2022 Yamhill County Commissioner Candidates 

To better help members of the community directly inform themselves about the choices they have in this year’s county commissioner election, the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce sent each of the Yamhill County commissioner candidates a written questionnaire. The following candidate responses were received within the submission deadline.

Getting to know Beth Wytoski for Yamhill County Commissioner

What are your principal motivations for running?

I want Yamhill County to be a place my children are proud of and want to call their home. Through my position as Mayor, I have seen how much local government touches our everyday lives.

I see this time as bringing huge opportunity to local governments and local businesses that could include Yamhill County if focused on the right things like infrastructure dollars and economic development.

I believe my experience in local government, from City Councilor and event planner to President of the Oregon Mayors has prepared me to find common ground and lead with common sense.

As an elected leader, what are the County Commissioners’ fiduciary duties in managing the county’s assets and to whom do you owe those duties?

To care for the county’s financial interests, I will comply with state and federal laws, protect county businesses, residents, and staff from costly appeals and lawsuits by following best practices and professional recommendations.

As any fiduciary, as a commissioner, I will act in the best interests of the county as a whole regardless of politics or affiliations. I owe that duty to the county as an organization and to the residents of the county, regardless of votes cast.

What county regulations would you propose, or change, to make Yamhill County more business friendly?

The county should have a collaborative relationship with the Chambers, downtown, and economic development groups in all cities as well as SEDCOR. These groups are best suited to advise the county about business regulations and their impact on local businesses.

Additionally, the county should facilitate applications for assistance programs, especially for startups and consider small business grants funded with grants or TLT dollars.

What are your views on the proposed Yamhelas Trail and why?

While adding recreational facilities is positive and promotes health, equity, and community engagement, the trail proponents unfortunately appear to have misstepped, especially in land use and impact studies so the Yamhelas Trail is not a project I would support at this time. The county already has parks and public spaces that are suffering in disrepair, without substantial plans to invest in or seek external funding to facilitate badly needed projects. I would want to see the parks inventory improved before new lands are added, creating additional stress on an already stretched department with high turnover.

What will you do to improve transportation in our county?

 

My focus for transportation would be to lobby for federal dollars to continue work on the bypass which requires further development. Additionally, I would aggressively pursue infrastructure dollars to improve roads, particularly the 300 miles of gravel roads, as well as the 133 bridges under the county’s jurisdiction.

I would network with ODOT staff and build collaborative relationships to advance County projects on the state’s priority list and listen to city leaders who are best equipped to identify troublesome conditions in their communities.

Getting to know Mary Starrett for Yamhill County Commissioner

What are your principal motivations for running?

Public policy decisions made at the county level have a direct impact on the quality-of-life in a community, including its economic vitality, public safety, and overall physical and behavioral health. I’ve lived in 8 counties, including Multnomah and Clackamas, and have seen the stark contrasts.

I moved to Yamhill County 30 years ago because of its long -standing culture of limited government, lower taxation, and community involvement.

Our County has maintained those ideals even as neighboring counties have experienced a decline in all those areas, due, in part to heavy-handed government.

I chose to run for office to help safeguard the quality of life here. For the last 8 years I’ve seen firsthand that lower property taxes, a streamlined building process and business- friendly climate, along with a commitment to support our first responders have helped make Yamhill County a desirable place to live. We’ve connected with businesses who chose to relocate to Yamhill County from neighboring counties. One such company made the move from a property they owned in a neighboring county because our Planning Department and business climate were more amenable to business growth. Our County Planning Department is well known for helping property owners “get to yes”, in contrast to other counties and that’s worth safeguarding.

Child Welfare issues have been at the forefront of my work during the past 8 years and before. As a foster child mentor and advocate, I have worked at the County and State levels to increase transparency and options for improved placement options, including a State- County Child Welfare hybrid brought to the Legislature. Working with local child and family advocates, local pregnancy resource organizations
and a faith-based foster option program, my focus has been to support program partners to strengthen and support at-risk children and families.

Support for County Recovery Courts and addiction and mental health services have also been focus areas, including my work with the Housing Authority and Affordable Housing Corporation, Senior and Disabled services and as a charter member of a suicide prevention organization. I believe those areas are critical and I’m committed to continuing to make them priorities.

As an elected leader, what are the County Commissioners’ fiduciary duties in managing the county’s assets and to whom do you owe those duties?

The County’s governing body- the Board of Commissioners, is responsible for overseeing the Budget, allocating discretionary resources with input from department heads, County Administration, and the Citizen Budget Advisory Committee. In addition, the Board oversees Federal, State and County grant
programs for community development projects, non-profits and municipalities as well as setting the property tax rate annually during the Budget adoption process.

As a commissioner, I have a fiduciary responsibility to County residents and in light of that, I have scrutinized County contracts, programs and spending to determine that we’re spending tax dollars wisely.

What County regulations would you propose, or change, to make Yamhill County more business friendly?

One proposal I’ve been exploring involves the Business Personal Property Tax (https://www.co.yamhill.or.us/content/welcome-business-personal-property-hub-yamhill-county the County is required by Statute (ORS 308.250) to collect. The reporting process is time-consuming and tedious for business owners. Of the more than 3,000 Business Personal Property Tax accounts the Tax Collector/ Assessor handles, only half are taxable based on asset value. While I’ve advocated for abolishing the tax in the past and been unsuccessful at the Legislative level, I’m currently in discussions to determine whether the Board of Commissioners, in conjunction with the Tax Collector/ Assessor could increase the taxable threshold so more businesses would be exempt; that could mean 800 fewer business owners would have to pay the tax.

What are your views on the proposed Yamhelas Trail and why?

Since I began serving as a County Commissioner 8 years ago, I have repeatedly asked 3 questions which formed the underpinning of my decisions regarding the Yamhelas Westsider Trail:

1) Does the County have the necessary land use approvals for the project?
2) What will the proposed Trail cost and who will maintain it?
3) Have neighboring property owners been notified and do they support the project?

I made it clear I would not support a recreational trail project that violated Oregon’s land use laws and threatened a negative impact on Yamhill County farming.

Yamhill County and ODOT records show that past commissioners approved spending taxpayer dollars on the Yamhelas Westsider Trail project that had no legal land use approval.

Those commissioners should have followed state law before they committed the County to spending taxpayer money on the project.

I voted repeatedly against applying for and accepting grants which the County would be required to repay should the County not receive the requisite land use approval.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) was told by Commissioners that there was no local opposition to the trail by farmers and that the permits required to build the trail would be easy to obtain.

After several years, local farmers sued the County to protect their property rights. The Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) sided with Yamhill County’s farmers and remanded the project back to the County a total of 5 times. On the last remand, LUBA rejected the County’s arguments and determined the County’s rationale was so implausible that in an unprecedented decision, they forced Yamhill County to pay the farmers’ attorney fees.

ODOT emailed County staff stating they had lost faith in the project, and that the previously awarded grant money would need to be repaid.

Public records prove that the County was aware that they would not receive the required land use permits and would have to pay the money back.

My concerns were that if a Trail were built it would harm farm revenues. Trail advocates have had since 2012 to compute the cost to build and operate a Trail. Their latest answer to the question of costs continued to be-we don’t know.

Oregon’s strict land use laws are in place for citizens and government entities alike. The waste of tax dollars and the division this project has caused in our County could have been avoided if Yamhill County’s past – and current commissioners and staff had followed the law.

In addition, the corridor in question has also been proposed for a commuter rail (Light Rail) which would be an expensive, under-utilized public safety nightmare for our farmers and County residents in general.

What will you do to improve transportation in our county?

While funding for major transportation projects for Yamhill County is expected to remain limited, we can continue to leverage State and Federal resources to address the priority projects we’ve identified. The County has used a collaborative process to determine those projects most important to the various communities that make up our County. One priority is the Newberg-Dundee Bypass, which has progressed through decades of regulatory and financial hurdles. I remain committed to working toward completion of the Bypass which has been a priority throughout my two terms as it has been by those who’ve championed the project for 4 decades.

In addition to the Bypass, I will support projects to improve Safety along OR 18 and OR 99W, such as increased Sheriff patrols to address driver safety.

As a member of the Oregon Distracted Driving Task Force, I worked with a stakeholder group to craft a State-wide campaign to address texting while driving and driving under the influence. Our Sheriff’s Office utilized a grant to focus on these safety concerns which were especially concerning since segments of Yamhill County roadways have had crash rates of 200% or more of the statewide
average.

I will continue to support and work closely with stake holders for improved bus Transit through the Yamhill County Transit Area (YCTA) system to implement the State Transportation Improvement Fund (STIF) I have supported. Currently, the expanded Transit service we’ve implemented includes fixed
routes and Dial -a-Ride. We currently operate local routes in McMinnville and Newberg, and four commuter routes to Hillsboro, Tigard, West Salem, and Grand Ronde. (ADA Paratransit Rides are available in specific areas). The purchase of new busses includes 5 midsize and 1 large bus. I will advocate for additional service enhancements such as earlier and later service and for expanded capacity for Dial-A-Ride to address the needs of our disabled and senior riders.

We’ve added additional bus shelters; including a new shelter I was excited to help secure for a Newberg church providing free meals. I was involved in the final stage and dedication of the County Transit Center in McMinnville and will support the building of a new Transit Center to accommodate Dispatch, Administration, Service, and expanded parking.

I look forward to continuing to serve our County.

Thank you,
Mary Starrett
Yamhill County Commissioner

Getting to know Bob Luoto for Yamhill County Commissioner

What are your principal motivations for running?

I have decided to run for Yamhill County commissioner because of my experience in business and leadership. I will help the county be successful in many aspects of county government. Yamhill County is growing and needs people with experience to help lead that growth. I have proven leadership, experience and common sense and will lead the county during these exciting times. Being in business means being able to adjust to the good times and adjust during the bad times. I have the experience to do both. This experience will keep Yamhill County strong and moving forward for the people!

As an elected leader, what are the County Commissioners’ fiduciary duties in managing the county’s assets and to whom do you owe those duties?

A County Commissioner is responsible for the taxpayer dollars that are collected by the county. They owe the taxpayers the duty to manage those assets and tax dollars in a fiscally responsible manner. I will be fiscally conservative when it comes to the county dollars and the county assets. These tax dollars need to be managed as if it is our own money. That’s where my experience in business is valuable. The two companies that I have managed and owned for the last 45 years, have paid thousands of dollars in taxes to both State and County governments. My companies over the years have furnish hundreds of family wage jobs. I will bring that background of success to the county commissioners office when elected to the position.

What county regulations would you propose, or change, to make Yamhill County more business friendly?

Taking a look at county government regulations and making sure that they are business friendly will be a priority. I will be advocating for small business’, understanding what it takes to succeed I will bring that experience to the county commissioner’s office. Many of these businesses are located in the cities and pay for city government permits and taxes. I will work with the city governments to make them as business friendly as possible. One of the taxes that I am not for is a state, county or city sales tax. This has been voted down several times in our state and I believe it will be coming up in different formats in the coming years.

What are your views on the proposed Yamhelas Trail and why?

I believe that the county handled the trail poorly. They did not put the time and due diligence into investigating the problems of the proposed trail. They didn’t sit down with the affected parties and get their opinions. The county could have faced thousands of dollars in legal costs. I agree that it should have been cancelled. I also realize that we don’t have a lot of walking trails and biking trails in Yamhill County. I would be open to listening to other proposals on those type of projects. If we do get to the point of doing any of these projects, I would take the time to make sure that all affected parties are listened to before going ahead on any projects. The key is to listen to the people before going ahead on any major projects and to have a unified voice when spending taxpayer dollars. As county commissioner I would make sure to listen carefully to everyone before deciding on the issue.

What will you do to improve transportation in our county?

With the amount of people coming into the county and the projected population growth, we will need to maintain, and in many instances, upgrade our county roads. This will take additional taxpayer dollars. I always value input from the county residents on what roads need to be repaired, furthermore I will evaluate what would be the best management of county resources and what would be the most efficient way to improve and maintain the roads. As a professional logger I am very sensitive to safety issues. That includes all roads and highways and having a highly trained police force.

Getting to know Doris Towery for Yamhill County Commissioner

What are your principal motivations for running?

 

I’m running because a well-run county government can be a tremendous force for good. When managed well you can deliver high quality services that impact every constituent in a positive way.

 

I love this community fiercely. I believe our residents deserve the very best public health and public safety services, and economic development and infrastructure projects, so we all thrive. We are all exhausted from the divisive politics that are a distraction from actually doing the work of the people and delivering critical services and resources needed for our communities to thrive. We have a history here, the very fabric of who we are in Yamhill County is a place where we work side-by-side to help everyone thrive. We genuinely care about each other, about being good neighbors, supporting each other. I want to help us get back to that as our baseline. As a non-profit executive and local leader, I’ve got a track record of building collaborations with diverse perspectives and effectively running organizations to improve communities.

As an elected leader, what are the County Commissioners’ fiduciary duties in managing the county’s assets and to whom do you owe those duties?

 

As an elected leader all duties, especially managing assets, are to serve the people of the county, all people, not just those that agree with you or represent only a small number of constituents. Too much energy, time and tax dollars have been wasted on issues that the county has no oversight or control and do not deliver critical services to our residents. We need to get back to the work of the people. The County Commission has fiduciary oversight over a $177 million budget to manage responsibly to deliver the most amount of high quality services to our constituents. I also believe as a part of that duty it is our responsibility to seek out resources from the state and federal government to enhance our ability to deliver those services and expand opportunities for economic growth. We need to make sure we are investing in our infrastructure and addressing the state of our facilities to serve our county into the future.

What county regulations would you propose, or change, to make Yamhill County more business friendly?

Creating an environment where the county is a stronger partner in the planning of opportunities for growth of our visitor economy would be a good place to start. Examining where there are opportunities for sites within the UGBs for lodging, developing a wider range of mixed uses and addition/upgrades of outdoor facilities.

Creating a focused economic development plan that is coordinated with city plans and other economic development efforts creates a framework for job growth and creation of living wage jobs. This is a critical piece of our future success. Once again partnerships and collaboration with our cities, local businesses and our schools will build future success. Our trades are in desperate need of workers. Our High Schools; Newberg, Willamina, Sheridan and McMinnville have great career pathways/programs for jobs in the trades. The county can be a critical support to the success of career and technology education (CTE) programs.

The McMinnville Economic Development Partnership is doing fantastic work recruiting businesses to our area, building internship programs that connect talent to businesses. Solid Form has built a model to train/mentor youth wanting to enter a career in metal fabrication. Workforce development will be key and a place where the county can play a big role.

The other key piece of this is having inventory of industrial use land for businesses to build on with access to a quality transportation system.

What are your views on the proposed Yamhelas Trail and why?

I firmly believe having outdoor open spaces that are accessible for people to enjoy is an important piece of a thriving community. It is also important for the success of our visitor economy. So my short answer to that is I am for the Yamhelas Trail project. Obviously, any public project, especially one involving property, needs to have a thoughtful, inclusive process to identify issues and work through solutions for the greater good. Listening to concerns, looking for solutions to those concerns, making special accommodations to address potential issues and building a solid plan for trail maintenance are all critical factors. It has been my experience working on community issues both large and small it is rare that you can’t find a place of common ground to work from to get to a successful completion of projects. I know many community leaders, business partners and key stakeholders have invested more than a decade to see this happen and I believe there is still an opportunity to get it done. The community survey around the trail showed 64% were in favor of the trail, 63% believe it is a good investment of public dollars and 73% believe it is good for increasing money to the local economy. These are all significantly important numbers and a great base to work from to find a path to complete the project.

As a young working Mom I spent most weekends on the trails in the Eugene area with my kids. Those are some of my kids favorite memories. It enhanced our family’s quality of life by being outside, taking in the beauty of our beloved Oregon, enjoying time together without a huge cost. My now adult kids seek out those opportunities to be outside and unfortunately have to leave our county to do that.

What will you do to improve transportation in our county?

I believe we need to continue our work to complete the Dundee Bypass. We need to be advocating for our fair share of infrastructure dollars to help us to get our roads and bridges in good repair and make sure those dollars don’t pass us by.

We need to be working to enhance our transit system and develop funding systems for how to support a more robust system that makes it easier for residents to get around the county to access jobs, healthcare and businesses.

I also believe we need to be building a stronger relationship with the Oregon Department of Transportation and our regional peers to attract the investments necessary to catch up on our backlog of maintenance infrastructure projects as well as getting key projects brought to the forefront of priorities for resources.

 

Getting to know Kit Johnston for Yamhill County Commissioner

What are your principal motivations for running?

I want our cities and towns to be places where local businesses and farms can be successful. Our county needs to be safe, have strong infrastructure, and become more self-sustaining in our resources. Yamhill County needs to be a place where my daughters, my nephews, and your children can continue to live, work, and thrive. I also think that as a 30-year resident of the county and lifelong Oregonian, I have a good grasp on the diverse needs of residents, and in my business experience I’ve learned to balance conflicting views to bring solutions forward that can move us in a positive direction. My time on the Yamhill County Planning Commission and Newberg Urban Area Management Commission has further sharpened that skill set as land use planning is a daily lesson in managing different viewpoints and goals.

As an elected leader, what are the County Commissioners’ fiduciary duties in managing the county’s assets and to whom do you owe those duties?

As a commissioner we need to act in the best financial interests of the citizens of the county. We need to be responsible with budgeting and be mindful about enacting policies that affect our businesses, small and large. Taxes and fees should have a direct connection to county goals, and voters should have more opportunities to weigh in on financial matters through better communication about projects, county obligations, and any aspirational goals. We shouldn’t just be managing county finances, we should be looking at how we add value for all taxpayers by the decisions we make.

What county regulations would you propose, or change, to make Yamhill County more business friendly? 

Regulations should have a purpose, and they shouldn’t be set to intentionally hinder business. To that end, as commissioner, my door would be open to hearing from individual businesses and the broader business community on where there are roadblocks and obstacles to hiring, sales growth, and facilities development that are directly impacted by specific regulations. I would encourage our commission to do look-backs on regulations to see if they still serve a purpose or if they are now strictly an impediment to economic growth so that we might change policies which cause harm and seek new solutions. I will also do what I can to support the new Regional Innovation Center that is being proposed in McMinnville. This will be a great addition for our area to help startups and small businesses succeed. The center will also help our trade school programs in the county, our local area farmers, vineyards, and businesses and connect them with the schools with a main focus to educate and excite our younger generation about Yamhill County’s trade industries.

What are your views on the proposed Yamhelas Trail and why?

My view is that this trail should not have made it as far as it did. Projects such as this need to be absolutely transparent. The county needed to be clear and up front about the cost and ultimate long-term goals of the trail. It was unfortunate that prior commission leaders moved forward without doing a farm impact study which is required under Oregon’s state land use planning goals. There also needed to be more input from the citizens that it would impact the most. I am not against well thought out projects for this county but this project was not fiscally responsible nor did it take into consideration that the preservation of farmland is also a state land use goal that our county should take seriously. We should invest in the undeveloped county parks that we already have.

What will you do to improve transportation in our county? 

Work to finish the bypass. The congestion from this project not being finished is leading to congestion on back roads all around this county. Bell Rd, Hwy 240, Hendricks Rd, Westside Rd, and Kuene Rd have become congested because of the unfinished bypass. It will only get worse with all the new developments in Carlton, McMinnville, Lafayette, Dayton, and Yamhill. Growth is good but the infrastructure needs to be there to support it. Our area will only become more congested with the new proposed McMinnville three mile lane overlay. This needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. For additional transportation projects, we should work to identify the needs, the funding, and then have a robust community process to make clear the purpose of the project and how the county seeks to source funds to do the project.