All six candidates for the Deschutes County Commission took questions on land use and growth Tuesday at a Rotary Club forum, one of the few pre-election events to include the Republican candidates running in contested primaries and the two Democrats running uncontested.

Commission Chairman Tony DeBone faces a challenge from Tumalo pizza shop owner Ed Barbeau in one Republican primary, and the winner of that race will meet Amy Lowes, a small business consultant and former hospice nurse, in the general election in November. Three-term incumbent Tammy Baney and Deschutes County Republican Party Chairwoman Patti Adair are running in the other Republican primary, and the winner of that matchup will face James Cook, chairman of Redmond’s planning commission.

DeBone said he plans to continue providing “strong leadership” in Deschutes County. He said his priorities include further diversifying the county’s economy and working with the U.S. Forest Service to control wildfires and associated smoke.

“I have been a very conservative voice on your county commission,” DeBone said. “I voted twice recently to lower your taxes.”

Barbeau said he would bring his experience running his pizza shop, as well as his former work as a private investigator who specialized in workers’ compensation surveillance, to running the county.

“Sometimes it’s a good thing to make changes,” he said. “It’s also a good thing to have strong leadership instead of someone who isn’t afraid to take chances.”

Lowes said her past work as a hospice admissions nurse required her to be an exceptional listener, ask tough questions and advocate for patients. Those are all skills that will help her serve Deschutes County residents, she said.

If elected, Lowes said she would focus on enhancing access to mental health and addiction services, supporting small businesses and working with Deschutes County’s cities to facilitate intelligent growth.

Baney said she wants another four years to improve mental health services, tackle problems with Oregon’s land use system and work with the state to reform Oregon’s public employee retirement system, which is a drain on county resources. She said the county does best when it supports public safety, keeps its roads in good condition and provides needed services for the most vulnerable residents.

“Your county should not be out front on the front page of the paper,” she said. “We should be behind the scenes providing services.”

Adair said her previous experience as a certified public accountant makes her “uniquely qualified” to tackle fiscal challenges. She said she talks to people who face losing their homes because their property taxes keep increasing.

Cook said while all candidates would agree that public safety and infrastructure are the most important investments, he sees those two topics as encompassing more than law enforcement and roads.

Public safety also includes courts, mental health and a working 911 system, while infrastructure includes supporting school districts and economic development, he said.

“We need to invest in the things that make Deschutes County a place we are proud to call home,” he said.

Baney and DeBone said Deschutes County is positioned to work with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development to address mapping errors from the 1970s that designate unfarmable land as high-value farm land and make development difficult.

Barbeau said he’d like to see the county make it harder for groups like Central Oregon LandWatch to appeal decisions.

Cook said the county needs some changes to exclusive farm-use lands, but it needs to be careful not to completely change the program.

“Some of the proposals we’ve seen just want to devastate that program,” he said. “The solution to our growth problems is not going to happen on our rural lands. It’s going to happen in our urban lands.”

All of the candidates supported the idea of working with cities to plan for future growth and establishing urban reserve areas, lands that will eventually be used to expand cities. Redmond has an urban reserve, but Bend doesn’t yet.

Lowes said she’s interested in partnering with cities to find areas suitable for urban density that can be developed with more transit options. Bend already identified some of those areas as part of its recently approved plan to annex about 2,380 acres outside city limits.

“These areas have already been identified, and I think it’s time to start planning,” she said.

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