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San Juan County Council budget hearings continue

LWVSJ Observer Corps* summary of San Juan County Council October 10, 2023 meeting. 

SAFE San Juans Director Dave Dunaway thanked the Council for putting purple lights on county buildings and the Council proclaimed October Domestic Violence Awareness month.

The Council continued budget hearings: The Environmental Stewardship Department is responsible for Marine Resources, Solid Waste (includes derelict vessels), Stormwater, Clean Water, Climate Resilience and Cultural Resources. There is a significant capital budget for stormwater, water quality and marine projects and restoration, most of which is grant funded. The County contracts with the Town of Friday Harbor for some stormwater services but will bring in out-of-county contractors for Lopez and Orcas as the town faces equipment and staff issues. Given the large number of capital projects one Council member queried whether the section needs its own engineer vs. contracting for engineering services. 

The Land Bank has 30 sites open to the public and expects to open one new site each on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan in 2024.  It manages the Conservation Area Fund and Stewardship Fund. Activities are moving from caretaking to active management for sustainability, including forest thinning and restoration. They are replacing gas fired equipment with electric versions.

The Treasurer’s Office is asking that a fifth position, cut in lean times, be restored to help manage increased related estate-related tax activity, as well as reimbursement from Environmental Stewardship and Noxious Weed Control for collecting their service fees.

The Department of Community Development has four offices: Building, Land Use, Long Range Planning and Code enforcement. Their 2024 goals are to convert all permitting applications to online; reduce their permit backlog; fill vacant positions; and to propose code revisions to remove conflicts and create clarity. They have a grant for the next comprehensive plan update. The interim director recommends adding three positions: a planning chief, a code enforcement officer, and an admin assistant for the Fire Mashall. There are large numbers of code violations that can’t be enforced with current staff. He recommends transferring the environmental code enforcement position from Environmental Stewardship to DCD; this would reverse a move recommended by a previous Charter Review Commission to address a perceived conflict of interest.

The Noxious Weed Control presented a status quo budget request and asked to reclassify the summer staff as seasonal vs. temporary to improve recruitment and retention. The Council reviewed proposals from Environmental Stewardship for Clean Water and Capital Improvement Plan service charges and asked to review some alternate options on October 31. They set a public hearing for November 7 for ordinances setting property tax levies for 2024 for roads, general expenses, and land conservation futures. 

Staff presented the results of the Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Risk Assessment study which identified 12 vulnerable areas on four islands looking at roads and public facilities that could be impacted in coming decades.

The Council appointed Libi Geddes to the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee. The Council then went into Executive Session to discuss possible real estate transactions.

*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.

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