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
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.
Yamhill County Commissioner