton, and Gary Sullivan, a member of the Independent Party.

The 52-year-old Lebanon resident is married to Linda, and they have three children and eight grandchildren. Prior to winning election 20 years ago, Lindsey was a refrigeration contractor.

He said Linn County’s economic expansion has lasted for about 16 years.

In 2008, during the recession, Linn County was tested like the rest of the country, he said, but it didn’t experience the difficulties other small counties did.

Instead, businesses, like Entek Manufacturing, stepped up and expanded, he said. The commissioners told them, “this might be a time to reinvest because you can’t have a sustained recession.”

“We’re working on other projects right now,” Lindsey said. “We’ve got a couple of projects that are really big I want to see through, The regional rail facility is going to be an incredible asset for agriculture.”

Millersburg is competing with Brooks, in Marion County, for the intermodal transportation facility, he said. “We still have to fight.”

The commissioners are also looking to get a third lane on Interstate 5 from Ankeny Hill south of Salem to Highway 34.

This is a “top priority,” Lindsey said. “We have a lot of people that commute.”

With little to no improvement on Highway 99W over the years, he said, many Benton County commuters use I-5 through Linn County, leading to congestion.

Elsewhere, “I would like to see the land we turned over to the City of Sweet Home turned into a regional park,” Lindsey said, and “we’re going to solve some of these wetland issues some of these cities are having.”

That’s an issue the county has been discussing with Lebanon, he said. The county could help mitigate wetlands or work them into the recreation system where it can be used, where the wetlands are not turned to weeds but rather “useful pieces of land that can be used by the public.”

The Linn County Fair and Expo Center, his main concern when he ran for office 20 years ago, financially takes care of itself now, Lindsey said. The county is working with the cities to collect a new transient occupancy tax, which will help update and repair buildings at the fairgrounds.

That funding will come from the Albany area, while taxes collected in east Linn County will be used to help improve the parks system, he said. The county has “been on a tear” improving docks and water access, and it continues to work with the federal government expanding opportunities east of Sweet Home.

“We’ve done a lot of recent work in the Sweet Home area in particular, which includes road improvements around Foster Dam,” Lindsey said. “We’ve of course opened up a couple of new parks and added a lot to the resource economy there. I still continue to work on timber issues and in fact, I will be meeting with staff at the White House this week. That discussion will revolve around national land management.”

While the intermodal facility and a third lane on I-5 are at the top of his priorities, Lindsey said, “we prioritize jobs, jobs, jobs” and keeping “a business-friendly environment.”

“The best way to help someone who might be in a distressed position is to give him a job,” he said. “If you don’t have an economy that can produce jobs, you’re going to have some issues.”

Lindsey said his experience makes him the best candidate for the job.

“I have a record of getting things done, and that’s just a plain fact,” he said. “Originally, the medical school (located in Lebanon) was supposed to go to Corvallis.”

It would have taken the school three years to build there, he said. Linn County told the school to start building.

How fast a business can build is key to making money, and when red tape gets in the way, it slows businesses down.

When Selmet wanted to expand, it ran into a wetlands issue, Lindsey said. The county responded: “You build your expansion, and we’ll handle the wetlands issue.”

Linn County has land it can use to mitigate wetlands, he said. The county can help businesses through application processes and deal with regulations. It can stand up with businesses, like Entek when it was attacked “by Portlanders.”

“You have to be loyal to the citizens and businesses in your county,” he said. “We work as a team. We’ve been a good team together. We have the same vision.”

The most important thing, “the board of commissioners has been involved in standing up to the state bureaucracies,” Lindsey said, from unfunded mandates to litigation on timber.

“This will set an example, that local governments and their citizens are going to be heard not just swept aside as someone you need every four years to vote for you.”

Challenger Stephanie Newton: Commission needs new blood

Stephanie Newton

 If elected to the County Commission, Stephanie Newton says she wants “to bring a fresh perspective” and will pursue businesses to create family wage jobs while expanding access to healthcare and affordable housing and increasing transparency in county government.

Stephanie Newton, a Democrat, is challenging incumbent Republican John Lindsey for Linn County Board of Commissioners position one. She faces an additional challenger, Gary Sullivan, the Independent Party nominee.

Newton, 28, is an Albany resident. She is married to Scott Azorr, and they have a 3-year-old daughter, Isla. She is a member of Albany’s Human Relations Commission. She is a self-employed business consultant.

“I work with small business, basically start-ups and entrepreneurs, to create business plans and marketing plans to help navigate the first couple of years of business.”

Many people have ideas but don’t know how to start a business, what to charge or what to do, she said. Her father, an entrepreneur, encouraged her to pursue the idea.

As commissioner, “I would love to encourage more entrepreneurship, or encourage companies that would (provide) more family wage jobs to come to Linn County,” ” Newton said. “We need to market Linn County to those companies so we can increase the livability.”

Efforts to recruit businesses should be keyed on mandating apprenticeships and prevailing wage, Newton said. “I’m a fan of unions. I’m also endorsed by several unions. I would like to make sure PLAs (project labor agreements) are in place.”

Newton said she wants to improve Linn County’s transparency. That primarily comes down to using the Internet to share more information, and as a member of the public, she has already had some success.

Newton said that information is not as accessible as it is in neighboring counties.

She regularly attends meetings of the Board of Commissioners, she said, but one day she wasn’t able to attend. She wanted to see minutes from the meeting she missed, and she had to go to the Courthouse to buy the audio file for $5.

That’s when she decided to start live streaming the board meetings, she said. “I believe in an open and transparent government.”

The board finally started putting meeting minutes and its agenda packet online, she said, but it still doesn’t have audio or video available online.

“This is the way people expect it to be online,” she said. She would like to see Linn County’s website include a public calendar, so people know day-to-day what she is doing. “I want to be a more consistent presence.”

During her campaign, she said, she has knocked on more than 6,000 doors herself.

“I want to be an active participant,” Newton said. “I want to be the most accessible, most transparent commissioner the people of Linn County are ever going to have. I want to put the servant back in public servant. I’ve always been interested in government and how we can make it work for the people and not for the select few.”

As she visits with residents, Newton said, she’s learning that people don’t know her opponent, Lindsey.

She’s been following the court cases he’s been involved in, she said, and “I just think we deserve better representation.”

The board needs someone like her to better represent the county.

“If the Board of Commissioners was truly a reflection of Linn County, everyone would be an over-50 dude,” Newton said. “I’m more in touch with what it’s like to put your kid in daycare, housing costs, what it’s like to live in Linn County now.”

Her opponent says the board gets along really well, Newton said. Her response to that is, “you shouldn’t.”

It shouldn’t be one-sided, Newton said. It should be people with different ideas coming together for the common good and finding solutions.

“I’m running because I believe everybody in Linn County deserves to be healthy and happy,” Newton said. That means making sure Linn County has more affordable housing, more housing in general, and accessible healthcare for everyone living and aging in rural areas.

“I think it’s really great we have a medical school here,” Newton said, adding that she would like to partner with the medical school and its students to get some pop-up clinics running in the rural areas.

She would like to see more clinics in the outlying areas so people don’t have to travel 40 or 50 minutes to reach an urgent care.

It’s really about fulfilling the two bottom tiers of Maslow’s Heirarchy: meeting the physiological and safety needs of the citizens, Newton said.

Mental healthcare is lacking, she said. She met one woman while knocking on doors and learned her husband had taken his own life after his insurance stopped covering mental health.

The county has several tools to improve the housing situation, Newton said. That includes property tax abatement and enterprise zones, which will draw businesses and economic activity, she said.

Linn County has several enterprise zones.

Property tax abatement can reduce property taxes on new construction, home rehabilitation and improvements, Newton said.

These “are good ways to stimulate housing development,” she said. “I think it’s time we looked for a solution.”

Newton said she thinks the commission position should be non-partisan. She doesn’t think local government has much do with Democrats and Republicans.

She has talked to voters across the political spectrum, she said. She is business- and technically savvy, and she has new and fresh ideas.

“I’m a proactive person, a moderate and practical person, and I’m not ‘my way or the highway.’ I’m not just representing Democrats. I think I’ve proven I’ve wanted to represent everyone here in Linn County.”

Independent candidate Gary Sullivan: Cut taxes for residents

Gary Sullivan

 Gary Sullivan would like to charge much lower property taxes on residential properties.

“It’s not so much for me,” Sullivan said. “I seem to get by.”

It’s about the little old lady scraping by who has to take a job at 83 years old to survive, he said. It’s about forcing retired people back into the work force to make ends meet because the cost of living is artificially high.

Sullivan, 68, a Sweet Home resident is running for the Linn County Board of Commissioners Position One against Republican incumbent John Lindsey and Democrat Stephanie Newton. He is running in the Independent Party.

He is a retired construction carpenter and lumber mill worker, with an associate of arts degree in general studies from Linn-Benton Community College and an associate of applied science from Chemeketa Community College. He has attended the University of Copenhagen, studying international peace and conflict resolution; the University of Colombo (Sri Lanka), studying scientific mathematics; and Fullerton (Calif.) College, studying world religions and Asian civilization.

When he was younger, he traveled the world, living at times in Denmark, India and Nepal.

Sullivan has lived in the same home in Sweet Home for 43 years, he said.

“My property tax has increased to about 1,300 percent. I have now paid more than one and a half times as much property tax as my original purchase price.”

From 2001 to 2017, Sullivan said, his property taxes increased from about $660 to $2,731 after falling during the 1990s.

As a carpenter who has slowly improved his home over decades, he views his home as his “art,” Sullivan said, and the county increases the taxes.

“I’m paying the county for my own artwork.”

He builds it inexpensively, shopping around for construction materials, and the county values it much higher than the actual cost, he said.

He specifically objects to the way the county presents its law levy requests. On the ballot, it said that it would not raise taxes.

If it were a statewide ballot, it would have been invalid, Sullivan said, but the rules are different for counties.

The county should have also explained the result of a “no” vote, which would have decreased property taxes, Sullivan said. “They should tell the truth and nothing but the truth.”

The economy has changed substantially in the past four to five decades, and it made Americans the hardest-working people, while their dollars are worth less.

“Are we supposed to be proud of working hard?” Sullivan asked. The cheaper the labor, the stronger the dollar, and it pushes a lot of people into the labor market while making it difficult to earn high wages.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, he said, he could get a job, work for awhile and then quit to travel, he said. But that no longer works.

Against that backdrop, the property tax system “causes uncertainty and disincentive to improve privately owned property,” he said. “It also imposes poverty and is oppressive, which degrades human potential for a very large percentage of the public. It’s a crazy system to oppress people working long hours.

“The one thing we do control is property tax. We could just throw it away.”

Additional funding for services could come from the state or federal governments, he said. Another alternative, a transfer fee of 5 percent on the purchase price of a property would have raised about $39 million in 2017.

If only the assessed value of the land, in its natural condition without improvements, were taxed, people would be free to improve their property without being penalized by escalating taxes, encouraging home ownership, home improvements, home investment, lower rent and increasing employment, commerce and standards of living, Sullivan said.

That’s how countries like Denmark charge property taxes, and he’s watched as the apartment where he lived has been demolished, replaced and improved over the intervening decades.

“They’re being rewarded for improving their property,” Sullivan said.

His proposal is for residential property only, not businesses, Sullivan said. “A home is fundamental to life.”

Taxing a citizen’s home is “taxing them to live,” he said. “When I see these guys put up a hand (voting) to evict an old lady (in tax foreclosure), I don’t like that.”

Under the current tax system, the commissioners then use the tax dollars to “make themselves look good for the community,” Sullivan said. They’ve put out $400,000 in earnest money in the hope the state will put an intermodal transportation facility in Millersburg instead of Brooks in Marion County.

The state should simply choose the best location, he said.

As a commissioner, he said, he would refuse to support frivolous spending on expensive computer programs, advisers and self-glorifying projects and eliminate wasteful spending, he said. He points to the county’s timber lawsuit against the state, with legal expenses running nearly $4,000 per hour, expenses the county will be liable for if the commissioners ever back out of the case or refuse a settlement offer.

“I’m a cognitive guy,” Sullivan said. “I’m a problem solver. I’m a negotiator. I’m a mediator. I’m a kind of person that (pursues) equability.”

He doesn’t like to take advantage, and he doesn’t want to see anyone lose a home, he said. If people can’t pay a tax bill, they should be able to do what other countries do and waive the tax.

“They think it’s just another dime, it’s just another nickel,” Sullivan said, but every tax adds up. He questions why Linn County must pay a tax for 4-H, when that’s an Oregon State University program.

The federal government should take care of military veterans, he said, but when the decision to site a veterans home in Lebanon went down to two locations, the commissioners asked voters for and received a tax increase and paid $12.5 million for 12½ acres.

It would have helped veterans wherever it was built, Sullivan said. That’s a trophy.

“They don’t see the community as people,” he said. “They see it as a building. The county should protect people, provide security, which involves financial security – don’t make life so expensive.”

He suggests voting Independent this year, noting that Democrats and Republicans work together, similar to commercial rivalries like Pepsi and Coke, to eliminate third parties.

The parties convince voters to vote one way or the other because the other side “is so awful,” Sullivan said, while freezing Independent Party candidates like Patrick Starnes out of governor’s debates, “leaving out our best candidate and the only one not being paid off by big business.”

He has a different perspective, Sullivan said, giving him a good focus.

“I will be cost-effective for the county,” Sullivan said. “Because everybody is going to benefit that’s a homeowner if I can influence and push the meandering river in the right direction.”

He didn’t start this race with the “delusion” he would be elected, Sullivan said. He mainly wanted to raise awareness about the issues with property taxes. The more votes he receives, the more the commissioners will need to pay attention to what he’s saying.