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Mager, French debate raceway, waste

Commission candidates’ exchange airs tonight

The “only candidate who has created jobs” will face the “only fiscal conservative” in a prerecorded county commission debate tonight at 7 on KSPS-TV.

Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager will cite her opposition to the purchase of the Spokane County Raceway as evidence of her ability to pinch a penny.

Her challenger, former Spokane City Councilman Al French, will style himself an architect of economic development. Literally. French says he has delivered thousands of jobs as an architect.

“I understand the role of government in stimulating growth and expansion of the private sector while protecting our quality of life,” French said when the debate was recorded earlier this week.

He said the Spokane County Raceway, which Commissioners Mark Richard and Todd Mielke see as an engine of economic development, is not what he had in mind.

So far, the venture has produced red ink by the barrel. A lawsuit settlement two weeks ago added $850,000 to the $7.1 million the county has spent to purchase and improve the raceway.

French said he had “incomplete information” when he stated publicly last September that the purchase of the racetrack was “a good overall move” despite a “hiccup” in which a hired operator ran up a million-dollar debt.

He said he thought county officials planned to sell the track and keep its surplus land when they bought it at auction in April 2008.

“It was always known that the other two commissioners were interested in running the racetrack,” Mager countered.

French said he’d heard from Airway Heights officials that Mager supported the purchase until a week before the auction, but Mager said French was “again misinformed.”

Mager said her contribution to the project was to negotiate a deal in which the county will give Airway Heights 70 acres of undeveloped raceway land for about $1 million worth of sewer and water connections.

French contended the deal wasn’t completed until Mielke and Richard “took over the negotiations.” Mager said Richard worked out only a “small detail” – whether Airway Heights should share half of the city admissions tax for 30 years or for as long as the county owns the raceway.

On pending negotiations for a new regional garbage-handling agreement, Mager said the most important thing is that every member government “really has a say.” The city of Spokane dominates the current arrangement.

Mager led opposition to construction of the city’s Waste-to-Energy Plant and said she now “would not want to be saddled with some old technology” that’s too expensive to upgrade. But “all options are on the table,” she said.

“I would maintain the operation of the plant,” French said.

With $60 million of debt on the plant about to be paid off, “we have the opportunity to lower tipping fees at that facility and start to generate a return back to our taxpayers,” French said.

Barring a new arrangement, Spokane will retain ownership of the plant even though ratepayers throughout the county paid for it.

Given the “current economy” and falling crime rates across the country, Mager said, county officials should “fully invest” in programs to keep criminals out of trouble and re-evaluate plans for a new jail after a year.

French said a new jail is needed to replace the Geiger Corrections Center, an old military barracks he said is unsafe for inmates and staff alike.



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