If anything is clear from the first major debate between Spokane County commissioner candidates, it’s that none of them will run timid campaigns.
The four remaining candidates accused opponents of wasting taxpayer dollars, stifling economic development and hypocrisy in the one-hour debate sponsored by Greater Spokane Inc.
There are two open seats in November’s commissioner races. Incumbent Republican Todd Mielke is running against former county health officer Dr. Kim Thorburn, a Democrat, for the seat representing northern Spokane County. Incumbent Republican Mark Richard faces Democrat Brian Sayrs, a Liberty Lake city councilman, for the district covering southeast Spokane County.
Although commissioners represent districts, all county voters will be able to make a choice in the races.
The county’s recent purchase of a West Plains raceway was one of the larger topics at the debate.
Thorburn, who participated in a cleanup of the track recently, called the property “an unmonitored solid waste dump.”
But she added that even though she didn’t support the decision to buy the property, it’s time to move on.
“We’re going to have to invest in this,” she said. “We’ve made the initial investment and it’s our responsibility now to make it work.”
Mielke stressed that 60 to 80 acres will be used for soccer and baseball fields, and said the county paid less for more than 300 acres than it normally would have paid for the youth sports acreage.
“Government buys property all the time; the question is do you have a legitimate purpose and did you pay a legitimate price,” he said.
Richard and Mielke warned that their opponents would bring higher fees and support tighter regulations.
“They want you to spend $500 million instead of $100 million on a new sewer project,” Richard said.
Sayrs and Thorburn said they supported some higher fees on development because too much of the financial burden is on taxpayers.
Some of the most pointed responses came when candidates were allowed to ask a question of their opponents.
Mielke questioned why Thorburn is so critical of sprawl, even though she lives outside the county’s boundary for urban growth.
Thorburn responded she is critical of large residential development in areas that don’t have necessary infrastructure in place.
“What I’m talking about is haphazard sprawl,” she said.
Sayrs questioned why Richard supported action to allow residential development near Fairchild Air Force Base, a decision later reversed after business leaders said the move could hurt the base’s future.
Richard responded that the problem was an unintended consequence of rules aimed at industrial growth, and commissioners reversed course when they realized the problem. He said many other county moves, such as the purchase of a railroad line that crossed the base, will help the long-term viability of Fairchild.