The Weekly questioned San Juan County Councilman Jamie Stephens about last year’s successes and tribulations as well as goals for the future. The Lopez councilman is chairman of the council this year.
Weekly: What successes do you think the council had this year?
Stephens: The county completed the purchase of Odlin Park South and Lopez Hill to permanently protect these special properties. We established a clean water utility to manage stormwater, work on salmon recovery and protect the nearshore environment. The Affordable Housing plan was completed and the housing real estate excise tax measure placed on the ballot.
We were active on several fronts protecting funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.
I was one of the few elected officials on the governor’s Southern resident killer whale recovery task force. Recommendations, important to San Juan County, came out that improve funding for the nearshore environment, increase salmon hatchery production, control vessel interference with the whales and placement of an emergency rescue vessel in the Haro Strait/Boundary Pass area. Next year the task force will review the impact of naval marine and air operations on the SRKWs.
Weekly: What do you think council could have done better?
Stephens: Hindsight is 20/20, there are always issues that could have been dealt with more efficiently. However, I can’t think of a major issue that we could have dealt with better.
Weekly: What do you look forward to for council in the coming year?
Stephens: The theme of this year is to complete projects that are in process. These projects include completing plans for new facilities for our public works department and a new civic campus. Completing the Lopez Village sub-area plan and countywide comprehensive plan. Implementing the affordable housing plan with the recently passed real estate excise tax. Activate a new permit tracking system to streamline permit application and approvals. Continue to improve our fiscal health by funding all of our reserve accounts.
New initiatives include moving our budgeting process from one-year to two-year budgets. Renewal of the levy lid lift which helps fund parks, public health and senior services.
Weekly: How do you feel about being council chairman in 2019?
Stephens: It’s an honor to be the chair. I look forward to keeping the council moving to accomplish our goals for the year.
Weekly: How do you feel about your time spent on the orca task force?
Stephens: I learned a lot and feel that my contributions to the task force were useful. The recommendations addressed the three threats to the Southern resident killer Whales, prey, vessels and [pollutants] with bold actions. I look forward to the work in year two.
Weekly: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Stephens: I look forward to getting to work on all our priorities.
In addition to the above goals we will work to maintain and improve our public health, mental health, and substance abuse funding in light of the state-mandated consolidation of health services to managed care organizations. We will work with the board of the Islands Oil Spill Association to rebuilding the organization to be functional and sustainable.