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Tuesday, October 31st

CC To Provide More Information To Public



The CC (County Council) is making plans to bring a bit more sunshine to their meetings by providing copies of reports and information to the public prior to Council meetings, and by holding some of the Council meetings on Lopez, Orcas, and even -perhaps- Shaw Island.

Councilman Bob Myhr has long been a strong advocate of taking the government to the people, given the difficulty and time issues of inter-island travel, but there may now be enough support from the other Council members to make it happen. A suggested tentative schedule is to hold five meetings on San Juan island -the county seat- and then hold one meeting on another island. When possible the sixth meeting would have some issues on the agenda that may have a direct effect on the host island; but as Myhr pointed out, anything that is relevant to one island will have some degree of relevance to the county as a whole.

As for dissemination of material, the Council has for sometime given voice to the wisdom of providing copies of drafts and other material to the public and the press so that the audience can follow along with the Council as the material is discussed at a council meeting, but they have been very inconsistent in doing so.

Now there is a proposal that the Council make it a policy to produce extra sets of the material they receive, and make it available to the public prior to the meeting in which it will be a topic of discussion. County Administrator Pete Rose told the Council that "I cannot stress enough the importance of making public packets available days prior to meetings", adding that "It is just good government".

Staff suggested that they could put the information into a binder, and make it available to the public if they asked for it, but when asked his opinion, Rose told the Council that his policy has been to produce extra packets for the press and interested members of the public.

The town of Friday Harbor has done this for years, and while some departments in the county have also provided information as a normal policy, the County Council, and the Board of County Commissioners before them, have been reluctant to do so, citing a host of reasons, from expense of copies, to lack of staff, and even questioning the right of the public to have access to draft information, even though any information discussed or referred to in an open session is required by law to be available to the public.

The discussion ended with Bob Myhr stating "I can see no reason why we cannot do this", and Chairman Lichter suggesting that they do it to the extent "practical". As County Administrator, it will be up to Mr. Rose to decide what is practical, and what is necessary for "good government".



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New Understandable SJC Budget




The first draft budget put together under the guidance of the new Charter form of government has been published, and has been greeted by rave reviews. The Charter requires the budget to be produced by the Auditor and the new County Administrator. Auditor Si Stephens and Administrator Pete Rose have produced a budget format unlike anything previously seen in the County.

Gone is the large print-out of bar codes and reference numbers followed by row after row of numbers waiting to be identified and interpreted, but for a lay person this can sometimes be seem as only possible if one possesses a guide or a SJC Rosetta stone. What Rose and Stephens have produced is a three ring binder containing a table of contents, and indexed department budgets that begin with an explanation of the mission statement of the department, a short explanation of "What we do", including a synopsis of the departments accomplishments for the current budget year, followed by the goals for the upcoming year.

Each section contains the staffing level for the prior five years, an organization chart, and of course, the department budget of revenues and expenditures. As progress is made on adjusting and modifying the budget, additional and supplemental information is being provided that allows precise narrowing down of the data to specific items and expenses, so that how the big numbers came to be, can be understood by almost anyone.

More good news: analysis and projections by the Auditor's office indicate that the County -while in some negative debt- is in fairly good shape, but sure enough, there is also the old good news-bad news follow up. Both Stephens and Rose said that the County is moving toward a major short fall in 2007 and forward into the six year forecast. The result will be a need to cut back, and to plan for the future cutbacks that will affect some of the services to county citizens.

As way of example of some of the future impacts to the budget, Rose pointed out that the payroll increase this year was 7%, but is expected to rise to 11% next year, and the health benefit increase will be 4.8%. One shocker was the state mandated increase in the retirement fund, which will be a 3% increase based on total gross wages.

The current draft is, as Rose pointed out, a "work in progress", and as new information is obtained. and numbers adjusted, the final draft that will be presented for a public hearing will, if nothing else, be understandable, and should lend itself to insightful and useful comments from the pubic.

[more..]


Monday, October 23rd

CC Reduces Speed Limit On SJI Road



ig_PW_Rds_SpeedLimit_10-17-06 (62k image)
(County Council reviews Public Works road map)

Citing concerns about safety, the CC (County Council) supported a request by neighbors and PW (Public Works) to reduce the speed limit on a portion of a main road entering Friday Harbor, from 45 to 35 miles per hour. A Public Works report to the CC pointed out that the Beaverton Valley road is the only major road entering Friday Harbor that does not have a decreasing speed limit as it approaches the more populated area of town limits.

Neighbors testified to the Council that the location of the historical driveway exits to the road have blind spots, and limited sightlines, that pose a potential for accidents. Public Works in turn reminded the Council that a new business park will soon be open for business, and that an affordable housing development has recently been completed, both of which will result in more traffic entering the road, and increasing the need for a reduced speed limit.

What was not noted was the same area also has an entry drive to acres owned by Public Works that was originally purchased for a new PW yard, and construction of a new Transfer Station and re-cycling center. If this development goes in -which is an open question- the increase in traffic by cars and large trucks will certainly be an impact on traffic flows, and will increase the need for safe speed limits.

The Council agreed with PW and those who came to testify, and voted to reduce the speed limit. Councilman Bob Myhr has been a proponent of reduced limits, partly as a way of increasing the use of electric cars in the county, and in making his vote stated he will always be in favor of reducing speed limits in San Juan County

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Sunday, October 22nd

Ferries fare collection system at Anacortes Oct. 24



Frequent user books for Anacortes to Lopez Island, Shaw Island, Orcas Island or Friday Harbor on San Juan Island will not be available for purchase from the Island Terminal Agents after October 23. However, the multi-ride cards will be available from kiosks at each terminal (except Shaw) as well as through the Internet (www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries) and at the Anacortes Terminal tollbooths. Inter-island ticket books will still be available at Island Terminals but not at any kiosks, at the Anacortes tollbooths or via the Internet.

With the introduction of Wave2Go, single full fare tickets will be available for pre-purchase up to seven days in advance, a first for Washington State Ferries. All other tickets, except for inter-island tickets, will also be available on the Internet and at kiosks at the terminals. This includes senior/disabled tickets, as well as multi-ride passenger and vehicle/driver single fares and multi-ride cards. All tickets purchased via the Internet can be printed at home on a personal printer and scanned at the tollbooth or at a turnstile.

"With the capability of advance purchase, we expect that customers will spend less time at the tollbooth purchasing fares," adds Ms. Brewer-Rogstad. "The multi-ride passenger card can be shared by a family or group traveling together. The car and driver multi-ride card can only be used by one car per sailing."

Frequent ferry users will also have the opportunity to sign up for an automatic Revalue for their multi-ride (frequent user) car and driver and passenger card. This means that as a multi-ride card expires or a customer uses all the rides, the card will automatically revalue with the next five rides for a car and driver card and 10 rides for a passenger card. It also allows a customer to put a hold on a card if it is lost or stolen and then be re-issued a new card with the remaining rides.

Ferry system staff will be in the Anacortes Terminal from October 18-23 to show customers how the system works prior to the official launch. Staff will also be available for a week after the launch to help customers adjust to the new system.


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Tuesday, October 17th

Self-Haul On SJ To Remain? New Transfer Station To Be Built?



ig_SWAC_10-16-06_1 (56k image)

Final Recommendations on solid waste disposal on San Juan Island are ready to be presented to the County Council. The Findings and Recommendations from SWAC (San Juan County Solid Waste Advisory Committee) to the Council are laid out in five pages, and the recommendation includes "Self-hauling of both solid waste and recyclable materials".

When members of the public showed up for the fifth SWAC meeting on Monday, Oct 16th, that according to the agenda, was being held to finalize a set of "findings and recommendations" to the County Council "concerning solid waste management services on San Juan Island", some were surprised to find that a draft "Report to the San Juan County Council" had been previously made available to the committee, but not to the public.

After the start of the meeting, things did not improve for public participation. The public was informed early on that no public questions or comments were to be taken until the end of the meeting -that is to say, no input would be allowed on the draft, until all of the topics on the agenda had been covered by the committee. The surprise of learning the public process seemed to be over, turned to frustration and some subdued anger, when the committee reviewed the draft and then voted to accept it, without input from the public on the content of the draft.

Turns out that even some of the committee members were not fully advised as to what the public had previously had to say on the issues before them. Chair Mike Kaill informed the members that he had received emails from the public on the issue of self-haul, but since the email address on the County webpage was directed to him, he had not shared all of them with the committee.

At first blush this may all seem to be out of line with the published "Public Participation Plan", a plan that spelled out the importance of public involvement as being "essential to sound decision-making". But a close reading of the plan makes it clear that the formal part of the participation plan seemed to be expected to come to and end after the fourth SWAC meeting. In any case, that is the way it worked out.

After the Committee voted to accept the draft plan -with a few minor changes- a break was called, and one member of the public express his concern to the facilitator of the meeting, Todd Peterson (Todd is part of the consulting team from Norton-Arnold & Company, hired by Public Works to oversee and guide SWAC through the process of making a recommendation to the County Council), Mr. Peterson was told it made no sense to let the public make comments on the draft after the Committee had voted to approve it, and that he was not happy about taking off from work in the middle of day to come to the meeting, only to be informed the Committee would not allow input on a draft -that had not been made public- until after the Committee had discussed it, and voted to approve it as their final recommendation.

And what about those emails that did not see the light of day? When asked why he had not made them available to review, Kaill said that some of them were only a few sentences long, and anyway "I did not think all of them were of interest to the committee".

The approved Findings and Recommendations will now be sent to the County Council for their review, and prior to taking any action on them, the Council is expected to hold at least one public hearing. In the meantime, SWAC anticipates they will now take up the topic of "siting".

Will they decide to improve and expand the existing site, or will they suggest that the property Public Works purchased last year for a transfer station be a better choice? One thing is clear, given the existing land use codes, and the lack of available land designated for potential use as a transfer station, the choices may well be limited to the land under, and around the existing transfer station, or, use of the land purchased by the County for a new transfer station site.

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