County Council holds public hearings on budget and Comp Plan

The San Juan County Board of County Commissioners had a very full agenda before them on November 29 during their first day of deliberations and public hearings prior to addressing the San Juan County Comprehensive Plan.

Items on the agenda included: a six-year transportation program and 2023 annual construction program budgets; 2023 Capital Improvement Plan and the 2023-2028 Six-Year Capital Improvement Plan; County Road Funds levy, Conservation Futures levy, and Current Expense fund levy; 2022 Budget Emergency Appropriations request; 2023 Budget Mid-biennial review; a revised Recreation, Open Space, and Stewardship Plan Update for 2023-2028; and a temporary construction easement of the Fish Trap Creek culvert project.

First up the county council adopted the public works department’s six-year Transportation Program and the 2023 Annual Construction Program budgets. Public Works Director Colin Huntemer presented two multi-million dollar budgets to the council, who following a brief discussion voted unanimously to adopt them.

During the discussion of the six-year transportation program, councilmember Jamie Stephens added “it’s unfortunate that the [road] levy did not pass. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get our ducks in a row. I would say as a county we did not get our ducks in a row earlier to help inform the public of the need for the levy lid lift for our roads, and it’s never been increased as opposed to every other tax, fee and levy in the county, and I won’t be here but I will campaign for it.”

Next on the agenda Chief Deputy Auditor and Auditor-elect Natasha Warmenthoven presented the council with the 2023 Capital Improvement Plan and the 2023-2028 Six-Year Capital Improvement Plan. Following a brief discussion, the council voted unanimously to approve the $$1,586,000 and $26,590,311 million dollar budgets respectively.

County Manager Mike Thomas presented three levy ordinances for council consideration. Thomas noted that by Nov. 30 of each year the council is to consider and adopt the levies for the subsequent year.

Thomas presented the County Road Funds levy, Conservation Futures levy, and Current Expense fund levy. Thomas stated the County Roads Fund for 2023 will total $5,147,001.62, the Conservation Futures will total roughly $351,000, and the Current Expense levy for 2023 will be $7.63 million dollars. No public testimony was forthcoming and the council unanimously adopted all three tax levies.

County Budget Analyst Molly Foote Ph.D. presented the Council with a 2022 Budget Emergency Appropriations request for $14,760,809. The request is to amend the 2022 budget with changes that have occurred in relation to unanticipated obligations in the County Current, County Current Grants, Environmental Stewardship, Emergency Communication, Orcas Senior Services Building, Capital Improvement, Solid Waste, Equipment Rental & Revolving, and Facilities Funds. No public testimony was forthcoming and the council unanimously adopted the request.

Foote also presented the 2023 Budget Mid-biennial review for council consideration, with adoption expected next week during the meeting scheduled on Lopez island.

Council also heard from Brendan Cadwell, Director of County Parks and Fair, seeking approval for the Recreation, Open Space, and Stewardship Plan Update for 2023-2028 (formerly the Parks, Trails, and Natural Areas Plan). The San Juan County Recreation, Open Space, and Stewardship Plan (“Plan”) provides a long-term vision and six-year plan to guide action and investment in a wide variety of outdoor spaces and facilities managed by San Juan County.

According to Cadwell this plan charts a future for San Juan County Parks, the Land Bank, Environmental Stewardship and Public Works, which are the four County departments charged with overseeing County recreation, open space, and stewardship facilities and activities. The plan updates the previous version and is designed to maintain San Juan County’s eligibility to apply to state grants to acquire land for open space, construction of recreational facilities, and ecological restoration activities, and state-based park and recreation grant funding.

Following Cadwell’s presentation, the council unanimously adopted the updated Recreation, Open Space, and Stewardship Plan Update for 2023-2028.

The council also unanimously approved a resolution allowing a temporary construction easement of the Fish Trap Creek culvert project under Cormorant Bay road. The property owners are willing to grant the temporary construction easement while the culvert is replaced in order to provide local and emergency vehicle access during construction.

The San Juan County Council began deliberations Nov. 29 to consider the adoption of an ordinance updating the San Juan County Comprehensive Plan and official maps, with the continuation of deliberations Nov. 30.

The County Comprehensive Plan is a detailed document that provides the county with guidance for how the county and community should be developed well into the future. According to a San Juan County press release the plan “seeks to implement the County’s Vision, meet the needs of the 2036 population, and guide the Islands into the next decade.”

Prior to deliberation, the council held open public hearings to allow the community one last chance to address elements of the Comp Plan before adoption.

A number of community members provided public testimony, many expressing concern about two specific land-use designation changes that include active mines on San Juan island. The two properties are a shale mine operated as Egg Lake Quarry, and a gravel mine operated by West Valley Holdings. In both cases, the landowners are requesting to designate their specific parcels under the Mineral Resource Land Overlay.

San Juan County defines an MRLO as ”[…] those lands from which the commercial extraction of minerals (sand, gravel, rock, and other valuable aggregate or metallic substances) can be anticipated to have long-term commercial significance.”

While the County Planning Commission recommended both land use designation changes, councilmember Cindy Wolf expressed concern, asking to “put the brakes on this” and requesting staff explore further the MRLO designation as “another tool in the toolbox.”

With councilmember Jamie Stephens absent from the proceedings on Nov. 30, the remaining two council members postponed a decision on the two land use designation requests until the last item on the agenda. During that time county staff put forth a third option directing staff to place on the 2023 docket for further discussion and review. Council members Wolf and Christine Minney agreed to the third option and postponed their decision on the two mine designations until 2023.

Additionally, the council denied two Friday Harbor Urban Growth Area requests that potentially would have added fourteen parcels surrounding the Friday Harbor Airport and five parcels around Jensen’s Marina to the FHUGA. Although the Planning Commission recommended adding these parcels to the FHUGA, council members Minney and Wolf voted to deny the request based on the lack of Housing Needs Assessments from the Town of Friday Harbor. Requirements to expand the UGA are the same for all applicants, including a housing needs assessment, so the council denied the requests.

The two county council members did approve a request to increase the density in Lopez Island Center, however, providing opportunity for growth there, and approved the Deer Harbor Community Overlay.

Following the culmination of more than six years of work, 71 planning commission meetings and thousands of hours of collaboration the county council approved an ordinance updating and amending the San Juan County Comprehensive Plan and official maps pursuant to the State of Washington Growth Management Act. The next update to the San Juan County Comp Plan will be due in 2025.