The Clark County Council District 4 candidates have a few policy views in common, but that didn’t stop them from taking a few shots at each other during a recent discussion.
Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy, a Republican, and challenger Matt Little, an independent, participated in a virtual joint interview Friday with The Columbian’s Editorial Board.
Medvigy, who joined the council in January 2019, voted last year against an annual 1 percent increase in property tax collections, the largest allowed under state law, for the county’s general and road funds.
Medvigy said that the tax increases will not offset the county’s structural deficit, in which costs annually outpace revenues. The deficit is due in part to the absence of a sales tax in Portland, drawing would-be Clark County shoppers south.
Medvigy said the tax increase does not offset the millions of dollars lost due to the shopping trends. Instead, he has proposed that those funds would be recovered if the county could advocate to retain a fraction of the sales tax revenue it sends to the state each year.
Little didn’t commit firmly on which way he’d vote. But he said he’d be less likely to vote for it this year, as residents and businesses grapple with the economic ramifications of COVID-19.
“In a normal year, I would be most likely to (approve the raise) because you have to, somehow, try to keep up with the services and the growth that’s happening in the community,” Little said.
Little has based much of his campaign on land-use issues and curbing urban sprawl. He has proposed agreements with cities that allow some rural landowners to transfer and sell development rights or credits. Farm and forestland owners who sell the rights to landowners and developers within urban growth boundaries would be compensated.
“You get ahead of the growth. It’s a win-win for everyone,” Little said. “It’s voluntary, it’s market-based and it fits directly with the Growth Management Act plan.”
Little said that other counties in the state, mainly near Seattle, have tried similar programs.
“I don’t think we want to look like the Puget Sound or the Seattle area,” Medvigy later said in response.
Little countered that the plan could be tailored specifically to Clark County.
“This is just an extra tool,” Little said. “It doesn’t change anything in existing zoning.”
When asked about the county’s COVID-19 response, Medvigy discussed his efforts to secure more CARES Act funding from the state.
County officials have claimed that the state has shortchanged them on the funds by tens of millions of dollars. The state recently approved an additional $19.54 million, which was still about $42 million less than what county officials had hoped.
“It’s something I continue to pursue, and I hope to get some headway soon,” Medvigy said.
Little spent some of the discussion on the virus jabbing Medvigy for not wearing a mask at a recent event for gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp.
“Being an example for Clark County is also really important,” Little said. “When you’re on the Board of Health, you want to be enforcing the laws and standards that are set by the scientists.”
Medvigy said he has been isolating and was tested prior to and after the event. He added that he usually wears masks despite an exemption under state law due to a hearing disability.
“It’s just divisive politics of the Democratic party of which Matt is a firm plant, despite him calling himself an independent,” Medvigy said. “I was not endangering anyone. I knew I did not have the disease.”
Medvigy revealed during the interview that he contemplated not seeking re-election. But he said that he committed after mid-March, when the COVID-19 virus hit and former Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee resigned abruptly.
“I didn’t want to look like I was jumping ship probably when the county probably needed me most,” Medvigy said.
In an unusual exchange toward the end of the interview, Little said he emailed Medvigy in late February, asking for a meeting about ideas they might have in common. Little said Medvigy expressed offense that he was running.
Medvigy called it a “false statement,” prompting Little to read the councilor’s email aloud.
“Always happy to meet and talk about issues, but it is offensive that you’ve already announced that you are running against me,” Little read. “I am serving with a true heart, coming out of retirement with an extensive resume of service to help my constituents of all party affiliations. Sounds like you have a goal of firing without cause, especially since you don’t represent an opposing party.”
The full editorial board conversation can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alZRRiyamD4.
Medvigy and Little will appear on the general election ballot Nov. 3.