The June 8 primary election for the Ravalli County commissioners will see Coby Smith and Suzy Foss each seeking the Republican nomination to run in November for the District 5 seat. Questionnaires on issues likely to be of concern to voters this year were sent to the candidates. Here are their responses, some of which may have been edited and consolidated for space:
1) Why do you believe you will make a good commissioner?
Smith: I have lived and worked in Ravalli County for 48 years and I am concerned about the welfare of the people and the future of the county. I have had to make tough decisions in my position on the Darby School Board and as a small business owner and feel I can add a new, better voice to the commission.
Foss: I have spent most of my adult life volunteering in one way or another in the valley. From being a 4-H leader to working on the boards of the Missoula and Bitterroot Chambers of Commerce, the Historical Society and the Five Valley Arabian Horse club, I have been actively investing my time in many ways that has helped me appreciate all of the components of our valley and its citizens. The defining time for me was [the fires of] summer 2000. I raised over $11,000 for the victims in the community.
2) The county is expecting a budget shortfall this year. If you were building the budget, what specifically would you do to address the shortfall?
Smith: With decreasing income, there has to be cuts in the budget across the board to be fair. We must look at services that do not affect safety and health first in order to minimize the effect on those departments. We need to look at non-essential tasks and jobs to maximize resources and minimize expenditures.
Foss: Every time I read the paper it seems I am learning about a new study we are paying an out-of-area expert to do for the commission. Once or twice a week we see some new project either being proposed by citizens or the commissioners. We live off of grants, we depend on tax dollars from the state and federal government to cover our ever expanding reach over our citizens. The federal government is broke and broken yet our commissioners continue to think that funding will just keep coming in to cover what they expand. We need to pare down to essentials at every level of government just like we are doing in our homes.
3) How should the county address planning in the future? Would you work to develop a new growth policy?
Smith: First we have to listen to the citizens of Ravalli County and determine what we want the valley to look like in 20 years. We have to try to determine the economic impact of growth countywide. We have to develop a plan to preserve our environment while encouraging industry growth and providing jobs to support and sustain a viable, healthy community.
Foss: Restrictive covenants work well. Every landowner must agree before they are imposed. If a landowner wants to develop their property that is a great time to put restrictions on the land. Everyone who purchases knows the rules. The problem with a growth policy is it opens the door to zoning. Until we can see that zoning accomplishes the goal and we can find a way to guarantee it will not be subverted into exactly what was trying to be prevented, I cannot buy into the concept.
4) Did the commission make the right decision on the airport? Explain why or why not.
Smith: No, they did not. There will always be two sides to every story and eventually expansion will be necessary. The opportunity at present would have been the least expensive avenue on the citizenry while also providing jobs, growth opportunity and security to many families.
Foss: No. If you study similar-sized airports around the state and the country you will see missed opportunity in this decision. With all of the money the county is blowing on little superficial projects, it is beyond my comprehension that they cannot see the opportunity we had to make an intelligent decision for long-term progress in Ravalli County.
5) Do you agree with the current structure of the commission? Should it remain at five members?
Smith: Five commissioners give greater opportunity for more fair representation for all the people of Ravalli County.
Foss: No, We are spending a ton of money for no more results than when we had three commissioners. Again, we need to tighten our budget and going back to three commissioners is one very good way to do that.