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Challengers run on civility, spending

Sat., May 22, 2010

Winner of primary takes Kootenai County seat

The challengers in the race for the District 3 seat on the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners criticize the current commissioners for delayed approval of the comprehensive plan, a loss of civility within county departments and poor fiscal management.

“Right now, I don’t think we’re managed very well,” said Dan Green, a retired lumber company owner, who has served eight years on the county’s planning and zoning commission, six of those as chairman.

“You exist to serve your people,” said Kevin Ratigan, a custom-home builder and children’s book publisher. Once commissioners get into office, he said, “They seem to lose their way. We’ve got to look at our constituents as our neighbors.”

Both are challenging Commissioner Rich Piazza in his first run for re-election since winning a four-year seat in 2006. As with the race for the District 2 seat, whoever wins this Republican primary wins the two-year, $71,080-a-year position because no Democrats have entered the race.

For his part, Piazza said his opponents need to have issues to run on. He said Green has “made the comp plan his political football” and said anyone who’s ever been to a county hearing knows “everybody is treated respectfully.”

Green said he’s dismayed at how long the county is taking to finish the comprehensive plan. As chairman of the planning and zoning commission, he said he oversaw 125 public meetings and managed 2,000 volunteer hours. The planning commission finished its work in January 2009 and he said he’s shocked that the board of commissioners is still deliberating.

“I think some of the commissioners have a difficult time making a decision,” Green said.

Piazza agrees that finishing the comprehensive plan should be the county’s top priority. However, he said the commissioners have work left to do to make it “less regulatory.” He said the plan “needs to be done right. We’re going to put out a plan that’s good for the county.” He said he wants the county to remain as business-friendly as possible.

Piazza said he’s proud of getting the Coeur d’Alene airport renamed for famed airman Pappy Boyington. He wants to secure more jail space and more competitive salaries for the sheriff’s department. He’s against new taxes but supports “reasonable” impact fees, as long as the county remains business-friendly.

“I’d like to continue what I’m doing,” Piazza said. “I enjoy the job.”

Ratigan said he knows whoever is elected will complete the land-use plan. What’s more concerning to him is the “adversarial” atmosphere he said exists in the building and planning department. He said if elected, he will push to restructure the department to restore a customer-service-oriented attitude.

“I will bring that civility and that neighborliness to the commission,” Ratigan said.

Piazza said in response to grievances aired by citizens regarding the building and planning department, weekly meetings were instituted in that department to discuss ways to improve customer service.

Green also said the job of commissioner has become too institutionalized. He’d like to restructure county government to five part-time commissioners paid about $1,000 per month. Under that plan, the county would hire a chief executive to run day-to-day operations.

“It should be public service, not a job or a career,” Green said of the commissioner’s seat.

Piazza opposes that idea, saying county government is running just fine the way it is. He said in a position statement that the county doesn’t need “the burden and cost of another layer of bureaucracy.” In addition, he said, part-time commissioners wouldn’t be able to accomplish everything that needs to be done.

Green also promises to eliminate “wasteful spending.”

He said after 13 years of running his own company and generating millions in revenue, he thinks he will bring a business expertise to the commission that does not exist there. He wants to maintain a friendly regulatory environment and a low tax rate to attract more businesses to the area.

“I will bring a different management style than exists today,” he said.

Like Green, Ratigan also is running on fiscal responsibility. Ratigan said as commissioner, he’d hold the line on property taxes. He said it seems that even when home values plummet, property taxes go up. He said he has leadership and management skills from running two businesses and understands what it means to stay within a budget.

The commissioners, Ratigan said, “need to run their budget like families run their budget.”

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