The Republican primary for a Deschutes County Commission seat pits the commission’s longest-serving member, three-term incumbent Tammy Baney, against Patti Adair, chairwoman of the local Republican Party.
The winner of the May 15 primary will face James Cook, chairman of Redmond’s planning commission, who is running uncontested in the Democratic primary, in November.
Adair, 66, moved to rural Deschutes County between Sisters and Redmond in 2014 after growing up in Eastern Oregon and vacationing in Central Oregon every year. She said she became concerned about how the county handled marijuana growing operations in its rural areas, particularly in places like Alfalfa and Tumalo that have a higher concentration of marijuana facilities.
“I was really concerned with the fact that if we would have put marijuana into an industrial zone like Colorado, it would have been so much easier to control it,” she said. “You’d know how much water they were using; the safety would be all there.”
She said she doesn’t think the county can legally reverse its decision to allow marijuana production, but the commission should create stricter regulations on the density of marijuana facilities and require growers to meet higher engineering standards to deal with common complaints like odor.
Adair went through Deschutes County College, a free multiweek course county residents can take to learn more about how government works, and said she learned that the county spends a lot of money without anyone paying attention. A former certified public accountant who’s raised money for charities, she decided to start watching, she said.
She criticized the County Commission’s decision to purchase its new law enforcement radio system and rent space at a discounted rate to Mosaic Medical to treat county residents. County property taxes are also too high for many residents, she said, and the commission’s vote to reduce its property tax rate by 3 cents per $1,000 didn’t help much. She said she’d like to focus on keeping county taxes low and recognizing that the county’s portion makes up a portion of the taxes residents must pay.
“Calculating it on my property tax bills, that was like $18 less, which was nothing,” she said. “Maybe it could be reduced a little bit more, the county portion.”
Adair said she’d like to reevaluate how the county issues permits because people she’s spoken to say fees are expensive and getting the proper permits often takes weeks or months. She said she’d be open to hiring one or two more employees in the county’s planning department.
Speeding up the permitting process and allowing accessory dwelling units in the rural county will help with housing affordability, Adair said. She also wants to continue the county’s work with Habitat for Humanity, which can build on foreclosed lots.
Adair said she intends to focus on working in Deschutes County, not serving on statewide commissions as Baney does.
She said her endorsement from the Oregon Right to Life political action committee is important, even though she acknowledges the County Commission has little say on reproductive rights.
“Oregon’s laws are so unprotective of the unborn,” she said. “I know it’s not within my realm, but it’s something that I feel should not be ignored.”
Baney, 46, said she wants to continue serving Deschutes County residents and use the experience and trust she’s built over nearly 12 years in office to make meaningful change.
“We are on the cusp of effecting change with a lot of initiatives that we’ve been working on for many years,” she said. “I would love to say that in government things move quickly, but if we were to take land use as an example, boards of commissions before me have been working since the late ’70s to try to fix errors that we have in our community around land use, and we are finally at the forefront of being able to do that.”
She said she aims to budget conservatively to ensure the county provides strong services, including public safety, infrastructure and services for vulnerable populations, including veterans, children and low-income residents. But the county should stay out of the way to let the private sector grow.
Baney, who chairs the Oregon Transportation Commission and the Oregon Housing Stability Council, said her work in Salem and statewide helps Deschutes County. The relationships she’s built at the state level make it possible to have discussions about how land use and transportation affect the housing crisis in Oregon — and Central Oregon in particular — and create pilot programs to try to find solutions, she said. If the county isn’t involved in setting policy, all it can do is react, she said.
“Often people criticize that Salem is dictating to our region what we need to do, and I believe that if we are not at the table, then we are on the menu,” Baney said. “It’s important for us to be the voice for our constituents.”
Because of Oregon’s land use law, most growth takes place within cities and the county’s main contribution to affordable housing comes through assisting cities with their expansions and advocating for them, she said. The county also tries to donate foreclosed land to organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Housing Works to build affordable homes.
Baney said she learned from the county’s experience with the new police radio system that Deschutes County needed but didn’t have employees with technical expertise and project management skills for such a large, technical project, and the county’s now hiring for that position. The radio problems also highlighted gaps within the 911 special service district that the commission can fix, she said.
On marijuana, Baney said the county did right to impose the land use restrictions it did, but it may be right to limit the density of marijuana facilities in the same way the city of Bend limited the density of vacation rentals. She said the commission also wants to work with the Oregon Water Resources Department to investigate whether marijuana growers are drawing down wells, and then decide whether it’s appropriate to limit marijuana or other crops, such as hay, to preserve water.
“Private property owners have a right to do on their property what the law allows,” she said. “We can state personal opinions, but my job is to be objective and apply law.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160; firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The original version named the wrong Democratic candidate who will face either Baney or Adair in the November election.