Wednesday, July 22, 2015/lk
I am writing on behalf of the Okanogan County Republican Party to express appreciation for our county commissioners.
Their work requires dedication, long hours of reading and listening, clear principles and open minds. I am convinced our commissioners bring all those skills to the task, along with a good mix of experiences in real estate, water management, business, weed regulation and construction.
The current commissioners declined to take the wage increase that had been set up by the previous board. Two of the three also decline reimbursement for in-county travel. Recently, they extended their office time from three days a week to four, again with no extra pay. We are fortunate to have dedicated public servants who lead by example.
Our current commissioners have excelled in managing the county budget. They had the legal option to raise property taxes by 1 cent per dollar, but they balanced the budget without taking those extra revenues.
They had the right to shift $500,000 from the public works trust fund to the general fund, but they applied those monies to road maintenance, the purpose for which those taxes were raised. They have required county departments to justify hiring of positions that have sat empty. And contracts with overly generous provisions have been curtailed.
As a result of their hard work, our budget is efficient and focused on essential services. In response to lawsuits by dissatisfied residents, commissioners have needed to hire experienced lawyers to defend their positions — losing a case could be even more costly.
Of course, there will be honest differences of opinion about complex issues.
Commissioners have recently come under fire for voting to vacate Three Devils Road, viewed by some as a wildfire escape lifeline or as a recreational access corridor. Opponents of the decision have seen an implication of personal favoritism in the ruling and have taken the matter to court.
It is my belief that the decision was actually rendered in good faith on a careful review of a large collection of information about maintenance costs, liability, revisions to the road location, type of use, and access alternatives.
As Okanogan County moves forward, there are many other issues to be reconciled. The new comprehensive land-use plan, for example, has raised concerns about potential over-building in the lower Methow. Commissioners note that construction requires both a large enough lot and a water permit. The dual requirement gives flexibility, but will not result in a house on every lot. On the other hand, is first-come-first-served an adequate planning model?
Another concern is the taxpayer-funded purchase of conservation easements. Commissioners support the right of landowners to sell easements, but are concerned about the county’s long-term economic health and school funding.
Residents who favor the use of taxes to purchase easements point to a state Department of Fish and Wildlife study suggesting private development costs the county more than conservation.
Another debate concerns the oversight and budgeting of the county health district. Prior to 1995, the district was funded and governed by a city/county mix. Now, with money coming mostly from Olympia, state law puts county commissioners in the hot seat. They are working with health district staff and concerned residents to rebalance the governing board and address long-term fiscal concerns.
Our commissioners are accessible and willing to discuss issues like these with constituents.
A year ago, the county was facing high costs for controlling weeds on properties and roadsides covered by “no-spray” agreements. Since the control obligations were often not being met, commissioners ordered a general cancellation of the agreements.
After notices went out, commissioners got input from residents that many of the weeds were migrating in from unmaintained areas, that the agreements were important to businesses and homeowners, and that many of the agreements were being fulfilled. Because of that input, commissioners have set up a system of “no-spray” annual contracts.
They have also increased efforts to control weeds on county properties. What a great example of responsive local government.
I hope you’ll contact our county commissioners with your compliments, questions, and concerns. You are also welcome at their meetings and planning sessions.
County governance is not about winners and losers. We all win by working together creatively.
Kit Arbuckle is the president of the Okanogan County Republican Party. Respond to his commentary at firstname.lastname@example.org.