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Tuesday, December 26th

At Last, MedVac Program Returns!

ig_Medi_Vac_Helo-2 (82k image)
( Airlift Northwest photo)

MedVac flights are once again available to San Juan County residents at an affordable price. With the passage of an Air Ambulance Bill this year, Airlift Northwest is now allowed to offer a membership service that provides medical airlift to the mainland for an annual fee of $79.00. (Click for a copy of the membership Form) If the time should come when you need to be airlifted out of the county, Airlift Northwest would bill others, such as an insurance company or other sources, to cover the costs without any additional charges to the person transported.

A similar subscription service had once been available, but in 2002 the program was shot down by insurance company interests in the state who believed a subscription contract to provide medical transportation was a form of insurance, and convinced the State Insurance Commission to agree. ( previous story)

MedVac flights became prohibitive expensive has a result of the ruling, since the charges could only be charged to an individual, and not to a large membership pool of subscribers (hence the ruling that it was "insurance").

As a result of the loss of the service, groups of citizens, local politicians and the Medical Guilds of Orcas and SJ Island came together -due in large part by Orcas resident Joan Berkowitz- to pressure elected state officials for a change in the law that would allow the selling of subscriptions to future MedVac flights.

Berkowitz presented Sen. Harriet Spanel and David Quall a local petition containing 1800 signatures asking for the return of the flights, and Spanel and Quall responded to Berkowitz and the others by introducing a bill to make the selling of memberships in MedVac flights exempt "under certain conditions".

Garth Eimers, John Evans, and Randy Gaylord traveled to Olympia to testify as to the need for the legislation, and the bill was passed this year and sighed into law by the governor.


Thursday, December 21st

Legislative Priorities

The County Council is preparing a list of "Legislative Priorities". A current draft list is the result of input from Councilman Lichter, Myhr and Ranker, but now that there is a full council, the list is expected to grow. The current listed priorities are:

(1) Environmental: Salmon Recovery Council Programs;
(2) Public Finance: Streamlined Sales Tax; Sourcing Rule;
(3) Open Space Preservation: Lopez Hill, Lopez Island;
(4) Community Health: Support of Community and Mental Health Funding;
(5) Transportation: Restoration of Capron Funding for Both the "5-Cent and 9.5-Cent" Fuel Tax Increases.

The goal is to rank the list, based on agreement from the Council as a whole, but each Councilman may continue to push individual priorities. The idea of prioritizing a list for Council action resulted from Councilman Bob Myhr, who said he was concerned that the Council comes up with issues that they agree need to be addressed, but then they seen to "fall between the cracks", and he felt having a dynamic list would be helpful to the Council.

The Council has also been discussing having a retreat, where, as Councilman Ranker stated, the Council can discuss concerns and issues without interruption and in a relaxed environment, and the original and new council members can get to know each other better. To that end Ranker suggest the Council hold the retreat out of the county. There was discussion that the cost to the County may be too high, since there would be the need to spend the night, and there could be other related costs. It was also discussed that while the meeting would be billed as a retreat, the public would have the right to attend.


Tuesday, December 19th

100 Yrs: Courthouse Re-dedication

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(Photos courtesy the San Juan Historical Museum & the San Juan County Courthouse)

In the early 1900's the County Commissioners began discussing "a new and credible county building" to replace the inadequate old frame building then in use. The citizens of San Juan County approved a proposal by ten to one to build a stately new Courthouse. On December 17, 1906 the Auditor and Commissioners took possession of San Juan County Courthouse as the "House of Law and Order" (See story below for a history of the Courthouse).

One hundred years later, On December 19th, 2006 at 12 Noon the San Juan County Courthouse will be re-dedicated and celebrated. Join in at the Old Courtroom for a ceremony followed by the hanging of the Centennial Quilt.

The quilt is made of 100 squares designed and donated by community members. The quilt commemorates 100 years of the Courthouse and Fair and will be permanently displayed in the Courthouse.

The public is invited to the ceremonies for a Traditional High Tea Luncheon.

A "History of the Courthouse" is currently on display in the Courthouse lobby


Tuesday, December 12th

Public Hearing Today On New Fees: Storm water

The County Council will hold a public hearing today, Tuesday, December 12, 2006 at 2:30 p.m. to consider amending the SJ C Storm Water Utility ordinance by passing a new ordinance that will include a new base "service charge" of $46.20. For some property owners the bill will be greater than the base service charge, depending on the amount of impervious surface, and the "class of property" they own. For those properties that have not been touched by the hand of man, they may be able to avoid the new charge.

The collected money will be used to fund the new Storm Water Utility the County Council has created. As set out in the ordinance, the "utility is authorized to exercise all lawful powers necessary and appropriate to planning, designing, establishing, acquiring, developing, financing, constructing, operating, managing, improving, maintaining, controlling and requesting stormwater facilities".

For those who own land that has been developed -and assuming the ordinance is passed- the new charge will show up on property tax bills. The money collected will be used to off-set some of the costs of storm water runoff on county roads, and to also develop storm water systems for Eastsound and other Urban Growth Areas (UGA) in San Juan County.

According to Jon Shannon, Director of PW (Public Works), the County has been falling behind on stormwater projects, and the proposed new funding source will help large projects in such areas as Eastsound and on Lopez. While individual land and home owners will still be responsible for paying for their own stormwater costs, such as paying for necessary plans, permits and improvements now required by storm water regulations, they will also have to put some money in the public pot that will be used by the County for stormwater projects.

In response to a question from the Island Guardian, Mr. Shannon stated that once the backlog of stormwater projects has been completed, it is possible that in the future the base rate may be reduced,

The proposed amendment that will be the subject of the hearing is the result of a committee appointed by the County Council to come up with a funding source for the program, and after a number of meetings, the group recommended to Public Works that a system of fees based on the square footage of impervious surface be used as a basis for computing charges. The base unit is to be called an "Equivalent Service Unit (ESU), and is defined as 4,400 square feet of impervious surface area; examples of such would be a roof, driveway, and the like.

If land is in an "undeveloped" state, which in the context of the proposed ordinance means "property which has not been altered by grading or filling of the ground surface, or by construction of any improvement or other impervious surface area which affected the hydraulic properties of the parcel", then the charge would not apply.

To what extent may one grade or fill their property without "affecting the hydraulic properties" -which the ordinance seems to assume means the creating of "impervious" surfaces on the land- remains an open question that the property owner "shall have the burden of proving" in order to qualify for a "service charge adjustment".

The hearing will be held in the Council meeting room in the court house.


Friday, December 8th

Public Input Wanted On Fee Increases

The County Council wears more than one hat, one of which is when they sit as the SWDB (Solid Waste Disposal District Board). As such, they will hold a public hearing at 3:00 PM on the 19th of December in the Community Meeting Room of the Islanders Bank Administration Building in Friday Harbor. The purpose of the meeting is to accept testimony on a proposed ordinance from Public Works that will increase the "solid waste tipping fees" (i.e., how much it costs to dump your garbage), by 9%, and if adopted the new fees would become effective March 31, of next year. The new budget assumes the fees will be adopted.

At a recent meeting the Board asked Public Works if the current fees have been sufficient to keep the program "in the black", and Matt Zybas responded that so far they have been, but "it has been close".

Councilman Bob Myhr asked if the proposed 9% increase was included in the recent budget as assumed to have been approved. He was told that it was in the budget and it was assumed that the Council would approve the increase after the public hearing. County Administrator Pete Rose pointed out that if the increase is not approved, then the budget will have to be looked at to see what can be adjusted or removed to make up for the loss of the income from the new fees.

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All persons wishing to be heard on this matter are encouraged by the County Council and by the SWDB -which is one and the same- to attend. Written comments may also be submitted in advance of the hearing by mail or e-mail, or at the hearing by delivery in person.

You are asked to please send seven copies of all written comments to the Clerk of the County Council at 350 Court Street, #1, Friday Harbor, WA 98250. (360) 378-2898.

Copies of all emails should be sent to Carolyn Morrison, so that it may be included as part of the County file.

For additional information the public is encouraged to contact Ed Hale at the Public Works Department, P.O. Box 729 or 915 Spring Street, Friday Harbor WA 98250 (360)370-0532


Wednesday, December 6th

End Of An Era

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(Back, L to R: Assessor Paul Dossett, Auditor Si Stephens, Court Clerk Mary Jean Cahail, and Treasure Kathy Turnbull)

The face of government for some decades in San Juan County has been the elected officials shown above. They have been rock solid in winning elections, and have been, to paraphrase Dr. Eisenhower when he once addressed the professors of Columbia University as "employees", the four retiring officials "are the government of San Juan County"! But no more, now there are newly elected officials that will replace them, and they will, over time, become the new faces of county government.

At a well attended ceremony in the Council Chambers on Tuesday, each were thanked and presented with an inscribed desk pen set that acknowledged their years of service to San Juan County.

ig_Retire_Officials-Group-1 (100k image)


Tuesday, December 5th

At Last: A Full County Council

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(Howie Rosenfeld, Rich Peterson, and Gene Knapp receive oath of office from Si Stephens)

The County Council is now running at full power; well, maybe not quite up to speed just quite yet, but after Auditor Si Stephens swore in the three new County Councilmen in front of a packed council chambers, it became evident the new members were not shy, had opinions and were willing to share them with their more seasoned colleagues.

In his introductory remarks prior to the swearing in ceremony, Si stated that he was "Proud to be part of this great and historic experiment of the Charter" and expressed his opinion that the "actions of you three will have a huge impact on success or failure" of the Charter. SI said be believed the three of them possessed the "wisdom, an ability to engage in open and thoughtful deliberations, integrity, and had the enthusiasm" necessary to do the job.

After 24 years as the SJC Auditor, Si also was in a position to list what he believed were four of the main challenges they would face, and at the top of the list were the "problems caused by continued growth and urbanization, and the issue of State and Federal requirements and mandates that impact the County; the need to for protection and improvement of the environment; and last but not least, "oversee the efficient and proper level of governmental service to your constituents".


Sunday, December 3rd


Council Hearing Room, Courthouse

9:45 A.M. Swearing In of New Council Members for the "Short Term"

10:00 A.M. Council Staff Meeting

10:15 A.M. Council Special Meeting and Work Session

Council Administrative Matters:
Discussion/Other Action Agenda
1. Full Council Seating Arrangement Plan
2. Discussion Regarding Request for Support of a Third Superior Court
Judge or Split Judicial
District at the Request of Judge Churchill
3. Direction on Short Term Appointments for Planning Commission Due to
Delay in Pending Ordinance Amendments

10:45 A.M. County Administrator Council Briefing:
1. Recommendation for Appointment to a Vacant Position on the Salary
2. Proposed Solid Waste Fee Increases (Public Hearing 3:00 P.M.,
December 19, 2006)
3. Fire Marshal Inspection Fee Update

11:30 A.M. Public Meeting to Consider Ordinances for the Following:
Setting the Property Tax Levy for Current Expense for 2007; Setting the Property Tax Levy for the County Road Fund for 2007; Setting the Property Tax Levy for Land Conservation Futures for 2007; and Adoption of the 2007 San Juan County Budget, Pursuant to the Public Hearing Held on November 14, 2006

12:00 NOON Lunch

(End of public sessions for the day: 1:30 P.M. Closed Session RCW 42.30.140(4)(a) Labor Negotiations)

Tom Bauschke
John Evans
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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