On Oct. 6, Supv. Chuck Washington and Hemet Council member Shellie Mine, candidates for the Riverside County 3rd District supervisor’s seat, were in Idyllwild to share their views and vision for the Hill and the county.
The members of the audience posed all of the questions to the candidates. The questions were Hill-centric. The candidates were candid and prepared sound bites were not the tone of the evening.
This is the third part of the questions and the candidates’ responses.
Rather than repeat the questions in the order asked, they have been organized by subject so that the totality of the responses can be together rather than separated and disparate.
State Fire Fee and County Fire Department costs
Q. Although a state “program,” how do you feel about the Fire Prevention Fee? If it were up to you, would you abolish it?
CW: I have no jurisdiction over the fire fee. But I would send a letter to the governor to abolish it.
SM: Fee is unnecessary and should be a local fee.
Q. Given the state of the county budget and decreasing reserves, what are you proposing to do to get control of the annually recurring budget overruns with the sheriff’s and fire departments?
CW: The fire department is not operating in a deficit state. The departments with challenges now are the sheriff and district attorney. Out of respect, I wasn’t on the board in 2012 when it voted substantial pay raises. I’m left with the pieces as it crumbles.
Part of the county deficit is the $40 million increase from a lawsuit for the health care of individuals incarcerated in our jails.
When I look at the projections, I see light at the end of the tunnel. In two or three years, it will be a lot better and we’ll still have $150 to $175 million in reserves, which will begin to climb.
SM: It’s not good enough to sit around. We need performance audits of the sheriff and fire and every other department. Going forward in 10 or 20 or 30 years, need to rein things in and decrease county employees. County citizens will need to decrease the unfunded liabilities.
Q: In a follow-up question, Washington was asked: Please clarify your statement that county fire is not a deficit budget when county fire submitted a $30-million budget overrun in April 2016?
CW: The county fire chief’s budget was balanced. They are not asking for more money. Perhaps [Idyllwild Fire] Chief [Patrick] Reitz has a different opinion.
[In the County’s initial 2016-17 budget document, the county executive’s staff described the county fire department’s request as, “The fire department reports that its previously projected deficit of $1.3 million has been fully reduced and the department is on target to bring in its budget within its net county cost allocated for FY 15/16.”]
Q. Please identify your single largest contributor to each of your campaigns by name and approximate dollar amount?
CW: I have more than 300 pages of donors identified. But two accountants from Hemet each gave $25,000 — Todd and Michael Foutz.
SM: My largest donor is Wayne Minor. Including the primary election, he has contributed $85,000.
Q. To Supv. Washington, please disclose for the audience approximately how much money each of the Cal Fire/Riverside County firefighters’ unions and sheriff’s employees’ unions have contributed to your campaign?
CW: The firefighters have given $4,000 and the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association has contributed $25,000. That is significantly less that the $68,000 they gave to my opponent as in-kind contributions in the primary.
The Hemet police have promised $5,000 but I haven’t seen the check.
Q. [For Supv. Washington]: How can we get sheriff deputies’ presence up here?
CW: Look at the data. One deputy is always dedicated to the Hill. This is a very large area. I’ve complained long and loud about the level of service provided to the unincorporated areas versus the cities in the county. I’m a strong advocate of public safety and fire.
SM: While you did not support the latest budget cuts, you did support the three previous cuts. I added funding and positions to the Hemet city police.
CW: I am willing to use and spend reserves on [deputy] staffing. I’ll fight for and deny the RSA contribution affected my vote.
Last week, after an initial report of an armed robbery, there was no armed robbery. The deputy would have been here, but an explosion in Sage deflected him.
Q. [For Councilmember Milne]: Hemet has run a budget deficit since you have been on the council. How do you think you will be able to run a whole district?
SM: When I got on the council, there was a $5-million deficit; now it’s $250,000. Hemet had a lot of problems before I got involved. It is a full-service city and shouldn’t be.
One other issue is the need to reduce retirement liabilities, which was a problem long before I got on the council, and still is.
CW: Ms. Milne has been on the council for not quite four years. But she only reversed the $5-million deficit with the help of former Temecula staff — Shawn Nelson and Gary Thornhill.
SM: Yes, and a lot from Ron Bradley, the Temecula and Murrieta former city manager, who without my vote would not be have been approved. Ron Bradley has gotten us Shawn Nelson and Gary Thornhill.
Q. What can be done about the cost and time it takes for one to get a building permit? It takes months even for a simple garage and a certificate of compliance.
SM: This is very simple. I’ve seen both sides and we need to stop deposit agencies. That is absolute extortion. Those who pay move to the front of the line.
We need a level playing field and need to privatize these departments. Then, they have to perform to keep a contract and to keep customers happy. Too many complaints and they lose the contract.
CW: She and I are in agreement. The county process is a mess. Improving it is very high priority. But I’m not sure about this option. It sounds a lot like “pay to play.”
One option is to fast track a project if it’s deemed to generate enough new jobs. But I know of one fast-track project that has been five years in the process. I’d hate to see it not fast track.
I’m committed to changing this. Every department head and the CEO knows, if it takes another four years, I guarantee change.
Q. [To Supv. Washington]: Did you switch your party registration from Republican to Democrat before or after you decided to lobby for supervisor appointment?
CW: I did switch my party.