Islanders go toe to toe in Dist. 3 County Council Race: Rosenfeld

Howie Rosenfeld  - Contributed photo
Howie Rosenfeld
— image credit: Contributed photo

Owner of Friday Harbor Art Studio, two-term incumbent Howie Rosenfeld is seeking reelection in the race for the District 3 Council position.

A 32-year resident of San Juan Island, Rosenfeld is a former two-term town councilman and town volunteer fire chief, and a former director of The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. He is the husband of Friday Harbor Mayor Carrie Lacher.

Journal: If elected, you would be the Town of Friday Harbor's representative on the County Council. What priorities do the town and county share?

HR: Technically, I represent the citizens of Friday Harbor, but it’s important to them for their representative to know town government. As a former town fire chief, then town council member for six years and being married to the mayor, I kinda have that covered. Still, I attend all the evening Town Council meetings to stay informed and give a county update. Current issues include the county’s use of the town’s Sutton Road property, solid waste, affordable housing, a connector road to service the newly annexed Buck property, and Warbass traffic diversion. The town contracts sheriff, court and other services from the county. Some county committees require town participation and I work closely with the town on ferry issues.These two separate governments with different priorities have not always worked together closely. Maintaining a close relationship with a high degree of trust has been my goal. Since redistricting earlier this year I also represent the residents of Brown Island and the Turn and Pear Point areas. I hope I can get to know them and their issues as thoroughly as I know about the town.

Are there areas where the town deserved more attention from the county?

HR: The county seat must by law be located in the incorporated town. This makes town the government and commercial center for the county. This responsibility rests on the town’s 2,200 residents. Costs must be shared equitably. The county has not been the best steward of the town’s Sutton Road property. Closing the tipping floor forced town to long haul garbage to Skagit. Privatization is now proposed for the Sutton Road facility. I’ve long favored management change and recently favored the county remaining the operator. With the new management, solid waste has been running in the black, but my colleagues have us on track to privatize. Having a county council member who understands and works closely with town is a great improvement. However, we now need the administrations to also work together more closely. This is my priority for the new county administrator/manager.

Are you satisfied with the relationship between the county legislative branch, the council, and its executive branch, the administrator? Any changes that you would like to see?

HR: The experience with our last administrator, who was hired by the previous commissioners, demonstrated the council does need to exercise more control. However, council never exercised fully the control it had. I believed he needed to be replaced, gave him low performance evaluations, but there was never consensus for change. If the charter amendments give council more control, great, but will it be used? I hope I’ll be there to hire a new administrator/manager who meets the expectations stated above.

What are your thoughts about the update of the county critical areas ordinance?

HR: While this has been a stressful process I think the County Council is about to complete an effective and fair update to the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), which is seven years overdue. It’s complicated because we did a “tailored” approach rather than one size fits all. Property proponents requested the tailored approach. This CAO, by state requirement, is specifically targeted to protect important natural functions and values. It will help keep this special place special for both people and wildlife. We need to think long-term about what we pass on to future generations. I’ve been in favor of tax incentives to protect critical areas and protections for property owners where possible. Like no time limit, subject to four-year renewals, on rebuilding even a 100% destroyed non-conforming house, which is now in the CAO. My opponent has major backing from the anti-CAO crowd. According to the PDC website he has outraised me by eight times!  If I am defeated because I tried to protect what I thought we all held dear, I would leave with my pride very intact.

For four years, the county has balanced its budget through a combination of spending cuts and voter-approved tax hikes. What about the next four, and what are your thoughts about county spending and revenue?

HR: My colleagues and I have been determined to achieve a sustainable budget looking out at least five years. Starting right away in ‘08 we made cuts, reorganized and streamlined (257 employees in ‘08 to 225 in ‘12). We went even further by establishing a number of reserve funds and funded them during hard times. So far, it looks like our 2013 budget cuts will be relatively minor thanks to the public safety sales tax increase. Otherwise service cuts to public safety, representing 42% of $8M general fund revenue, would have been unavoidable. The 6-year voter approved ‘09 tax hike for non-mandated services, like seniors, 4-H and parks, did not have an inflation adjuster. So even though voters wanted to preserve those services at 2010 levels, the revenue has not kept up. An inflation adjuster will need to be included when it is up for renewal.

The property tax is limited to a 1% increase (plus new construction) without a voter-approved increase. This 1% also doesn’t keep up with inflation. The intent was to force government to be more efficient but now every county in the state has been challenged by this limitation to maintain even basic services. Inflation has been relatively tame but if it increases, every county will again be stressed. Tight times will continue – but as recent votes demonstrated these islands always step up to do what needs doing. The big question is what kind of government do the people want to pay for?

Journal: Are the county's land-use and development regulations well balanced? Explain, please.

HR: Anyone who has been here awhile is probably familiar with the many changes at Community Development and Planning (CD&P) over the years. When I was elected six years ago the council made good customer service at CD&P a priority. We’ve reached many of our goals for good customer service although now most of these services are fee supported. My priority has always been that the regulations be applied fairly. Nobody likes to be told what he or she can do with their property, but most want what their neighbors can do to be regulated. We seek a balance between those two competing forces.

What public official, local, state or national, past or present, most closely reflects your view on how government should operate, and why?

HR: When I was director of The Whale Museum (‘85-‘87) I got to work closely with former Secretary of State Ralph Munro. We made Lime Kiln State Park happen. I was impressed by the way he was so respectful of everyone and always made an extra effort to get people introduced and to bring them into the conversation. Although he held partisan office, it didn’t feel that way. He was always fair and people trusted him. These were among the many qualities that made him a popular and long-serving secretary of state. The kind of official that inspires citizens to feel good about their government, if that’s possible anymore.

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