Saturday, May 25, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
October 16, 2012
DALLAS -- Polk County Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler believes, after the county had more than its fair share of change in recent years, that a good leadership team is in place.
She hopes voters feel the same way and re-elect her to Polk County
"The county, including the court ... we are in a good place right now," she said. "I see brightness in the future with this team."
When she was first approached to take on the position after former commissioner Mike Propes died, Wheeler decided then she would seek re-election.
"We needed a lot of healing then," she said. "After a year and a half in office, I'm absolutely sure that I made the right choice."
Her opponent, Dan Clem, a Salem city councilor from West Salem, acknowledges the work county leaders have done, but he believes there is something missing.
"There's been no strong push for economic development," he said, noting that the county should be
He believes reliance on the federal timber payments has made an aggressive approach to development less of a priority, but that is changing.
"We need to have a strategic plan for improving property values and that speaks to jobs and economic development, both in the cities and where it makes sense in the rural areas," he said. "We are going to have to replace these timber tax revenues. We just keep cutting and cutting and cutting. The PERS and the insurance costs, they are just going to strangle us."
Clem said those pressures have made the county budget fragile and less able to provide services, such as public safety.
"Public safety is a real concern," he said. "We keep cutting services, but public safety is our No. 1 priority in government."
Wheeler has the same thoughts on the budget.
"That's always a concern," she said. "Difficult decisions are going to have to be made. We will look for efficiencies where things can be adjusted."
She cited a few examples already in place, such as merging the community corrections and juvenile departments under one administrator and other employees taking on more responsibility. Services have been streamlined, with many available online, such as marriage certificates.
Wheeler said the county will have to continue to implement similar solutions, keeping protecting services in mind.
"There aren't a lot of options," she said. "We are working as hard as we can to not do things like furlough days or short work weeks because that definitely impacts the citizens."
To Clem's point about economic development, Wheeler said the county has taken a more active role.
She said while most manufacturing and small business growth happens in the cities, the county could promote programs supporting business recruitment and retention.
As an example, she said the county is also helping clear pathways for other agricultural industries to partner with wineries to promote their products.
"Those are the types of things we are talking about now," she said, adding the county has not forgotten its mainstay industries, agriculture and timber.
"Those are the industries that really drive the machine in Polk County, so we need to promote those as much as we can," she said.
She said given financial constraints, an operating levy is an option, but not without thorough discussions and citizen input.
Clem is not in favor of increasing property taxes to build revenue. However, like Wheeler, he believes given appropriate study, the county may pursue another road maintenance bond or other type of bond, once the current one expires.
Clem said the county should take an active role in advocating for improvements on Highway 22 and 99W, as well as building a bridge over the Willamette in Salem that doesn't involve driving through downtown.
"We are getting more clogged up, particularly in trying to move our products," he said. "We are a bread basket. A lot of our products are demanded elsewhere."
Wheeler said building community doesn't always involve physical infrastructure, but something just as critical to the health of the citizenry.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity to be an advocate for women and children who are victims of domestic violence," she said, citing Jen's Place and SABLE House as organizations assisting women and children. "Now, that is not the job of a county commissioner, but being one really opened the door to being very effective at doing that. All of those programs are worried about their funding now, sources are drying up. I think I can be of help in that area."
Polk County Commissioner Position No. 1
Name: Dan Clem.
Hometown: West Salem.
Party affiliation: Nonpartisan position.
Employment: Business manager; retired military.
Name: Jennifer Wheeler.
Party affiliation: Nonpartisan position.
Current Employment: Polk County Commissioner since 2011.