Wednesday February 10, 2016

County Council Completes a Productive Year

(L-R) Council Members Rich Peterson, Patty Miller, Howie Rosenfeld, Jamie Stephens, Lovel Pratt, Richard Fralick

The San Juan County Council concluded business in its last meeting of 2012 at 4:10 p.m. on Tuesday, December 18th after recognizing employees celebrating their 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th anniversaries with the County, and honoring the service of the three Council Members who will not be returning to the Council next year:  Richard Fralick, Lovel Pratt, Howie Rosenfeld.

Council Members-elect Marc Forlenza and Bob Jarmon attended the meeting in person and member-elect Rick Hughes participated in the meeting via conference call.

Though the past year was filled with challenges, including the mid-year departures of the County Administrator and the Deputy County Administrator, the County Council accomplished a great deal during 2012. Its accomplishments included the top three priorities it had set for the year:  (1) Budget Stabilization; (2) Passing the Critical Areas Ordinance update; and (3) Transitioning the Solid Waste System.

BUDGET: Creating a sustainable County budget had been an elusive goal.  Annually, since 2008, flagging revenues and increasing costs had forced the Council to reduce services and cut personnel costs with measures including lay-offs, furloughs, changing employee benefits, and asking staff and elected officials to forgo cost of living increases.

But in 2012, the Council and interim County Manager Bob Jean crafted a budget which promises to maintain a consistent level of service from the beginning of 2013 through the end of 2015. The adopted 2013 budget, including road fund and grant-funded operations, totals $52 million dollars.

The County’s 2013 General Fund budget -- which includes core government services such as law enforcement, the treasurer, auditor, assessor, administration and courts – totals approximately $15 million. The General Fund budget includes is a contribution to a budget stabilization fund, and operating cash reserves equal to more than 10% of expenditures, a budgeting standard set by the Council.

One key to the County’s budget stability was the voters’ approval of the Public Safety Sales Tax in August, 2012. The tax will produce an estimated $500,000 for the County in 2013 and more than $300,000 for the Town of Friday Harbor. The Town is expected to use some of the additional revenue to fund its contracts with the County for patrol and Court services.

Critical Areas Ordinance Update: The passage of the County’s Critical Areas Ordinance followed years of difficult work, dozens of hearings and reports, and hundreds of hours of discussion and deliberation by Council Members. In dealing with development buffers, the most contentious portion of the ordinance, the Council responded to community concerns by adopting a system which uses site-specific criteria to allow as much flexibility as possible in the use of a property while protecting wetlands, wildlife habitat and water quality.
Adoption of the CAO clears the way for San Juan County to be declared in compliance with the state’s Growth Management Act, which will qualify the County to apply for state grants and low interest loans that are not available to non-compliant Counties. Meanwhile, citizens have a sixty day period to file appeals concerning the CAO to the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.
Solid Waste Transition: In November of 2011, voters rejected a proposed fee on developed land parcels which would have helped fund the County’s continued operation of solid waste facilities on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan Islands. In 2012, the Council and the County solid waste utility worked with San Juan Sanitation Company to expand its roadside solid waste pickup service to include recycling, and began the process of transitioning the three County solid waste handling facilities to non-county operators.

The new the new Lopez Island Solid Waste District is now set to assume full responsibility for operating the Lopez solid waste facility in January 2013.
The Council, In November of 2012, authorized final negotiations for the operation of the Solid Waste Transfer station and recycling facility on Orcas Island with Orcas Recycling Services, Inc. The County expects to hand over operations to the Orcas Island group this spring.

The council has also selected a preferred vendor to provide services at the San Juan Island Solid Waste Facility and has authorized funding for the County’s continued operation of the facility until a transition can be completed in February or March of 2013. The new operator – Kentec Energy Company, in association with Lautenbach Industries – has agreed to continue self-haul and recycling services at the site while it investigates the feasibility of creating an innovative gasification facility which would generate electricity from solid waste. In its proposal, Kentec said it expects to make a decision on gasification within two years.

Other significant accomplishments and events during 2012 include adoption of major revisions to the County’s regulation of wireless and communication towers and facilities to pave the way for better cell and broadband service within the County; adoption of a long-overdue solid waste plan; and completion of the Charter Review Commission’s work and the subsequent voter approval of three amendments to the County’s charter, effectively reorganizing County government.

Significant challenges for County government lie in the year ahead: Three newly-elected members of the Current six-member County Council will take office January 1, but Primary and General Elections for the new three-member County Council, created by the Charter Amendments, will be held in February and April respectively. The three-member Council will take the legislative and executive reins of County government in May.

In the meantime, the implementation of the solid waste system transition will continue; the state-mandated update of regulations governing the use of property on and near the shoreline will take center stage; and a new County Manager must be recruited.

2013 promises to at least as challenging, and, hopefully, will be as productive a year for San Juan County’s government as 2012 proved to be.