League of Women Voters Observer Corps notes on Council meetings

Submitted by the League of Women Voters Observer Corps.

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization, encourages informed participation in government. The Observer Corps attends and takes notes at government meetings to expand public understanding of public policy and decisions. The notes do not necessarily reflect the views of the League or its members.

County Council regular meeting of Oct. 31

The Council approved a letter of support for a Hannah Heights HOA grant application to USDA.

During public comment, four people spoke in support of establishing an Arts Commission to support the Cultural Access Initiative in San Juan County. Fourteen citizens commented on aspects of the draft Destination Management Plan. Council Chair Wolf opened comments by noting that the draft plan was a collection of issues and possible solutions put forward during a process with public input, and now is out to the public for comment. Nothing in the document will be moved forward without the usual discussion and public hearings. Most speakers opposed any move to make the West Side Road one way during summer months, citing safety and inconvenience to island residents. Other concerns raised were about camping proposals and possible vehicle permit fees. Several speakers considered the proposal too tourist-friendly and/or too “green.” Several speakers spoke in favor of widening roads, supporting non-tourism business development and more coordination and consultation.

Council issued a proclamation noting that Oct. 31 is the 150th anniversary of the establishment of San Juan County. Events to mark the occasions and celebrate county history start today and will take place throughout the year, many planned by a communications intern. Citizens are invited to share their own memories at: https://engage.sanjuancountywa.gov.

County Manager Mike Thomas went over the Council’s options for setting the 2024 property tax levies for Land Conservation Futures, County Roads and Current Expenses. The Council set a public hearing on the levies at the Nov. 7 Council Meeting. The County collects all property taxes, the bulk of which go to the state to finance education with about 11% retained by the county and local taxing districts.

Parks and Fair Director Brandon Caldwell briefed the Council on work toward establishing an Arts Commission draft policies and procedures and consultation with Prosecuting Attorney’s office on local code requirements—a first step to undertaking a Cultural Resources initiative (CRI) enabled by recent state law. Given the work required to launch and manage it, he recommended the Council not move forward without a funding plan. When asked what an unfunded Arts Commission would do absent a CRI program, he said its main job would be to recommend whether the county should accept donated art items, which often have unfunded costs. The Council asked staff to request time to discuss this further in the new year.

The Council approved an extension to a Lodging Tax grant for the San Juan Island Historical Museum for an exhibit delayed by construction issues.

The joint Town of Friday Harbor/San Juan County letter on Washington State Ferry issues was sent to the governor and transportation Secretary.

Friday Harbor Town Council regular meeting of Nov. 2

Food Bank Director Rachelle Radonski thanked the Council for their support for the LifeRing program and matching grant and reported that the Food Bank serves 1100 households with 2300 persons a month; they have 50 volunteers, and the renovation is complete.

Finance Director Bethany Berry reported that she is preparing the budget, including final cost allocations. The Council will need to set utility rates for 2024 in the budget process “Do Not Touch” tags are being attached to all water meters as only town staff may turn a meter on or off.

The Council passed resolutions removing language from the town code on an expired surcharge; authorizing renewed agreements with the Family Resource Center for the town Utility Assistance Program with the United Way for the Cold Weather Shelter Program; and a contract for value engineering of the Wastewater Treatment plant project. They had a first touch on a resolution to install a crosswalk at Tucker and Harbor.

Public Works Director Jesse Douglas-Seitz reported that they are moving forward on the option of installing a fourth filter at the water treatment plant to extend its life for a decade+, while they explore options to finance and build a new plant. The Nash Street project will be complete with the installation of the streetlights, and they will hold a ribbon cutting on Nov. 15 at 12:30 p.m. He reviewed the preliminary design for the Marguerite Place construction project and issues around parking at the ballfield.

The Planning Commission will recommend delaying updating the Detached Accessory Dwelling ordinance to bring it in line with new state law regarding density and ownership restrictions until the December 2025 deadline to do so, partly to see if litigation may affect elements of the state law in the interim.

Staff will make recommendations on utility rate increases that match inflation to the Council to be passed before the end of November. For the Transportation Benefit District, The Council agreed to move on .01 percent sales tax and prepare for putting a .02 percent sales tax on the ballot in 2024.

Administrator Denice Kulseth reported that their insurers are reviewing the proposed rate increase which may drop from the initial estimate. The town received a $100,000 grant from the state for maintenance projects at Sunken Park. They will address amending the code regarding food trucks at a future meeting.

County Council regular meeting of Nov.7

The Council approved a letter of commitment for a Climate Planning Grant.

During public comment, three citizens spoke mainly addressing the Zylstra Trail in the 6-year Transportation in improvement Plan. Another eighteen spoke during the public hearing for the TIP; most opposed to the trail. Many were property owners along San Juan Valley Road, who said the trail would harm rural character and agricultural activities; questioned the value of the project to the community; deplored the cost and complained of a lack of consultation by the County with those affected directly. A few spoke in favor of improving and possibly widening roads and of public support for bike and pedestrian projects. The decisions on the TIP and the Annual Construction Program were held over to Nov. 27 to allow the Council time to consider all the input.

The Council held public hearings on the 2024 property tax levies for Land Conservation Futures, County Roads, and Current Expenses. The draft ordinances are awaiting clearance with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and were held over until Nov. 27.

The Council discussed elements of the 2024-2025 biennial budget process. During the first three quarters of the year, the County collected 66% percent of projected revenue and spent 47.8% of projected expenses. A budget amendment for this year will cover $243 thousand in emergency expenses and $1.05 million in supplemental revenue/spending from new grants, with a total change of $1.3 million. The projection for 2023 is for revenue to be slightly more and spending a bit lower than budgeted. This will draw cash reserves down less than planned, however, budget projections for 2024-2025 show higher increases in expenses than in revenue, which could bring reserves below the targeted 10%. The draft Capital Improvement budget is roughly $13 million for 2024 and $11 Million for 2025. The grants manager reviewed current grants and expected remaining funds from COVID assistance of about $700 thousand.

The Council set a public hearing for adopting the 2045 population projection for the Comprehensive Plan Update for December 12. The Planning Department recommends the State’s median projection for the county of 23,014, an increase of about 5000. Planners recommend accommodating 50% of the growth in the three Urban Growth Areas in the next Comp Plan.

The Council reviewed a revised contract for the County Health Officer that details duties and performance criteria. Council members will be attending a state-wide convention for County Council members in Spokane next week.