League of Women Voters Observer Corps notes on Council and Board of Health

Submitted by the League of Women Voters

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.

County Council regular meeting of Nov. 27

During public comment, one citizen proposed using center lane roads to improve traffic safety and provide for pedestrian and bicycle traffic within existing road footprints.

At a continued public hearing on the six-year Transportation in Improvement Program, twenty-eight members of the public commented, mainly about Zylstra Trail. Many were property owners along San Juan Valley Road, who said the trail would harm rural character and agricultural activities. Some of them and others called for San Juan Valley Road to be improved.

Several citizens proposed potential alternate routes or designs. To retain the F federal grant, funds must be obligated by September 2026. The Council voted to remove the project from the TIP and Annual Construction Program while County staff worked on getting public input and drawing up potential route options for public and Council consideration.

The Council approved the 2024 property tax levies for Land Conservation Futures and Current Expenses. They continued the hearing on the County Roads levy to discuss an amendment on holding aside funds for moorage and navigation aids. The County held a discussion with legislative consultants to talk about their priorities for the upcoming state legislative session. The consultants advised focusing efforts on specific funding asks for the County and one or two policy items. The council discussed education funding, ferries, culvert replacements, housing, and bringing county buildings up to earthquake standards, as items to focus on. County staff may add ideas, particularly in behavioral health. Specific funding requests need to be submitted by mid-January.

County Council regular meeting of Nov. 28

During public comment, one citizen urged the county to develop stock pre-approved housing plans to speed up and simplify owner-builders meeting code. A citizen from Orcas urged the Council make chip-sealing Dolphin Bay Road a priority on the annual construction plan. One citizen proposed using funds for moorage and navigation aids. One citizen requested the removal of a confusing county sign.

After a public hearing, the county approved emergency and supplemental amendments to the 2023 budget of $1.3 million. The Council continued hearings to Dec. 5 on the 2024-2025 biennial budget and the 2024, 2025, and Six-Year Capital Improvements Plans, which have been updated but are not yet final. The updated status quo budget brings the 2024 budget numbers for the general fund into compliance with the code. The auditor recommended that action on decision packets for 2024 be held and revisited in January after the final numbers for 2023 are available. The Council reviewed and developed an initial consensus on decision packets financed from other funds.

The Council approved the amended Six-year Transportation Improvement Program and Annual Construction Program and included Dolphin Bay chip on the ACP. They passed the ordinance setting the 2024 Roads Levy and struck the language in the code setting aside $30k annually from the road fund for marine moorage and navigation until they develop a policy and projects for spending the funds already accumulated.

Deputy PA Jon Cain briefed the Council on the history and current code around the Lodging Tax which can be used to fund tourism promotion, the acquisition and operation of tourist facilities and the promotion of events and festivals to attract tourists. The Council approved a one-year extension of the agreement with the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, with the intent to issue a request for proposals for a long-term contract in 2024.

The Council also extended the term for two existing grants to the Lopez Island Pool project and for the Eastsound Parking study. As was the case for the recent extension with the SJI Historical Museum, the extensions were due to permitting delays with the projects.

The Council held a preliminary discussion of the grants recommended by the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee and will approve grants after mid-December.

Board of Health regular meeting of Nov. 29

Staff from the county and the Orcas Senior Center briefed the Board on the Orcas Dementia Friendly Community project that Orcas is undertaking through the Dementia Friendly Communities organization. They have formed a working group of community stakeholders.

They are designing a community survey and will use the results to develop a plan of activities and programs to support those with dementia and their caretakers. They will educate the community and reduce stigma. They have resources for caregivers including a Dementia Care Road Map and dementia-specific legal kits. There are an estimated 730 residents with some level of dementia in the county. Other island communities may decide to explore doing similar programs. The county has few memory care options and as the disease progresses, many must leave the county to get care. Developing some more options is a longer-term goal.

The Housing Program coordinator gave a year-end report on housing programs in the county. The 2023 point-in-time count of homeless/marginally was stable at about 140 people, with Lopez having the highest number. About 20% were estimated to be youth. The majority are couch surfing, or living in sub-standard shelters, with about 20 living outdoors or in cars.

The County provided rental assistance to 29 senior or disabled residents, distributed $45,000 in emergency rental assistance through the family resource centers, and provided a $120k grant to Opal to subsidize low-income housing units. The Home Fund distributed two million dollars for one affordable housing construction project on Orcas and two on Lopez and applied for and received utility hook-up grants for San Juan and Lopez and has submitted a grant application for an Orcas project. There are currently five affordable housing projects in active development, three of which have been permitted and should see construction begin in 2024. The Argyle lot project is proceeding, and a lease contract is undergoing legal review before going to the Council for consideration.

In 2024 the County will be working on a new 2025-2029 five-year Homelessness Plan as the current one ends on Dec. 31, 2024, and will convene a task force to begin drafting. In January, a working group will be formed to start creating a proposal to create a host home program for youth. The county will begin collecting the one-10th of one percent sales tax for affordable housing construction and housing case management services. The County and Town will be working to provide feedback as the design and planning of the Argyle Lots projects move forward.

The Early Learning Program report was postponed to January. The meeting was for November/December. The next meeting will be in January.