Two running against Zollinger in Custer Commission District 1 primary - East Idaho News


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East Idaho Elects

Two running against Zollinger in Custer Commission District 1 primary

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CUSTER COUNTY — Incumbent Jake Zollinger will be challenged in the Republican primary for a seat on the Custer County Commission.

Zollinger is facing Ron Bloxham and Will Naillon for the District 1 seat, which carries a two-year term.

To learn more about the candidate’s platform, asked the candidates to answer the same eight questions. Their unedited responses, listed below, were required to be 250 words or less.

Tell us about yourself — include information about your family, career, education, volunteer work and any prior experience in public office.

Zollinger: I was raised in Custer County on my family’s cattle ranch in the Pahsimeroi valley. My wife and I graduated from the University of Idaho and spent about 5 years in southern Idaho before returning to Challis to raise our own three children.

I was the vocational agriculture instructor at Challis High School for six years until the opportunity to become the Valley Agronomics Salmon location manager came to me. I now serve the agricultural producers of Custer and Lemhi counties by providing fertilizer and seeding needs.

My family still raises cattle, I drive activity bus for the school, I have served on the Custer County Fair board and served as the chairman for two years. I was a high school and junior high wrestling coach, and I help broadcast the Challis High School football and basketball games on the local radio station.

Bloxham: I have lived in Custer County for 48 years and made my living as a building contractor and also had an outfitting business on the Salmon River. I’m married to my wife Jane and between us we have 6 children and 10 grandchildren.

You can tell where a persons heart is by the amount of volunteer service they give to the community and I have tried to be a positive and productive member of our communities in Custer County. Organizations and boards that I have served on include: volunteer fire department, civil communications association, emergency preparedness committees, Idaho steelhead and salmon unlimited, Custer County fair board, Idaho State high school rodeo association, Leroy ditch association, advisory committee for water district 72A.

Naillon: My wife Myla and I are native Idahoans, we have resided in Challis for three decades, while raising our son Wyatt in the Round Valley. Many enjoyable years were had as a volunteer 4-H leader, T-Ball coach, and a ten-year Hunter Education instructor.

I am a fifth generation Custer County miner, a thirty-year employee for the Hecla Grouse Creek Unit, located on Jordan Creek up the Yankee Fork, and I am currently the general manager. As a former commissioner for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game I was proud to represent the sportsmen and women of Region 7. For four years as the Idaho delegate to WAFWA – the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies I was engaged in meetings and discussions pertaining to wildlife policies, and collective issues including threatened and endangered species.

My current and past experiences working with State and Federal agencies, as well as legislators on the state and national level, managing people, multi-million-dollar budgets and conducting meetings gives me a comprehensive resume beneficial to the county commissioner position.

Why are you seeking political office? Briefly explain your political platform.

Bloxham: I am running for this County Commissioner seat because I want to protect the lifestyle that we enjoy in Custer County. We don’t live here to get rich, we live here because of the lifestyle. This lifestyle comes from the success of our main industries, which are ranching, mining and small business. If we can continue to keep these viable then we will be able to keep our lifestyle intact which is the reason we live here.

I would also like to make sure our county is emergency prepared. If you’re prepared there’s no reason to fear. I would also like to get our county a more “ fair share” of the PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) money because right now we get .32 an acre for the federal lands in the county and just as an example Blaine county gets 2.04 per acre.

I would also like to make sure the public safety of our residence is in no way jeopardized by introduction of grizzly bears. We have an ordinance passed in 1998 that makes it illegal to release grizzly bears in Custer County and we need to make sure that’s enforced. Usually a calm but firm voice in negotiations gets you more than standing up and taking off your shoe and pounding on the table but in this case we need to pound on the table.

Naillon: A county commissioners’ duty is to oversee the administration of all county business and more importantly, to influence the direction of the county in a way that is most representative of the values of its citizens.

Living in a rural area with a small population, it is very important for citizens to be involved for our communities to remain viable. Close to 97% of Custer County land is managed by the Federal government, our county needs strong representation by the commissioners for multiple use of public lands.

With firsthand involvement and participation as a county commissioner, I would represent Custer County residents’ values and principles for the county we care so passionately about with the strong voice that our citizens deserve.

Zollinger: I have always had an interest in local government and have a concern for Custer County. When the commissioner position became open I wanted to help my community. I took an interest, inquired about it, and was appointed by Governor Little in January to fill the position for the remainder of the term.

This has been a great experience and one I want to continue so that I can serve Custer County. I am a concretive republican.

What areas in your county need immediate improvement? What actions will you take to address those needs?

Naillon: We need more active involvement in decisions made on federal and state levels that have either acute or chronic impacts on our citizens. If elected I would like to make sure that we have a seat at the table to add our input before new rules, regulations and/or restrictions are put into effect.

Mackay Dam is facing condemnation and without the reservoir for summer irrigation many ranches on the lost river would be rendered useless. Action to be taken would be to secure grants and monies to reestablish the dam.

Landfill / solid waste issues continue to plague Custer County. Addressing this issue, I would like to see the Stanley dump reopened as a transfer station and complete the work and permitting to make Challis Dump a viable land fill.

Zollinger: The Custer County Sheriff is retiring May 1st. We as commissioners are working with the Custer County Republican party to choose the interim Sheriff as quickly as possible. Custer County is currently working on our own landfill which will be a benefit to our county. We are working with a consultant and the county assessor to mitigate a plan to have our own landfill functioning by 2027.

Another hot topic is the Grizzly Initiative. Custer County is working closely with other counties involved to build a stronger force that keeps in mind what is best for the area. Many items that bring up strong feelings for residents. As a commissioner our job is to do what is best for the residents and community.

Bloxham: I would like to see better communication between the public and the county commissioners. This could be done by making the minutes more readily available by making a email list so that those who desire the minutes could have them at the push on a button. Also getting people involved by supporting their interests and attending their functions making a visible effort to show you care.

What are the greatest longterm challenges facing people in your county? What is your plan to meet those challenges?

Zollinger: Most of Custer County’s long-term challenges come from outside Custer County. Many people want to move here because of the quiet, secluded lifestyle, but after time many want to change Custer County to be more like the places they wanted to get away from. Therefore, one of our greatest long-term challenges is to keep Custer County unique and isolated without bringing in all the outside influences.

One major issue is housing. We have teachers, government employees, and miners that move in and cannot find reasonable housing. We are working with planning and zoning to use best management practices and to build on non-agricultural land. As commissioners, our plan is to continue to keep the best interests of Custer County in the forefront of all that comes before us.

Bloxham: I think one of the greatest long term challenges for our county is handling future growth while maintaining that lifestyle that we all desire. We currently have a housing shortage and Thompson Creek mine wants to hire more workers to expand their operation which is great for the county. It keeps locals here and young people have the opportunity to stay here and earn a good living.

A strong Planning and Zoning board are key to walking the tightrope between preserving the lifestyle and accommodating future growth. We all need to work together and with teamwork solve any problems that may arise.

Naillon: Without question, threat to rural industry is the greatest long-term challenge. In my experience, any of the issues that would be a “threat” need to be addressed on an individual basis. That said, it is crucial that action is taken on these issues in the initial stages of the conversations.

How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views? How will you communicate directly with constituents?

Bloxham: I would best represent the views of my constituents by making decisions that conform to those views. I would encourage open communication between myself and my constituents with an open door policy.

Naillon: While there are differing political views, I believe that most of us choose to live here in Custer County because we share remarkably similar values. It was my experience, while making decisions on the Fish and Game commission that we are not as far apart as it would seem at first glance.

History has shown that I can work effectively and collaboratively with diverse groups and individuals achieving shared goals, along with the ability to understand and embrace the challenges of addressing sometimes contentious issues.

We are lucky enough to have a population small enough that direct communication with constituents is a constant through direct calls, social media, social events or even person-to-person conversations within the communities.

Zollinger: As a commissioner my job is not to do what I think is best. My job is to make the decisions that keep the best interests of Custer County in mind. I am out in the community, and I see and visit with many people, whether it is at a school sporting event or a community group meeting.

I will always listen, answer phone calls, visit anyone, anywhere, who has a concern for the county, and I will take their concerns to heart because my job is to represent the residents of the county.

What parts of the county budget could use more funding? Where are places in the budget that cuts could be made?

Naillon: While I have attended several county commissioners’ meetings, I have not been privy to
the budget and budget discussions. As someone who had managed substantial budgets with my job and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, I understand the importance of prioritizing limited funds to keep all services running as efficiently as possible.

Zollinger: Custer County is made up of 97% public lands which leaves only a 3% tax base. I don’t think there is a single bit of the budget that couldn’t use more funding. Last years budget was a total of 25 million and 1.9 million from land owner taxes. We also get decanted funds for Road and Bridge and other departments. We currently have some key employees in leadership locations the help the commissioner’s set functioning budget that have worked will in the past.

Bloxham: Not being real familiar with the county budget I really couldn’t make in informed recommendation concerning budget issues.

What is the role of local media in your community? How can county officials work to have a better relationship with the media?

Zollinger: Custer County doesn’t have much for local media. We have local newspapers. The Challis Messenger, and the Arco Advertiser for the south end of the county. Residents in the Challis area can also receive some local news from KSRA radio which comes from Salmon. We can always use more local coverage in the newspaper so that residents know what’s happening in the community.

Bloxham: Our local newspaper has only a staff of one person and as a result isn’t able to cover a lot of local events. However, working together would be beneficial to both the county and the newspaper.

Naillon: Local media in our area is extremely limited as we have only one small weekly newspaper in our area to cover the entire county. It has been suggested that meeting schedules be more collaborative to accommodate overlapping schedules. Another suggestion has been to have town hall meetings to keep the public and media informed on county business.

Voter turnout and participation continues to be low in Idaho. What efforts can be made to stimulate greater voter involvement in elections and government?

Bloxham: I think getting out and meeting the public and encouraging voter participation is a good way to generate enthusiasm and getting people involved in our communities. If we can get some positive things happening it’s easier to get more involvement from the public because people want to be on a winning team.

With good leadership and positive things happening we can get those volunteers which are needed to make things happen. It’s a team effort. The old saying is definitely true that “United We Stand.”

Naillon: While it can be said the voter apathy continues to grow, as candidates, we should make ourselves more available to the voters to garner interest and engagement. If we could make our constituents feel like they have ownership and a voice that is willing to be heard, I believe we can grow an active community of voters.

Zollinger: Overall, voters need to feel like the vote they make counts- that they are being heard. If voters see that their voices are being heard, they generally have more faith in the process and more interest in voicing their opinions.

I want all who vote for me to know their thoughts, concerns, and input did not fall on deaf ears. I listen and will continue to listen to them- I note what is said and take that with me to the meetings I attend so that I can be the voice of the citizens of Custer County so that we can do what is best for Custer County.