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County commissioner race heats up at forum

"As millions of Americans sat glued to their TV sets Tuesday night, watching the first of three presidential debates, about thirty people instead attended a candidate forum at the North Kitsap Community Center Auditorium. The forum featured the four candidates jockeying for two county commissioner seats that are up for grabs in the general election; namely, first-term incumbent Chris Endresen, Poulsbo, and her opponent, North Kitsap resident Scott Henden, as well as South Kitsap residents Jan Angel and Dusty Wiley. The questions a few audience members posed to candidates about the Endangered Species Act (ESA), salmon, property rights and taxes, cut right to the heart of issues important to many Kitsap County residents. I believe we should give citizens the truth about the ESA because they didn't get that from the 26 shoreline meetings held around the county, which I attended, said Henden. We don't have to accept the ESA the way they (federal regulators) are forcing it down on us. Endresen said that, on the contrary, county commissioners are required to comply with federal and state regulations by virtue of their oath of office. I also want to make clear that the purpose of those 26 meetings was to let property owners know what federal regulators want us to do, she said. The county commissioners want to uphold the laws, while providing a balanced solution for everyone involved. Kitsap County land use decisions should be made here, not by a federal judge after a lengthy court process at the expense of taxpayers. Wiley, a Manchester resident and Fire District 7 commissioner, said county practices will certainly have to change to accommodate endangered salmon stocks, but constant public input will be required down the road to strike a balance between salmon and landowners. I think the county was right to hold the (shoreline) meetings, he added. We can't turn our back on this. Angel, a Republican vying for the same seat as Wiley, said she'd like to see Kitsap County spend as many as five years hashing out a plan responding to the ESA to avoid becoming a guinea pig for other counties. She also suggested testing the accuracy of the science that justifies the ESA regulations. Questions at the forum also concerned the county's open-space acquisitions when there is a relative paucity of Kitsap County Sheriff deputies. This isn't a matter of open space versus Kitsap County Sheriff's deputies, countered Endresen. Around $6 million has been spent on open space in this county, and much of the money came from grants and private funding. Another portion came from local taxes specifically designated for open space use only. So the deputies didn't really lose out in the case of parks. (Over the last four years, the number of additional deputies approved for the Sheriff's Office has increased by 16 since 1997, according to a Kitsap County 2000 budget summary document.) Wiley, a traffic safety inspection officer for the county, also noted open space is mainly purchased with grant money. He also said hiring more deputies and paying them more competitive salaries should be a top priority for the county. Meanwhile, Henden conceded open space is a valid asset for the people of Kitsap, but chided county government for spending so much money over the last few years on inactive space that, once it's bought by the county, is taken off the tax rolls. That means you pay that much more, he said. I think priorities are out of balance here, said Angel. The county spends millions of dollars on open space, with no clear plans to hire more deputies. Angel said the county seems to be promoting a rob-a-cop program, in which deputies are paid little and are eventually recruited elsewhere. Deputies should be our No. 1 priority, she said. "

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