3 in running for Kennewick Irrigation District board seat

KENNEWICK -- Property owners in the Kennewick Irrigation District will choose between three candidates Tuesday to fill vacancies on the boards of directors.

State law designated the second Tuesday of December for irrigation district elections, and all voting will occur at the district offices between 1 and 8 p.m.

Absentee ballots that have been obtained prior to election day are due Tuesday before the polls close or must be postmarked no later than Tuesday.

The KID has one position available and voting will occur at 12 W. Kennewick Ave.

David McKenzie, who is board president and serves in Position 3, is running for re-election. He farms about 160 acres in Finley and has lived in Kennewick since 1981.

McKenzie, 61, was first elected to the KID board in 2008.

"I ran on a need for change, and we have done that, probably the biggest changes in 30 years," he said.

McKenzie said he wants to continue on the five-member board so he can carry through on projects involving Red Mountain development, infra-structure upgrades, water conservation and pump consolidation.

He also wants to be involved in what is becoming a two-year overhaul of KID's assessments. The current tier and toll system that took effect as McKenzie took office has proven unpopular with KID customers.

"I think we're 99 percent better than years past. It was so splintered and uncoordinated the day I came in, and now the board and management of the district is much better," he said.

Also running for KID's Position 3 is James Wade, who has been attending KID board meetings for eight years.

Wade, 71, is retired and lives within Kennewick city limits on a quarter acre. He considers himself a watchdog on KID's spending, frequently criticizing the agency about assessments he says are un-fair and have favored agricultural customers at the expense of residential property owners.

"I am most concerned about the budget, rates and how they spend the money," said Wade, who is making his fourth attempt to become a member of the board.

"I want the (KID) voters to know that KID's financing keeps going up and up. The agency's attitude is, if they need the money they just raise the assessments," he said.

While KID can say the assessments for 2012 will be the third consecutive year without an increase, Wade notes that KID isn't counting the canal rehab charge that goes up every year.

Wade was born and reared in Wallula, graduated from Columbia High School in Burbank and worked as a state trooper, machinist, plumber and was self-employed in warehousing before retiring.

Wade said his top priority if elected will be to get the assessment for the agency's 21,000 customers changed to be based on value of benefit instead of amount of land owned.

His second concern is to change the way KID conducts elections so the votes will be assigned based on the number of ratepayers instead of giving blocks of votes to those who own the most land.

"I want the voting done so it is more voter-friendly. And I want people to know I listen to the people, not just the farmers and developers," Wade said.

Kirk Dean Higginson also is vying for the position.

Higginson, 54, said he has watched KID in recent years go through major changes in leadership on the board and its administration. Those struggles, he said, spurred him to seek a seat on the board.

Higginson has a background in value engineering and has worked for large companies to manage budgets involving millions of dollars.

He has a bachelor's degree in business administration and a minor in construction management from Washington State University at Pullman.

Most recently, Higginson worked for Parsons in Pasco on assignments involving Hanford projects, and he was a manager for DynCorp at Hanford. This is his first attempt at being elected to public office.

"The stories I read in the Tri-City Herald about KID gave me cause for concern as to how money is being managed," he said. He also is concerned about KID's efforts to create a fair assessment model, noting that in the past the charges seemed to be out of balance, favoring owners of large parcels.

"I'm running because I want to be a good steward for the people and I promise to go in with an open mind," he said.

A native of Richland, he has lived in Kennewick for 20 years.

* John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com