West Richland Pos 7: Councilman is top vote getter so far

West Richland Councilman Tony Benegas fought off a challenge by three residents for a chance to retain his council seat.

Benegas, 50, is the top vote-getter so far, receiving 532 votes, or 37 percent, according to unofficial returns.

It appears Benegas, who owns a small engineering firm in Richland, will go head-to-head with Johan Curtiss in the Nov. 8 general election for the Position 7 seat. Benegas has been on the council since 2007.

Curtiss had 413 votes, or 29 percent.

"I'm, of course, happy that I made it through the primary," said Curtiss, 50. "With Skip -- Larry Sandberg -- being a 40-year business owner, he has a lot of capabilities that he can bring to the council too. I'm glad that people thought I could do just as well, so I'm excited about that."

Tri-City Fence owner Larry E. Sandberg, 71, is in third place with 305 votes, or 21 percent, and Jeff Ballard received 169 votes, or 12 percent.

Benegas could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Curtiss is a registrar at Washington State University Tri-Cities and has been involved in West Richland city government for 10 years.

She said quality of life, along with debates about fireworks and parks in West Richland, are going to be key issues for council candidates in the fall.

"I do want to hear what the citizens have to say, and I do want to act on their behalf," Curtiss said, adding that she wants to look at the big picture for the city. "What do our citizens want, what do they come here for, and what do they want it to look like in the future?"

Sandberg, who ran for office for the first time and owns the Sandberg Event Center, wanted to get involved to have a say in what happens in town.

Ballard, a 38-year-old financial planner, ran for the city council because he wanted to get involved.

The city council position is a nonpartisan, four-year term. Council members receives $4,200 a year.

The Benton County Auditor's Office sent out 7,182 ballots to West Richland residents. As of election night, 1,505 had been returned for a 21 percent turnout.

The primary election results will be certified Aug. 31.

Additional counts will be done Wednesday and Thursday, and again twice next week.

Of about 87,000 ballots mailed out in Benton County, returns were less than 18 percent Tuesday afternoon. That was expected to improve with the counting of ballots Tuesday night and could exceed the 22 percent returns for the 2009 election.