Island issues covered at San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce meeting

The school levy, the Spring Street roundabout and a recent land bank purchase on Cady Mountain were all touched on at the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce lunch on April 17.

Speakers at the event were San Juan Island School District Superintendent Danna Diaz, Town Administrator Duncan Wilson and County Council Chairman Bill Watson.

Diaz gave details on where state funding for school districts goes versus where the levy funding would be applied, should it pass.

“The state pays for 39 teachers, but the school actually has 47,” Diaz said, adding that the school employs about 62 people, including office support and custodians, and the state only pays for 49.

Early election results show the levy will likely be approved.

“I also am saying goodbye,” Diaz said, explaining that she is moving to Oregon to start a new job in July. “I will miss Friday Harbor.”

Diaz will be the new superintendent of the Reynolds School District in Fairview, Oregon, according to a press release publicized by the district. She previously noted in a guest column in the Journal that she was searching for a new job.

“I have reached a time in my life that I feel the need for a change both personally and professionally,” she wrote in February. “I am looking for a new challenge in a district that aligns with my strengths.”

Diaz has worked for the San Juan district since July 1, 2015. She was previously the assistant superintendent for the El Paso Independent School District in Texas for two years. She also served as director of student engagement for Fort Worth Independent School District and as regional superintendent for the School District of Philadelphia. She earned a Ph.D. in educational administration at the University of Texas.

At the chamber meeting, Wilson discussed the miniature roundabout at the intersection of Spring Street and Argyle Avenue. He told the Journal that construction was pushed from the original tentative start date of April 23 to April 30, if the weather is good. The roundabout will be created using a substance that looks like paint. There will be 4-inch-by-6-inch bumps around the roundabout with reflectors between them. The bumps will deter motorists from driving over the roundabout. However, combination truck operators will be able to drive over the yellow circle in the center of the roundabout, if they can’t make the full miniature roundabout turn. Pedestrian traffic will also be slightly rerouted. He said the project should be complete within the week if all goes as planned.

“I’ve actually done six of these during my career,” Wilson assured the attendees. “It doesn’t take long for drivers to get used to it.”

He also brought up the construction on Tucker Avenue, which is scheduled to be complete around mid-August.

Watson announced that the San Juan County Land Bank purchased land adjacent to the Cady Mountain Preserve, which will finally provide public access.

He also discussed the future sale of four undeveloped lots in town. The plan, he said, is to use them for affordable housing.

The San Juan County Land Bank currently owns the 1.7 acres of empty lots at the corner of Malcolm Street and Argyle Avenue. Watson told the Journal that the paperwork is now being finalized for the county, in general, to buy the property from the land bank. The county will then accept proposals to develop the land into affordable housing. Plans could include buying or leasing the lots, but restrictions to create affordable housing will be included, he said.

If the county maintains ownership of the property, Watson explained that taxes will continue to not be collected on the land. According to the county assessor’s office, taxes have not been collected on the property since the land bank staff purchased it in 2003. However, Watson said the amount of land owned by San Juan County is comparable to other Washington state counties.

“We still have one of the lowest property tax rates in the state, so I don’t see that it’s an unreasonable burden on the other parcel owners,” he said.

Regarding the county comprehensive plan, Watson said the vision statement is going before the planning commission soon and a public comment period will be scheduled.

“If you want to comment, this is the time,” he said.

Reporter Hayley Day contributed to this article.