League of Women Voters Observer Corps notes

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.

SJI Fire District #3 meeting of April 9

During public comment a citizen congratulated Chief Monin on the leadership he was shown. appointment.

The Fire District is continuing to negotiate lowering the cost of the lease on Brown Island with the homeowners’ association.

The commissioners then discussed the County Wildland Firefighter Module to bring together a group of volunteers who are trained and certified to respond to wildfires. They plan a mutual aid agreement among the islands in San Juan County to share resources to fight Wildland Fires with approval from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). DNR will provide resources for these volunteers.

The Chief briefed the commissioners on two programs designed to avert wildfires. The Long-standing Firewise program brings together homeowners’ associations and other groups to clear flammable materials in their neighborhoods. A new program, Wildfire Ready Neighbors, will support individual households which can request an assessment of the fire hazards on their property by a trained professional. DNR will reimburse the fire district for providing the assessments. Residents can sign up for assessments on DNR’s website. The fire district will launch the Wildfire Ready Neighbors program on May 8. The district is moving forward with the Outer Island Fire Brigades and Friday Harbor Fire Life Safety Inspections of local businesses.

The Chief provided a financial report available at: https://www.sjifire.org/assets/docs/2024-1st-quarter-financial-report.pdf and https://www.sjifire.org/assets/docs/march-financial-report.pdf

Eight new firefighters have completed training and have been hired. The Chief reported on how the fire district has been saving money, including new agreements with EMS and the Sheriff’s department that will cover some expenses that are now incurred by the district.

Commissioner Frank Cardinale announced his resignation due to family health reasons that required him to be off island for lengthy periods. The other commissioners thanked him for his service to the fire district.

SJI School Board, regular meeting of April 24

May 6-10 will be Professional Educator Appreciation Week.

Two 7th-grade students presented a slide show on a new concept called Home Room, where students focused on specific topics for a 25-minute period without interruptions. They reported it was very productive for them but might not be for other students. They said 25 minutes was a bit short and having the class earlier in the school day might be better.

Superintendent Woods reported a teacher was hired for Stuart Island for three students living there. The school board will tour the facility on Stuart to which has been updated. The proposed San Juan Institute is close to completing the agenda for a 2-day program for teachers just before school begins in the fall. The district received an EPA grant to purchase an electric school bus, which it hopes to order this summer. Delivery is probably another year away.

Dr. Becky Bell and Aileen Howe reported on special education at SJISD covering the education of students with disabilities and the requirements for the district which include a guarantee to educate and help students be involved in school and supporting their ability to participate in non-academic activities. SJISD has 801 total enrollments, 148 or 18.5% are in special education across all schools. Forty-three staff members work to serve and support special education students.

Enrollment throughout the schools continues above the projected number for the school year. Expenses are on budget for this year. The 2024-25 budget committee had its 2nd meeting and will update the board soon.

Dr. Bell presented the Comprehensive School Counseling Plan for SJISD and its 1st-year results. The plan is focused on increasing the time the counselors provide for interaction.

The district will file a 180-waiver request with the state this week. If the request is approved, the district will not have to extend classes by three days to make up for snow days when the school was closed.

Saturday, April 27, the regional WSSDA meeting will be held in Friday Harbor. The state Superintendent of Schools, Chris Reykdal will attend.

County Council regular meeting of April 29, 2024

The Facilities Director requested Council approval to apply for state funding to repair the seismic issues in the historic courthouse. If the grant, which requires a 50% match, is approved, the $1.5-2 million project could proceed without work on the 80’s addition. Leasing space or getting a modular office for the sheriff’s staff on Lopez and getting the Park St. building ready for occupation are the two immediate priority projects. The need for new space on Orcas is less urgent. The County wants to retain its current architectural consultants to help form a master plan. An internal building committee and finance subcommittee will present a plan to fund these short-term needs in May, and then work on a budget estimate and financing options for the larger Justice and Public Safety building and possible administrative building. The county has been talking about how to deal with serious deficiencies in aging buildings and meet the needs of increased county population and new legal requirements, including for the jail, for over a decade. They want to begin public engagement about county facility issues.

The Public Works Department reported that after surveying Dolphin Bay Road for requested chip sealing, they recommend not paving the gravel portion without improving the road first. It is too narrow at many points for two-way traffic and has drainage issues which would make it less safe if paved without widening the road and providing better drainage. This would be a major capital improvement project and require the acquisition of new rights-of-way. Given that a portion of Killibrew Lake Road runs along the edge of a high sea bluff that in time might fail, improving a potential alternate route might be prudent. The Council asked for a joint briefing from Public Works and Environmental Stewardship about the coastal erosion threats to Killibrew Lake Road and an update on the culvert replacement project before considering amending the capital improvement plan for Dolphin Bay Road improvement.

The Council then went over the schedule for the visit later that day of Governor Inslee who at 11:40 would be in Friday Harbor to meet with the new Assistant secretary of transportation for Washington State Ferries. Council Member Fuller, the deputy chair of the Ferry Advisory Committee, and Town Council Member Steve Hushebeck would all attend the meeting. Afterward, the Governor would go to the ferry landing to meet and talk to ferry workers accompanied by Council Member Wolf. Finally, the Governor would meet with Council Member Minney, the Parks and Fair Director, and OPALCO at the Fairgrounds to talk about solar installations there and about the Bailer Hill Road solar project.

County Council regular meeting of April 30, 2024

During public access a citizen raised concerns about the loss of trees, property frontage and cost of new fencing for those impacted by the Bailer Hill Road improvement project. Two people spoke about the library levy lid lift on the August ballot that covers only Library operations and listed the many services the library offers. The Council proclaimed May 21 Eric Johnson Day to honor the service of the outgoing director of the Washington Association of counties for 19 years of leadership and advocacy for counties and mentoring of county officials.

The Trust for Public Lands survey results showed solid public support for renewing the real estate excise tax (REIT) on property sales which funds the Land Bank. Citizens gave priority to protecting water quality, reducing wildfire risk, and maintaining rural areas.

In the first quarter budget review, county revenue was $15.5 million at 19.3% of budget and expenses $15.1 million at 17.2% of budget. Most revenue is running near normal with REIT running below and interest running above. The council set public hearings for May 21 to approve Public Facilities Financing Assistance Program awards and for June 4 to for an updated traffic ordinance. The Council approved the Noxious Weed Program to work on a code update that would revise the map and board representative mix. The Council approved the Land Bank to submit two grant applications for a possible waterfront property purchase on Orcas.

County staff reviewed the initial impact of the 32-hour work week six months in. The move addressed the fiscal impact of rising costs and wages that would have cost about $1 million. An employee survey showed that 67% of employees had improved satisfaction with more flexibility and better work life balance. Separations dropped 46%; the county saw a large increase in applicants for open positions. Total hours worked by county staff dropped only 8%, because staff took 31% less sick leave and vacant positions were filled. Some 12% of staff felt stressed by having the same amount of work but less time to do it. They need to look at a universal schedule and measure key performance indicators for the one-year review.

There were eight docket requests for zoning or comprehensive plan changes which will be reviewed by staff and the Planning Commission and recommendations brought to the Council. The Council will look at the County Volunteer Code of Conduct and how it is enforced. They will seek answers to some questions from the Visitors bureau for additional lodging tax funds.

The council will interview applicants for the county manager position on May 6. On May 7 there will be public meetings for county residents to meet the applicants at 9:00 at the Grange on San Juan, 11:15 at the Lopez Family Resource Center and at 2:45 at the Orcas Center.

Friday Harbor Town Council regular meeting of May 2

During public comment, two people spoke in support of the upcoming library levy lid lift that will be on the August ballot. As part of the consent agenda the council passed a resolution adopting the findings, conclusions, and the decision regarding the San Juan County appeal of the town administrator’s denial of the appeal of the town’s notice of violation related to water usage. The council passed a resolution regarding developing a design guide for downtown pocket parks after removing it from the consent agenda for discussion.

The council considered and approved the Visitor’s Bureau request for an amendment to their contract with the town to allow the bureau flexibility in the timing of its advertising funds and approved an additional $20,000 for a spring ad campaign to boost summer bookings which are running significantly below last year’s. They noted the importance of tourism to the town’s economy and tax base.

The Public Works department reviewed the priority array and Six-Year Transportation Improvement Plan. The Marguerite project will be completed this year. The Council noted the importance of the transport tax that provides revenue for the road fund, especially for work in residential neighborhoods that do not qualify for state funding. They set a public hearing for the 2025-2030 transportation plan for June 6.

After an executive session, the council announced that town clerk Amy Taylor will be departing, and Jennifer Krembs will become the new Town Clerk. They amended the budget to allow the incoming clerk to shadow the outgoing clerk for one month.

The town administrator said conversation was ongoing with the county regarding water and the county is helping the town find ways to fund the fourth water filter and is helping to look for funding for the wastewater project. She is talking to OPALCO to see if they would be interested in doing a solar panel project on the transfer station site. The town plans to repair the tilework in the public restrooms hopefully before Memorial Day.

The council plans to put getting the town spruced up for the summer season on a future agenda, covering items such as removing graffiti, updating signage, ensuring vacant premises are kept up and plans to require fencing around the vacant lot on Spring and First. There is a move to form a business association focused on the town’s appearance. The town administrator will contact the Port to see if they can work jointly on some parts of the town along the waterfront.