The Republican primary field is crowded in the race to claim two open positions on the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners. Incumbents Tony DeBone is challenged by restaurateur Ed Barbeau for Position 1 and Tammy Baney is facing off against Sisters resident Patti Adair for the nomination for Position 3.
The Democrat Party has fielded one candidate for each position in the primary - Amy Lowes seeking Position 1 and James Cook aiming for Position 3.
Adair, a former CPA, says she is concerned about county finances and the property tax burden borne by local residents.
"A lot of people are paying more for their property taxes than they are for their mortgage," she said. "They're getting hammered. I just am hearing from too many people who are struggling to stay here."
Baney notes that the county has reduced property taxes twice and asserts that she is a "proven fiscal conservative."
Both Adair and Barbeau criticized the incumbent commissioners for raising the pay of county staff based on comparisons with districts that have a higher median income.
"I don't know how you make a decision like that," Barbeau said.
Baney told The Nugget that the tools available to the county are limited when it comes to housing affordability, especially in Sisters where the county owns no land. She sits on the Oregon Housing Stability Council where she says she can advocate for support from the state level.
"I don't want to tell the community what they need," she said. "We have to support."
Barbeau ties housing affordability to economic development and says he wants to "Rev this county up similar to Boulder, Colorado." He says it is important to "have a reason for developers to build workforce housing - which I perceive to be the biggest challenge in Deschutes County."
DeBone, too, promotes economic development as an engine to make it possible for working people to stay in Deschutes County. Like Baney, he notes that the county's role in housing is a supporting one, including supporting cities in efforts to expand their urban growth boundaries.
"It's a partnership with the cities, because we're not building any more rural neighborhoods," he said.
Both Baney and DeBone expressed commitment to working with Sisters to retain its recycling center, though DeBone noted that the market for recyclables is in a significant period of transition.
Both Baney and DeBone expressed a commitment to stronger enforcement on marijuana growing operations in Sisters Country, noting that the county is allocating resources for code enforcement. There are 14 licensed recreational grows in the county, which appear to be abiding by regulations.
But there have been complaints of illegal growing operations and Baney said, "I think it's clear that we have a black market. There's a balance then, between an individual that is trying to be legal and the individual that I don't believe is operating in a legal capacity."
DeBone said that the county will "look for those people who are working outside the system and put a lot of pressure on them."
Adair and Barbeau both told The Nugget that tight regulation and enforcement should have been in place at the beginning of the legalization process, not moths or years down the road.
Adair is concerned about the impacts of growing operations on water and the quality of life of rural landowners. She thinks there should have been density restrictions and strict enforcement in place early.
"When you look at the numbers, the rural community didn't vote for it," she said. "And yet they are the ones dealing with the day-to-day impacts of it."
Barbeau believes the county rushed its decision to opt in on marijuana and crafted law that obligate the county going forward without adequate structure in place for regulation and enforcement.
The laws "should have been perfect," he said. "You can't undo this one... why don't you just do it right?"
Barbeau said that he would strongly support law enforcement in going after illegal grows and cracking down on out-of-state transport of product.
At the same time, he says, fees for operations should be in line with other counties and other states with legal operations.
Ballots are due on May 15 election. The primary winners for each position will face off with the Democrat candidates in November.