Update: A previous version of this article (including the one in print) misidentified the acronym that was used for the Washington State Association of Counties as the Washington Student Achievement Council.
The Islands’ Sounder caught up with San Juan County Councilmember Rick Hughes to review the achievements of the county in 2018 and what he looks forward to in 2019.
Sounder: How was the second year of your second term?
Hughes: I feel very fortunate to have the position I do and for the opportunity to serve Orcas Island and San Juan County. I feel that every day I learn more about how the county works and how to better work with regional, state and national partners. As always, the pace has been fast, and we continue to complete pledged projects from my first term and move the community forward. We have worked really hard on customer service – still more improvements possible – tried to find affordable housing options for our working and senior residents, balanced economic development and environmental protection.
Sounder: What successes do you think the council had this year?
Hughes: We have had a really good year and have completed many projects. Staff has been amazing, working above and beyond the call of duty to serve the community. In no particular order, successes this year include: all of our staff; passing of the affordable housing [real estate excise tax]; development of the [Washington State Ferries] Long Range Plan with all of SJC requests included; purchase of Lopez Hill and Odlin South on Lopez from [the Department of Natural Resources]; completion of the park ‘n’ ride at Orcas landing; nearing completion of the [remodel of] Orcas ferry landing; handling of chickenpox outbreak on Orcas; strong financial position; lowest debt level in 15 years; continued increased levels of savings; [establishing the] Deer Harbor trail system; continued growth in sales and [lodging tax] funds; increased permit approval level; vacation rental ordinance; continued excellent relationship with the Town of Friday Harbor and other taxing districts; [Southern resident orca] leadership at the state level; statewide leadership with [Washington State Association of Counties] and the Risk Pool; lowest unemployment in the state; completed annual budget; plan to move to two-year budget cycle; amazing chip seal season; replacement and upgrading of countywide marine facilities; and many more things.
Sounder: What do you think council could have done better?
Hughes: Government is always a work in progress and San Juan County is not an exception. I wish we could have directly altered the decline of the [Southern resident orca] population and been able to provide a local solution. We need to work on improving permit turn-around times and more dedicated efforts toward multi-modal trails. I would like to see more diversification in our work force. While this is difficult for local government to deliver, we need to continue to improve and work with regional business to provide new job opportunities for our community. As our community grows and changes, San Juan County needs to define and protect our rural character. Finally, we have worked hard to move the needle on affordable housing, but more work is needed.
Sounder: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Hughes: I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve and work for San Juan County. We have amazing employees and we are striving to be good partners with the community and help the community move forward to grow and preserve.
[The coming year] will be a good year for San Juan County. Orcas Road will be completed; Prune Alley construction will begin; emergency management infrastructure will be added and regionalized; connected transportation will move closer to being a reality; new ferries will begin construction; and online permits and tracking will be a reality. The county will move to two-year budgeting, and our long-range savings will grow to prepare the county for any financial outcome that presents the community. SJC will work toward energy and water sustainability, we will continue to protect and heal our marine and terrestrial environment and will plan for what growth and adversity that may present itself. San Juan County will be the best in the state and continue to provide leadership at the regional and state level.
I’d like to thank San Juan County for the opportunity to serve. It has been an honor to work for you all. I look forward to continuing to serve. There have been so many amazing things completed, but so much more work to do. I wish all of San Juan County a happy and prosperous 2019. Happy New Year!