By Jack King: CNJ staff writer
District 5 County Commissioner Tim Ashley, a Republican, has no opponent in the June 1 primary. Democrat Paul D. Barnes, who is challenging Ashley this fall, also is unopposed in the primary.
Both candidates recently talked with the Clovis News Journal on issues surrounding county government. If elected in the primary, Barnes and Ashley would face off in the general election this fall.
• Ashley: I’ve been a county commissioner for four years. I was commission chairman last year. Some of the things I’ve worked on that gave me the greatest pleasure are the juvenile detention center alternative sentencing program and the resolution opposing same-sex marriages.
• Barnes: I served on the county commission from 1991 to 2000 and was commission chairman in 1993-1994 and from 1998-2000. Before that, I served on the Texico School Board for 10 years.
I have experience and time served with a good group of people. I don’t have to go in there and learn about things; I don’t have to learn who’s who in Santa Fe.
Here some of the most pressing issues:
• Ashley: I don’t think the commission pulled back from the (concrete thin shell supported by Ashley last year) design concept. I think they pulled back from the cost issue. It was at that time that jail expenses took off. Operational and start up funds were going to be very limited. Personally, if I had my way, I would recommend revisiting the idea of trying to do something with the city of Clovis.
• Barnes: I think we had a good plan in the past. But because of the budget constraints, I think any plans have to be put on hold. It’s the only reasonable thing to do and that’s the drift I get from people in the community.
• Ashley: A lot of variables have come together in the same time frame. Sept. 11 has affected local, state and federal government entities across the country. We took a catastrophic loss in interest income.
• Barnes: I think the jail is a large portion of the problem, but there are other, underlying issues, other areas they could cut.
A list of net taxable values I got from the assessor’s office shows that property values have increased steadily since 1995. That means more money for the county government. Nobody wants to cut salaries and jobs, but you have to make a good-faith effort to live within your income. It’s not fun to say “no,” but we have to keep in mind we’re handling other people’s money.
• Ashley: Realizing that stronger penalties and mandatory sentencing have played a large part in the population increase at the jail, the commission is now in the process of forming a plan to deal with the increased numbers. I believe the new jail annex will help, but it has to be said that with the new annex will come new staffing costs. We’re also in the process of working with the District Attorney’s office, the Sheriff’s Office and the Detention Center to be as efficient with release dates as possible.
A regional detention center is not unrealistic. It will take some time, but I’ve received comments from neighboring counties that there is some interest, at least at the discussion level.
• Barnes: In 2001 we saw the census count and there were only 2,800 new people. That’s not many. When it was first built, the jail population averaged around 140. When we look at the population, I don’t know how we’ve come up with so much more crime.
I think you have to look at the time it’s taking to process people through the courts. Also, I would favor the use of house arrest, with ankle bracelets.
There’s talk of a regional facility, but I would oppose it. Curry County should take care of Curry County problems.
Part of the problem is state prisoners in local facilities. It’s an unfunded mandate. I would hope the commission would be unified and work hard with the Legislature on this issue.
• Ashley: 1) I want to get the public more involved in county government. I intend to push for televised meetings and a more convenient meeting time. We need to work on how we present ourselves to the public. 2) I feel like I’ve left work undone with juvenile corrections alternatives and would like to do more work on that. 3) I will continue to be active in Santa Fe, lobbying on behalf of the county. The past four years have taught me that’s very important.
• Barnes: Water is a big issue. It’s going to take a lot of coordinated work with different levels of government, but we have to do it. We have to have conservation measures, but we can’t take water away form any one segment of our community or it will kill us all. Agriculture has done a lot to improve conservation, using measures like low-pressure sprinklers and low-water-use crops.
Treasurer: Don Bonner