Candidates for Bannock County Commission square off in debate
POCATELLO — Candidates for two Bannock County Commission shared their thoughts on a host of local issues — such as the county budget, a planned crisis center, water quality and the Portneuf Wellness Complex — during a Monday night debate sponsored by the Pocatello League of Women Voters.
The candidates also discussed statewide issues, such as a proposition that will appear on the Nov. 6 election ballot to expand Medicaid in Idaho.
In District 1, Republican Ernie Moser is facing Democrat Chris Stevens. In District 3, incumbent Republican Terrel Tovey is running against Democrat Maicie Bullock.
Moser, a former Inkom mayor and city councilman who helped maintain a “stable” city budget, argued many of the county’s ills could be resolved through improved communication between elected officials and voters.
“I don’t think it’s out there so we as county voters know what’s going on,” Moser said, speculating that poor communication with the public has been a factor in failed efforts to pass a bond to expand the Bannock County Jail.
Stevens, a retired principal at Hawthorne Middle School who touted her experience at setting school budgets, used much of her time to emphasize the challenges of the “44 percent of our people who are struggling and do not feel heard and well served.”
While other candidates discussed the benefits that will come from a new facility to help county residents in crisis, Stevens described it as “a good first step,” noting people in crisis can only stay in the facility for a day, prisons are already overcrowded with people facing mental health challenges and addictions who “don’t belong there.”
“I support a crisis center, but we also have to start having open, honest conversations that address the root causes of what put people in crisis in the first place,” Stevens said.
Bullock — a marketing and management graduate from Idaho State University who serves as an assistant to Doctor Jason West — once represented Idaho as a rodeo ambassador. She said she was encouraged to run based on the need for “someone in the commissioners’ office who will open their doors and listen to the people of Bannock County.”
Bullock anticipates the forthcoming crisis center will help address “a significant problem with drugs in the county.”
Bullock proposed creating a county newsletter and also advocated for selling the Portneuf Wellness Center, which was built by the Portneuf Health Trust and donated to the county in 2015 but has been expensive for the county to maintain. Tovey, noted deed restrictions would prevent such a sale.
Tovey told voters how he’s taken steps to improve transparency in the county, starting by moving the commissioners’ chambers from south of town to back in the Bannock County Courthouse. Tovey also took exception with suggestions from opponents that county funding has gone “missing.”
He said the county is on pace to return at least $9 million in unspent funds from the current budget to its reserve account when the next budget cycle begins Oct. 1.
He also described how the county approved $100 million in economic incentives “at no cost or detriment to taxpayers” that helped ON Semiconductor keep 700 jobs in the community.
“I stepped away from a job with the Social Security Administration and offers to go back East, and I decided to do it because I wanted a better county for my son and our children to grow up in,” Tovey said.
Candidates offered differing opinions on how to handle growth and the need to protect the local groundwater and surface water.
Moser called for “development that is organized instead of spots where people build.” He noted how the City of Inkom is taking steps to divert its wastewater discharge from the river, which he sees as a good example of careful planning.
Bullock is concerned about contaminants coming from septic systems in Bannock County and supports “ordinances in place affecting groundwater.”
Tovey said the county has already invested more than $2 million toward remediation to address contamination by a harmful chemical, called trichloroethylene, from the county landfill. He warns against regulations that would jeopardize future development, however, given the current shortage of local housing.
Though Proposition 2, which would expand Medicaid in Idaho, is a statewide issue, candidates discussed potential affects on the county budget. Candidates said the county would experience a direct benefit through savings to its indigent fund. Tovey cautions expanding Medicaid could also hurt the county in other ways, as the state would have to pick up a percentage of the cost and would likely make cuts to other programs that benefit counties.