Town hall meeting in Eastsound well attended
February 27, 2009 · 6:17 PM
Orcas Islanders came out swinging during the first town hall meeting since 2007.
“What are the county's top challenges?” asked Ed Sutton.
County Council Members Richard Fralick and Gene Knapp both agreed that it was managing growth and the impact on the environment.
“We'll have been successful as a county if we can look out in the morning and see we've protected the land. On the flip side, when people buy land, they need to know exactly what they can and can't do with it,” Fralick said.
With snow falling outside the fire station's windows, more than 100 people attended the gathering on Feb. 25, led by Fralick, Knapp and County Administrator Pete Rose.
The evening began with a brief presentation by the councilmen on current county issues, followed by a questions and answers forum. On an overhead screen, Knapp, District 5, Orcas East, provided a very long list of recent council topics to spark questions from the crowd.
And the audience came well prepared.
Steve Henigson made the first comment of the night, requesting the sign ordinance be rewritten. Henigson, who volunteers his time to maintain and paint the signs for Orcas Center, believes strongly in their value and thinks the enforcement of the ordinance is unfair, as some signs come down immediately, while others stay for weeks on end.
Rose said that perhaps the signs could be in a different form, fashioned to look more like street signs, which was done in a previous city he worked for. He also cited Woodinville as an example, which used its lodging tax to pay for tourist destination signs. In that example, the Orcas Center would meet the definition of a tourist destination. He noted a different scenario in Healdsburg, California where downtown businesses pay for signs with several business logos in a single frame.
The stormwater fee was brought up, with audience members asking for more explanation on how the money is used. Rose said the basic fee covers stormwater monitoring, maintenance, administration and basin planning, and about $5 per billing set aside for capital until the stormwater committee recommends and the council funds additional projects.
Fralick, District 4, Orcas West, said he would like to look at rural stormwater policies to make the county's plan more appropriate for this area.
The budget was a hot topic for the night. Fralick explained that the 2008 general fund was 15 million, while for 2009 it is 14 million. The total amount for all funds was 55 million in 2008 and 51 million for 2009. This is due to a decrease in sales and real estate taxes and a significant reduction in interest on money that has been in the bank during the year.
Fralick is chair of the budget sub committee, which is currently gathering information on what the county's priorities are as it plans its upcoming budget.
George Post told the councilmen that when looking at the budget, come to the voters with something that is important and needs funding.
“Money is not the highest value. Think about asking the community to pay for some of this. It's about supporting our quality of life and our sustainability,” Post said.
Charles Binford said he believes that there is a huge amount of money the county is missing out on from people not paying sales tax for items sold on Orcas.
Rose told Binford there was “more than a kernel of truth” in that statement, and as of July 1, 2008, state law requires that sales tax is paid at point of delivery instead of point of sale.
“It will probably take two to three years to get everyone reporting properly,” Rose said.
Joanne Francis asked the councilmen about the progress on retro-permitting, saying that current fines are not enough of a deterrent, and that the county shouldn't force through retro-permits on properties that wouldn't have been approved in the first place.
Fralick said it was of concern and Rose added that it is addressed in two places. For the average “mistake,” the fee ordinance provides for the building official to assess double fees for building without a permit. In the new code enforcement ordinance to be considered this year, there will be a penalty section and the council will consider whether additional multiples of the fee should be assessed for intentional, egregious or repeat violations. He noted that the new ordinance will also try to deal with the issue of not allowing an unpermitted improvement to remain if it was prohibited to begin with.
Charly Robinson, the new farmers' market manager, asked about the status of the street vending ordinance. As it is now, there aren't any regulations in place to monitor who sells goods and whether or not those products are locally made. The council has been asked many times to write a no-peddling ordinance, but Knapp said the county has changed around 50 ordinances per year since the new charter government was enacted, and peddling is on the list of ordinances to be rewritten.
Video conferencing for the county council's meeting is a priority right now, so that residents of other islands may tune into their proceedings. Fralick said it might be fairly inexpensive to use web conferencing. The council will start a trial project of putting video clips sorted by agenda item from their meetings on the county website starting in March.
Ed LeCocq spoke about the rash of burglaries on the island, which he feels are drug-related.
“It's got to be solved or it's going to kill this community,” he said. Rose said that his concerns would be raised with the San Juan County Sheriff.
Pierette Guimond spoke about the cell tower ordinance, asking the council to not give cell phone companies carte blanche when revising the cell tower ordinance.
“I am not against cell towers, but we need to protect the rural and residential areas where they are put,” she said.
Mindy Kayl also spoke about cell towers, requesting an island by island ordinance.
Sutton, who is chair of the Ferry Advisory Committee for the San Juans, spoke about the ferries' current situation.
Plan A calls for the acquisition of 10 new vessels over the next 20 years and would make capital investments in land transit programs at selected terminals to encourage walk-on ferry ridership.
Plan B calls for the purchase of just five new vessels, the elimination of the Anacortes-to-Sidney ferry route, and removal of that boat from domestic service. It assumes that some of the reduction in capacity would be absorbed by passenger ferries, operated by local entities rather than the state.
Plan B is off the docket, and the Sydney run is very likely safe, which means that the domestic capacity on the “Chelan” is preserved as well. The Transportation Commission has now presented a financial proposal that seeks to fund Plan A, which recommends that fares be raised six percent every year for five years to close the operating budget deficit. There are additional proposals to add a fuel surcharge and a summer season “super surcharge.”
The audience asked about the Eastsound Urban Growth Area, specifically about the cost of being completely compliant.
Rose said there is just one issue left, which has to do with an Eastsound Sewer and Water District future service pipeline that is outside the UGA boundary. It will cost around two months of staff time to correct the problem, or the district can modify its master plan.
The UGA projection is that there will be 449 additional homes in Eastsound by 2025. There was a request to know the population and housing at “build-out.” A check with county staff after the meeting showed that build-out numbers have not been projected at this time.
Paul Kamin of the Eastsound Water Users Association answered a question about providing water for the UGA.
“There are many options that are developable, which most likely mean creating new reservoirs. The bottom line is we are state-mandated by the health department to provide for growth as outlined by the county.”
Fralick and Knapp closed the meeting by asking the crowd if they'd like to see another town hall meeting held.
The audience answered with a resounding yes.