UPDATED: School board, port and fire district candidates answer questions

By Ian Ferguson

Candidates for local government answered questions at the annual Birch Bay Candidates Forum, held at Birch Bay Bible Church October 1.

Twelve candidates showed up to talk about the issues and answer questions. Terry Terry moderated the forum, reading questions that were previously emailed to candidates as well as questions submitted by the audience.

Last week, The Northern Light printed questions and responses for county council and county executive candidates. This week, we’ve chosen questions and responses from the Port of Bellingham, Blaine school board and fire protection district 21

Blaine school board director district 3:

Joan Lotze

Q: More than half of the students in the Blaine school district are bused from the Birch Bay community to Blaine. Prior to the passage of the $45 million bond initiative last February, the Blaine school board passed resolution 1450-04 directing that with the passage of the bond initiative in 2015, and pending investigation of a sufficient funding source, the school board would move forward with the acquisition of property to be utilized when needed as a school site in the Birch Bay area. Can we count on your support to accomplish this resolution, and from your perspective, when will action be taken?

Joan Lotze: I do support that. I think what happened with the bond is, we felt it was vital to remodel the high school. We did talk about moving forward with purchasing land, and it is still on our radar and something we want to have happen. The land is the first step to getting a school out here in Birch Bay. Once we get that going there are going to be a huge number of details to work out, and I’m going to be very happy to be involved in that.

Q: How long have you been living in the school district? What education do you have and what are your other qualifications?

Joan Lotze: I’ve been living in the district for 32 years. My main qualifications have to do with my educational experience as a teacher, as a parent, my children have gone through the schools and my husband is also a teacher, so I have a lot of ideas and experience about what sort of things our schools need to be doing, what sort of direction they need to be going in. I’m also the only person on the board at the moment who has been in education, and I think that’s a perspective that we need to have. I think having a diversity of ideas and opinions on the school board is really important.

Fire protection district 21 commissioner position 1:

John Crawford

Q: What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem facing the fire district and the citizens it serves? What is its biggest strength? In order to keep costs down for taxpayers, how do you see the organization growing in the future?

John Crawford: Right now the biggest strength is that North Whatcom has several groups such as a water tender group and a rehab group. These are non-firefighting type people, members of the community where you don’t have to have special skills to belong to these groups. I think North Whatcom needs to look at creating more of these groups. Right now they have great community support in the forums and groups.

The weakness I see is response time, because when you have an emergency you want an immediate response. With the growth in Birch Bay and Blaine, response time is growing and we need to reduce that response time by getting more people involved, by getting more people on the floor. Things like that.

Port of Bellingham district 3 commissioner:

Robert Briscoe

Gary S. Jensen

Q: What values and goals should guide the setting of lease rates and terms for waterfront port property?

Gary Jensen: That’s a great question, and I’ve talked about this before. Here’s the problem on port properties in terms of doing market lease rates. Say you have Bornstein Fish; nice site, employs a lot of people, gives wages to us and at times the port has said, “OK, I’m going to do your lease based on market rates and what’s there.”

Now, if it’s a condo developer, that land is more valuable and Mr. Bornstein can’t run his fish company. So that’s why every lease has to be different; the port cannot be completely consistent because that’s not right. We want to have a fish company that employs people. Would a condo do higher rates, yeah, but that’s not what’s good for Whatcom County. It has to be a mixture. It has to be a variable lease based on what’s there, and that’s why you need kind of strong commissioners.

Robert Briscoe: Businesses that require waterfront property have to be priority to create family-wage jobs. Shipping and barging businesses, not condos and coffee shops. The rates need to be based on the local economy, not what Seattle is doing, not what San Francisco is doing. We don’t have the population like that to draw from for the businesses.

As far as the lease rates, I’ve talked to the businesses down there and most of the guys on a personal level and the leases for the properties are mostly 10-year leases with an option. When an industry wants to start in the port, they lease the property and then they have to build the buildings on site.

One of the problems is that if you’re going to build a building, you’re going to want something that’s longer than 10 years. And I believe we need leases that have options for 20, 30 or 40-year leases to businesses so they can set a business plan for the long term and not have to worry about picking up roots and moving somewhere. It’s also often a requirement in those cases for them to remove the building or do something with it. So there are a lot of things that need to be worked out, but priority should be given to those waterfront businesses.

Q: Given the fact that port commissioners need outside employment to make a living, do you feel you will have the time to spend the 28 hours per month that the present commissioners say is required to do the work?

Gary Jensen: If you want to get stuff done you should give the job to a busy person. I run a plumbing business, and I currently have another high-paying job for 62 hours per month as the Mayor of Ferndale. My day timer is filled with activities, thank the Lord I have a very understanding wife. I think going to 28 hours per month from 62, sounds like I’ll have a lot more spare time.

Robert Briscoe: This question is directed at me. I’m a commercial fisherman, and everybody seems to think I’m going to have a problem fulfilling the demands of the job. I’m not going to have that problem.

Last time we had a commercial fisherman on the commission, he didn’t have a problem fulfilling the demands of the job, and I will not either.

This post has been updated to correct an error. We mistakenly wrote “timber” in John Crawford’s response, when what he said was “water tender.” We regret the error.

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