Islands' Sounder


Final county conversation | Guest column

April 13, 2013 · Updated 9:40 AM

by Robert W. Jean

Interim County Manager

The San Juan County Community Conversations continue and conclude April 16-18. Averaging 40 to 60 participants per meeting, with some attracting more than 90 participants, the conversations have been a huge success thanks to you. If you haven’t participated so far, you still have a chance. The fourth in our conversations will be on Orcas on April 16, Lopez on April 17 and San Juan on April 18.

The first three conversations covered quality of life, public services and the economy. This last conversation is on the “Priorities of Government.”

When discussing quality of life, many common goals or themes emerged from all the islands. Yet, each island had different views or paths on how best to get there.  Rather than a simple desire to “Preserve Island Quality of Life,” islanders recognize that the islands are constantly changing and the common goal is to protect and enhance the special character of each island. Jobs, affordable housing, transportation, senior services, communications, environment, and community emerged as  county-wide themes. As we discuss the priorities of government, we hope to identify the appropriate service mix and action strategy for each island. As Lopez people said, “Think locally, act neighborly.”

In our discussion of public services, several things were clear.  The community wants good public services, but service delivery can come from many places.  OPALCO, special districts (fire, schools, library, parks etc.), the Town of Friday Harbor, nonprofit organizations all gain leverage, doing more with less, because of partnerships and community volunteers.  The county needs to do what it must (courts, sheriff, assessor, roads, etc.) and then support the rest!  The county’s role is not so much about providing services, but seeing that needed services are provided.

The economy of each island differs, as do the threats and opportunities.  Will the current course we’re on sustain the island lifestyles?  Fishing, farming, and forestry once provided living wages, and construction is a major job source today, but what will the island’s future economy be?  Will there be healthy, family-wage job growth, or will the number of good-paying jobs continue to decline?  More importantly, do county policies and codes help or hurt our long-term economic goals?

Where the county places its priorities affects the level of public services, which in turn influences the economy.  It is the San Juan Islands “Quality of Life” circle. Do we want “The best government at the least cost,” leaving the economy to do what it does? Are there areas where the county should do more to help grow the economy and partner with the town, special districts and nonprofits?

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