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Two compete for commissioner seat

Steve Bauer a willing public servant

NORTH END — Democratic County Commissioner incumbent Steve Bauer never wanted anything other than to be a Northwest kid. Now, he wants nothing more than to continue his public service and be re-elected to Kitsap County's District 1 commissioner seat.

Bauer, 63, was appointed to the position 15 months ago when the previous commissioner, Chris Endresen, resigned to take a post as a state director for U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

One of the biggest questions placed before vying candidates for the seat concerns taxes and the county budget.

"First, the county needs to live within its means and not seek increased taxes. We did that for 2008 and we will do it again in 2009," he wrote in an e-mail interview. "We are working to improve our performance management system so that both the Commissioners and the public can measure our performance. We have an absolute obligation to be stewards of the public's resources and to treat every penny of the public's money as if it came from our own pocket (some of it does — after all, Commissioners pay taxes too)."

Bauer, who grew up in Washington and Oregon, got his start early learning about financing after he graduated from high school in Salem, Ore. He left the area to attend Columbia University in New York City.

During one spring break, like any starving college student, he said he didn't have any money. He sold his college meal ticket for $15 and bought a supply of the diet drink Metracal for nourishment with the hope he could use the money he was paid for vacationing.

With a pocketful of $5 bills Bauer said he could hear freedom calling, but only after a few days of drinking the "absolutely awful" stuff, he sold the rest of his Metracal and bought what was left of his meal ticket.

Through his 25 years of experience working in government, including positions as Bellevue's city manager and managing Portland's budget and what he learned from his dad, who farmed in Missouri during the Great Depression, he said he's gained responsibility and awareness of the value of every penny.

"I really carry a sense of hard work and value of money," Bauer said.

Besides working on the county's budget, Bauer said he's trying to reestablish connections between county residents and their local government.

"Government in general has disconnected voters and taxpayers and it's not out of good will," he said, adding government has gotten into an pattern where voice is often granted to those degree-bearing individuals with educated opinions and strayed from individual residents'.

To combat that, Bauer said he's a big proponent of the county's Citizen Advisory Groups, which exist to link those who live in unincorporated areas of the county and local government. Currently there are four groups: Greater Hansville Area Advisory Council (GHAAC), Kingston Citizen Advisory Council (KCAC), Suquamish Citizens Advisory Committee (SCAC) and Central Kitsap Community Council (CKCC).

"They help the County because there is one place we can go to get feedback on proposals and they are a great way for the County to hear from a local area," he wrote. "In the absence of the Advisory Councils, dealing with an area is like the blind men examining the elephant."

The North End, which is home to two Native American Tribes — the Port Gamble S'Klallam and the Suquamish — is a rich community for a commissioner, he said, but also proves challenging at times. "Principally in terms of the impact of (the tribes') commercial and construction activities on neighbors," he wrote. "It is critical that the Commissioner respect the 'sovereignty' of the tribes and find ways to bring the tribes and local communities together on common concerns."

If re-elected, Bauer said he will try to improve service from the Department of Community Development (DCD) for establishing and maintaining local businesses. "The current economic downturn and elimination of almost 25 percent of the DCD workforce will impact our ability to serve our clients but we will continue to work on that."

Bauer said he envisions the future North End as more than just a suburb of Seattle, especially with its expected growth.

"The planners say we will have as many as 100,000 more people here in the next couple of decades. That is over a 40 percent increase in population. I believe that the majority of those new residents should locate inside cities so that public services can be provided as cheaply and effectively as possible," he wrote.

An increased population would require prioritizing many of the county's current services:

• Improved transit service. "We won’t have the funds to build a road system to support this growth."

• Affordable housing to support those working in the service sector. "We will need to create clean, family wage jobs if we don’t just want to be a suburb of Seattle."

• Ferry service. "Auto and passenger (ferries) will be critical to our success but we will become less dependent on Seattle for critical services like health care with the continuing high quality expansion of Harrison Hospital."

• Preservation and protection of Hood Canal and Puget Sound.

• County parks and an expanded trail system in the North End. "I believe that it is essential that we preserve the rural, natural character of our home if we are to avoid becoming like the 'other side of the water.'"

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