County Manager Mike Thomas

County looks back at productive 2016 | Guest Column

by Mike Thomas

San Juan County Manager

The holiday season is a good time to reflect on all that was accomplished on behalf of the citizens of San Juan County in 2016. The county council conducted 65 meetings, including those held on Orcas, Lopez, Shaw and Waldron, passed 67 pieces of legislation and continued to advocate vehemently for oil spill protection, noise abatement, salmon recovery and mental health funding. Such advocacy will continue in 2017.

A high level of community engagement resulted in the passage of the Deer Harbor Master Plan, a revised Shoreline Master Program, the Parks, Trails, and Natural Areas Plan and substantive progress on Eastsound infrastructure (Prune Alley and Fern Streets) planning and the Lopez Village sub-area plan and infrastructure improvements, namely the Lopez Farmer’s Market stormwater project. A partnership between the county and Orcas Recycling Services was formed for the purpose of building a new Exchange building at the Orcas solid waste site. Construction is expected to begin in early 2017. Speaking of solid waste, the household hazardous waste collection events removed over 25 tons of hazardous waste from the islands.

Public works improvements were many and included a new dock at Odlin Park, replacement of the Deer Harbor Bridge (still under construction), and 1.3 miles of gravel road conversion on Dolphin Bay road. Progress was made on refining the Orcas Road project and Orcas Landing projects including the Orcas Park and Ride. The commitment to replacing fleet vehicles with electric vehicles continued with the purchase of two additional fully electric vehicles.

Preservation and protection of the islands’ unique environment was furthered with the adoption of a plastic bag ban, the adoption of the San Juan Islands Seven Principles of Leave No Trace – a program to instill an environmental ethic in those who visit the Islands, acquisition of Zylstra Lake, and completion of a draft San Juan Ecosystem Protection and Recovery Plan for salmon.

Financially, the county lived well within the means provided by the taxpayers, and reduced outstanding debt by refinancing two bonds at a favorable interest rate. Savings equated to $1.2 million over the life of the debt. The county continued to look at its internal alignment and business practices as a way to effectively manage costs.

The commitment to improved technology resulted in a new website, much needed improvements to the dispatch center, and a new Parks reservation system. New acquired technology made it possible for county employees to have connectivity while in the field and at a larger number of County sites. Remote access to information lays the bedrock for expanding services throughout the county.

The issue of affordable housing generated a lot of discussion and a call for action. While there is much still to do on this issue, the County convened an Affordable Housing Workgroup to develop a strategic action plan, partnered with OPAL to secure a HUD Community Development Block Grant for more housing units, and conducted an assessment of county owned land that might lend itself to supporting an affordable housing project.

These accomplishments and efforts are intended to provide a sense for what occurred in 2016. It would take considerably more space to document all of the many things the county and its dedicated employees accomplished. I wish you a prosperous 2017.