The White Pine Republican Club held a modest county commissioner candidate introduction forum at their meeting at the Prospector Hotel & Gambling Hall in Ely last Tuesday, for three of the four Republican candidates running in the June 14 primary election. Candidate Shane Bybee, who will face Mike Coster in the election, did not attend the event.
Board member Fred Fisher oversaw the short symposium that consisted of a five minute statement from each of the candidates present, beginning with incumbent Mike Coster.
Coster said that he was not a longtime county resident but had decided in the first year of living in White Pine, that this was where he was going to stay. Coster said that as an employee of the county, he had the opportunity to meet many of its residents and ride with them, learning of its many issues and complexities.
Coster said he was committed to the idea of making the most of the government we have and not adding taxes. Calling himself a “small government libertarian,” he said that by making a living as a government employee, he was not anti-government, but knew full well how “it can get sloppy.”
He said that with the introduction of windmills to the county, revenue was increasing but he was concerned about five years of deficit spending by the commission.
“That’s flat unhealthy” he said, noting that other county commissioners were more concerned about taking care of county employees than in making the cuts needed to serve county taxpayers. Coster said he wanted to cut 9 employees during the latest budget rounds but that his effort was rejected by the majority board.
He spoke of how his fellow board member, Richard Howe, who is also up for re-election, had come up with a model to reduce county expenses, but that Howe’s proposal was rejected as well.
“I promise not to add any taxes until we have scrubbed down and used the money we have the right way,” Coster said.
Coster said he was not accountable to the other commissioners but that his responsibility was to the voters that elected him. He said his priorities are public safety, including EMS and the county fire department.
“I want a more transparent government where people can participate,” he said.
Next up to the podium was Johnathan Dishong, who is facing incumbent Howe in the election. Dishong told a story about his arrival in White Pine County, while his wife and family lived in another state.
He talked about how he worked at the mines, unable to see his family for an extended period of time until he was able to rent, pack and load up a truck and move the family to McGill.
In 20-below weather, rather than receive a warm welcome, someone called the county sheriff to complain about where he had parked his moving truck, which was being unloaded.
“We told them we need more time but they said move the truck,” he conveyed to the audience.
He told them there was nowhere else to park it so they told him to park it at a church a considerable distance away, and haul their belongings back, an absurd request, according to Dishong.
When deputies arrived a second time to enforce their demands, his wife decided they were leaving.
“That was our introduction to White Pine County,” he said.
Later though, they met Bruce and Pat Setterstom and Mike Coster, all of whom encouraged them to stay.
They started their own businesses, worked to improve the school system, rather than complain about it, buying 50 desktop computers to rebuild for third graders. They also started some non-profits to benefit children and seniors alike.
Dishong said that he has learned a lot from his failures and that there was a lot that can be done to restructure the budget, though he was unable to elaborate due to the expiration of his five minutes.
Incumbent Richard Howe, who spoke next, told of how he was finishing his fourth year on the board and that he had struggled with the budget every single year. He said that when the mine went down, the county lost a lot of money and that the commission needed to take action to gain revenue in order to keep the county from going under.
Howe said he pushed for the franchise fee to provide a consistent source of revenue to the county during times when the mining industry would enter a state of decline and wouldn’t be able to be counted on for income.
“I pushed it hard and stand behind it 100 percent,” Howe said. “It’s a guaranteed source of income for White Pine when the mines go hard.”
While the current franchise fee is 1 percent, it will increase to 3 percent in 2018.
Howe said he also favors disincorporating the city of Ely in order to end the duplication of services that are costing taxpayers, but that it was something that would have to be determined by a vote of the people, not him personally.
“I’m sick and tired of people talking about me disincorporating the city,” he said.
He told of how he and others, went to the state assembly and senate to see if they could put such a ballot measure on a prior election’s ballot, but that he couldn’t generate any interest among any of the state leaders.
“I’m in favor of one government,” he said, “But I don’t have the power to do it myself. Down the road many government entities are going to have to combine or consolidate. We have the county fire and the city fire and I would love to see them one.”
He said that he didn’t expect the county to give their assets to the city nor did he expect the city to give their assets to the county.
When questioned by an audience member why he went to the state to push for an election rather than seeking signatures of 117 city voters, he said that there was a shortage of time and that he thought it was in the best interests of the people to go to the state.
“I’m not afraid of not being able to get the signatures,” he said.
Howe said that with an increase of voters in the last election, petition gatherers would have to seek out 137 signature by Jan. 20 to get it on another election ballot, but that he was not going to have any involvement should such an undertaking kick off other than to vocalize his support of the effort.
While Fisher tried to bring order to the meeting, Dishong accused Howe of being part of big government, “pushing us around.”
“If you’re going to bypass the law because you don’t have enough time, you don’t step up over us to do what you want, right?” Dishong asked.
“My opponent said I tried to go around,” Howe said. “I didn’t go around, I went straight up.”