Benton Fire District 1 candidates tout previous experience

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldNovember 1, 2013 

Both candidates for the open commissioner seat in Benton Fire District 1 hope their previous experience as commissioners will persuade citizens to vote for them.

E.W. Bill Houchin, 77, and Gerald Sleater, 81, have worked together as commissioners and served together in the fire district. Houchin served as commissioner for 12 years and Sleater has been a commissioner for the past 23 years.

Now they are running against each other for Sleater's open commission position. Sleater has held a commission position since he was elected in 1990. Houchin lost his seat in the 2012 election.

"I have nothing but good things to say about Bill," Sleater said. "He is a good man. He has been with the district for a long time."

Houchin also has a lot of respect for Sleater and the things they have been able to accomplish together, he said.

"I feel like this will be a close race," he said. "Jerry has been here a long time too. He has done some good things."

Sleater has been with the fire district for 49 years, he said. He started as a firefighter in 1964 and was with the district in that capacity until he was injured in a fire in 1982.

Sleater has helped start a resident fire program, improve the district's fleet of firetrucks and build a training facility with the city of Kennewick, he said. He plans to continue to increase the number of volunteers in the program if reelected.

Sleater's background running a grocery store in the Tri-Cities for more than 20 years has prepared him to make difficult decisions for the district, he said. Sleater has held every rank in the district. He was first elected commissioner in 1984.

"I have been through all the ups and downs here," he said. "I know what the people need, it's not foreign to me."

Houchin, of Finley, spent 26 years as a firefighter with the Richland Fire Department. Once he was done fighting fires, Houchin stayed on with the department to assist firefighters when major fires broke out.

During Houchin's time as commissioner, he said he felt he had a good working relationship with everyone in the district and helped grow the district into one of the strongest in the Mid-Columbia. Houchin said he feels his ability to adapt when unexpected problems come up is a valuable asset.

"I think I have enough savvy of what's going on to come to the right conclusion even though it might not be my ideal conclusion," he said. "You really have to work with people to come to a consensus."

Both men said ensuring that a proposed tax measure to collect an increase in property tax revenue is the most pressing issue facing the district.

The measure, Proposition 1, asks voters to approve a tax rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value to pay for maintenance, operations and capital facilities. The measure is on Tuesday's ballot.

w Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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