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 Commissioners meeting of May 9

During public comment, Maureen See asked whether there would be a public interview for the open Commissioner’s position. She said it would be in the best interest of the fire department for the commission to set a date certain when the Chief would leave. She asked for clear comment on the Hannah Heights water contamination. Paul Hart of the Hannah Heights Neighborhood Association said they are committed to working with the Fire Department as partners. Though not conclusive, it is probable that the source of the contamination is from foam that was used by the Fire Department 20 – 50 years ago. The Commission said that solutions to address water pollution at Hannah Heights were being sought. The lead agency is the State Department of Ecology and the fire department has been included as an ancillary agency. The Fire staff will keep the Commission and the public updated going forward.

An update was given on plans developed several years ago for a Fire Training Facility that would be available for other fire agencies, emergency medical providers and law enforcement.

The Chief negotiated to acquire two acres behind the fire station from the Port in exchange for the Fire Department providing fire services to all Port properties. The cost of the facility was estimated at $550k+ in 2019, but costs are now much higher and a decision to move forward has been tabled due to lack of funding.

The department will take delivery of the SAFEBoat at the end of May and will work with the Sheriff’s Office on the navigation system. The department is seeking financing for the SAFEBoat.

Savibank had the best rate at 5.5% on a ten-year note with no prepayment penalties. A motion was made and approved to have the Chief continue to pursue the loan and confirmed that a commissioner would also sign the loan. The public will help name the boat.

For April there were 60 responses. Volunteers fill in for permanent staff when they are on leave. Scheduled training classes are posted on the website. The annual ladder and hose testing is being completed in May. Some issues were noted in the testing and remedied.

The Commission held an Executive Session, after which they announced they had received a retirement letter from Chief Collins with an effective date of Nov. 23. The Commission voted to accept the notice of retirement.

County Council meeting of May 16

The Council approved sending a letter to Gov. Inslee and federal officials commending the cooperation on the Aleutian Island response.

A citizen on Orcas asked for code enforcement of a business doing industrial operations in a residential area.

The Council approved three ordinances amending the 2023 budget.

Inspire Washington gave a presentation on supporting Science and Tech, Heritage, and Arts programs in communities by removing barriers to access for a broader range of citizens and noted the opportunity to pass a 1/10 of 1% sales tax to support such access. The Council expressed interest but noted that tax fatigue was a significant issue in the county.

Council approved a request from the County/Superior Court Clerk to remedy a serious staffing shortage in her office to maintain mandated staffing requirements for the courts by restoring 1.1 full-time equivalent staffing previously cut.

Paul Andersson of the SJI Conservation District addressed forest health. They need to update and implement the Wildfire Prevention Plan and deal with excess biomass, possibly via a heat/power plant operated with OPALCO. He highlighted the value of the Conservation Corps and its work. The Council approved moving forward with steps to update the WPP.

The Council approved moving forward with commissioning a scope of work on County building issues including possible new construction and remodels.

The Council discussed key elements for the Argyle Lots lease negotiations with the Home Trust. They approved a five-year lease renewable for 94 years; a mix of 50% low income, 50% moderate income. They asked that 30% of units be 2-3 bedrooms to accommodate families; the County have right of refusal on some units for county staff; and that some units be ready by 2025.

The Council approved a limited Housing Fund round in 2023 for projects funded in 2022.

The Council approved Health and Community Services to reinstate an Officer Manager position to cover the increased housing workload, paving the way forward on the affordable housing sales tax.

The Council approved the next steps in the Organics Waste Recycling Center Implementation Plan which include doing waste characterization for San Juan County and planning to acquire Enclosed in-vessel Systems for San Juan and Orcas Islands.

For the June 6 meeting, the Council scheduled a public hearing on a Rock Island communication easement for internet services on Lopez Island and to review allocation of unspent ARPA funds.

The appointed members of the Fair Board and took steps to improve audio-visual issues at Council meetings.