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Two facing off for EWEB seat.

Byline: SCOTT MABEN The Register-Guard

A corporate banker for Bank of America and the director of the University of Oregon's computer network will face off in the May 21 primary election for a seat on the Eugene Water & Electric Board.

Ron Farmer, 51, a Eugene resident for 32 years, and Dale Smith, 44, a 25-year resident, are seeking to represent city Wards 4 and 5 in northeast Eugene.

The incumbent, Commissioner Peter Bartel, cannot run for re-election to that seat because he now lives outside those wards as a result of last year's redistricting.

Instead, Bartel will run against EWEB Commissioner Sandra Bishop for the at-large position on the five-member board. Bishop is halfway through her term representing Wards 6 and 7. The at-large incumbent, Susie Smith, is not running again.

Farmer and Smith, neither of whom has held elective office, both list among their top concerns the rising rates and recent budget difficulties at EWEB as well as the effect deregulation is having on power markets.

Smith, head of network services at the UO for the past seven years, said he has a strong engineering background as well as a solid grasp of how to cope with financial crises.

"It is my belief EWEB is facing hugely complex issues, both technical and political issues," Smith said. "One of my strong points, even though I'm an engineer, is fiscal responsibility."

Working more than 20 years at the university, he said, has taught him to look broadly at complex and technical problems and find reasonable solutions. His experience there is not unlike what EWEB faces, Smith said.

"There's increasing pressure (at the utility) to provide better service and decrease expenses to ratepayers," he said. "That's one of things I've been very successful at here at the university."

Farmer, a senior vice president in Bank of America's commercial banking division, also spoke about EWEB's money woes.

"There's obviously a lot of turmoil in electric markets," said Farmer, whose clients include The Register-Guard. "EWEB is facing a ton of challenges financially. Those are reflected in rising rates to ratepayers. And so I think (the utility) needs a lot of financial expertise and knowledge brought to bear on that process."

His 22 years in commercial banking, he said, would give the board a lot of experience to help it tackle tough fiscal issues.

"With the latest gyrations it faced in the market, the end result is EWEB ended up with $30 million in loans they did not expect to have and what I consider very low cash reserves," Farmer said. "I want to make sure a strong business plan is in place to make sure there's a way to pay for the loans and rebuild those cash reserves."

Both candidates said they would look for ways to lower EWEB's rates again as soon as the current financial pinch eases.

Farmer said he wants to ensure that EWEB is prepared to deal with ongoing energy deregulation, and that he's concerned about the ability of low-income families to pay their water and electric bills.

Smith, whose wife is EWEB's telecommunications manager, said he's also interested in working on conservation and renewable energy development, and added that he would work hard to voice the concerns of residents in the district.

Each was asked what he thinks of the job EWEB commissioners are doing.

"I think EWEB is taking a lot of flak in the community over the higher rates," Farmer said. "I think a lot of that is hindsight and second-guessing. I'm not sure that's productive. ... I'm more interested in building consensus and solving this issue."

"I think the current board has done an admirable job in the face of the insanity of the deregulation environment and the culmination of a number of things you just would never assume to happen all at once," Smith responded. "They've done an admirable job in holding down rates as much as they have."
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Title Annotation:Election: Longtime residents Ron Farmer and Dale Smith seek Wards 4 and 5 position.; Elections
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 8, 2002
Previous Article:Comments sought on dock plan.
Next Article:City/Region Digest.

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