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Commissioner candidates make their case

by Alecia Warren
| April 16, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Candidates for Kootenai County commissioner described their visions for local conservation and development on Thursday at a candidate forum put on by Kootenai Environmental Alliance.

Some of the six candidates at the Iron Horse Bar and Grill insisted on dramatic changes, while others pushed to preserve the status quo.

Jai Nelson, running for the district 2 seat held by Commissioner Rick Currie, promised to harry the completion of the Comprehensive Plan, the visionary document guiding county development for the next 10 years.

"One of my priorities would be to get that finalized, then move into making ordinances and getting it implemented," said Nelson, who owns J Studio Interior Design. "It's a priority for citizens. It's about jobs, it's about the economy. The commissioners need to clear their schedules and get this done."

She would also improve service at the county Building and Planning Department, which some members of the construction industry have complained of hampering procedures.

"It's critical those (construction) projects move forward," she said of reviving the sluggish construction market. "We need the department to be a service-oriented organization."

Commissioner Currie said lengthy deliberations on the Comprehensive Plan are necessary to ensure language isn't misleading.

He predicted once the plan was finalized, a professional firm would be able to create enforcing ordinances within 18 months.

"We're clearing that stuff (language) up," said Currie, who is retired after working at his family's property management business. "After we finish that, we'll let the professionals take over. It will be a Comp Plan that will work."

Asked how to prioritize county departments to ensure responsible growth, Currie said he didn't want to micro-manage the 18 department heads under the commissioners' authority.

"We have to use good department heads who work under us and are well trained," he said.

Dan Green, running for district seat 3 held by Commissioner Rich Piazza, said he has heard the opposite, that the commissioners tend to over-manage.

"The departments should be given more latitude," said Green, retired after managing a multi-million dollar business. "If they don't meet the goals you've set, then take corrective action."

Green, who is chairman of the county Planning and Zoning Committee, also spoke of the urgency of completing the Comprehensive Plan.

The document's clarity on commercial and industrial zoning will help to lure new businesses to the area, he said.

"Why do businesses come here? Low taxes, low regulations and it's drop dead gorgeous. We need to keep it that way," he said.

Chris Fillios, running for district seat 2, said he would also hurry to finish the Comprehensive Plan.

He would wait to decide if changes are necessary at the Building and Planning Department.

"I've heard people say, 'Should we be laying people off?' We can't evaluate that until we know what's going on," said Fillios, who has worked in the high-tech industry and is also a Realtor and appraiser.

Fillios would also work to budget more public safety, as he said the number of sheriff's deputies per 1,000 residents in Kootenai County is below the national average.

"Our crime rate is on the rise, and the burglary rate went up 25 percent," he said.

Kevin Ratigan, running for seat 3, said he would focus on eliminating waste in the county budget.

"I would give departments the budgets available to them and say, 'If you need new cars or new secretaries, it's your job to figure that out,'" said Ratigan, who owns Windsor Classic Homes.

He would completely reorganize the Building and Planning Department, he added.

"People go in and feel abused. That department needs to be restructured," he said.

Asked about how to protect critical water resources, Commissioner Piazza said ordinances preserving water quality will follow the completion of the Comprehensive Plan.

The retired businessman pointed to how the commissioners have already tried to preserve wetlands when the issue comes up in proposed projects.

"The commissioners have been diligent in protecting wildlife and delineating them so they don't get damaged," he said.

The commissioner candidates will participate in another forum today at 7 p.m. at Mica Flats Grange, at 7465 W. Kidd Island Bay Road in Coeur d'Alene.

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