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Supervisor Ron Roberts often stresses his strong stewardship of the county’s finances, noting that a good credit rating and hundreds of millions in reserves saves millions in interest payments.

But the supervisors’ two key opponents say it’s time to start capitalizing on that. Both community activist Stephen Whitburn and San Diego Unified School Board member Shelia Jackson believe the county’s fiscal position should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Whitburn said the county’s job is to provide services and they’re not doing well at that, as we detailed in our investigation into the county’s provision of social services earlier this year. Jackson, a Navy veteran, used more colorful language to say essentially the same thing — a high credit rating means nothing unless you use it.

“In my 21 years of Navy medicine, I equate that to me having a patient but I put a tourniquet on his waist and say you know what the top of you is living great, but the bottom of you is on your own,” Jackson said at a supervisor candidate forum in Mission Valley last week. “We cannot afford that.”

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Roberts and Jackson shared the same priority: creating jobs.

The county’s fiscal policies directly contribute to job growth, Roberts said. He told the forum that the county planned in the next four years to build all the major capital facilities improvements it needed for the next 40 years without creating any debt for future boards.

“If the county didn’t have the fiscal discipline, these construction projects wouldn’t be able to go ahead,” Roberts said. “None of it would be done.”

Jackson said the county needed to make a better effort in its welfare-to -work programs and paying for social services. Job creation happens when people are trained and fed.

“They’ll get their training, they’ll get their food and can go out and get a job,” Jackson said.

Whitburn zeroed in on county services. He said improving them was his top priority because providing services is the county’s mission statement. A focus on the county’s fiscal policies, he said, is misplaced.

“We hear repeatedly from the incumbent supervisor about the county’s good credit rating,” Whitburn said. “San Diego County residents when they pay taxes, I think that they are more concerned with whether the county is providing good services.”

This race was expected to be one of the highlights of the campaign season as Roberts, a Republican, was seen as vulnerable in a Democratic-dominated district comprised of the county’s urban core.

The election lost some luster after San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye decided not to run against Roberts. A cornucopia of Democrats decided to run in her stead.

You can listen to the candidates take each other on: KPBS held a debate with Jackson, Roberts, Whitburn and a fourth candidate, Juan del Rio, last month.

— LIAM DILLON

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