San Juan County Year in Review | Part one

Submitted by San Juan County

A Message from the County Manager Mike Thomas:

Welcome. It is my pleasure to introduce the 2023 Year-in-Review, detailing San Juan County accomplishments as well as the services provided to our Island community. The success of the past 12 months was made possible by and through the diligent work of the employees, elected officials, and those who gave generously of their time to serve on any number of boards and commissions.

Amongst the highlights, the following are several key changes that occurred in 2023. To begin the year, new council member, Jane Fuller – District 3, was seated, and the county rescinded its COVID state of emergency resolution following the state. Because the impacts of the pandemic still linger, council appropriated over $635,000 of federal ARPA funds to support a range of services provided by the Resource Centers, daycares, and others.

To magnify its voice and strengthen advocacy efforts, the County took the bold step of joining a multicounty consortium (SWISS) to partner on common issues such as housing, health, transportation, and ferries. And, for the first time, a lobbyist will represent the County’s interest when the state legislative session begins.

The County completed ground-breaking scientific work on a Sea Level Rise Risk Assessment Study that provides the science needed to assess future impacts to shoreline ecology, public infrastructure, and private property. Sea level rise, along with climate change science and information, will be included in the 2025 Comprehensive Plan update and used in capital project decision-making.

Thanks to the vision of the voters, the Home Fund provided $2 million for affordable housing projects. The County passed a housing sales tax and selected a private partner to build a public/private affordable housing development in Friday Harbor.

Exasperated by difficulty recruiting and maintaining staff, the County boldly adopted a 32-hour work week – the first County to do so in the state. The change yielded a notable increase in applications and successful recruits.

I am proud of the work, successes, and organizational changes you will read in the Review. The progress and lessons learned in 2023 will serve the County and community well as we begin 2024.


Councilmember Cindy Wolf assumed the role of Council Chair for 2023. Jane Fuller joined the County Council to represent District 3.


The Conservation Land Bank hosted an open house meeting to provide input on three Lopez Preserves: Spencer Spit, Richardson Marsh, and Lopez Hill.


HCS celebrated the launch of the new ‘Luci B Community Wellness Van.’


The Sheriff’s Office introduced a new drone program to assist with search and rescue missions. Council voted to accept the San Juan Community Home Trust as the chosen applicant for the Argyle Lots affordable housing project.


Council held meeting on Shaw Island.


County celebrated the completion of the Holliwalk Neighborhood – a project that received over $1.5 million of County funding.


The County kicked off the plastic film recycling program on San Juan Island.


The four-day County Fair, themed ‘Dancing with the Steers’ welcomed over 14,000 attendees. The County announced the adoption of a 32-hour work week.


164 volunteers participated in the County’s ‘Great Islands Clean-up’ and removed over 1,800lbs of litter from 50 miles of island roads and beaches.


The County Council adopted a new 1/10th of 1% sales tax for affordable housing and related services. County and WSF completed the Orcas Ferry Terminal updates, paving the way for greater accessibility. San Juan County celebrated its 150th anniversary as an organization!


The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office successfully completed a rigorous accreditation program that certifies it is operating under best practices and standards for law enforcement. County and Town officials sent an open letter to state officials regarding impacts of poor ferry service.


Conservation Land Bank engaged the community in strategic planning with an online survey. San Juan County adopted the 2024/25 budget.

Countywide news and initiatives

San Juan County launched a number of new programs and initiatives to improve communications, increase accessibility, and encourage community engagement.

The County unveiled Civic Clerk, a new software to streamline meetings and manage agendas. The IT department also transitioned the County’s website from to to increase cyber security.

The County was proud to invest in the next generation of workers by launching its first internship program in 2023. Six interns joined five different County departments to gain on-the-job experience, professional development opportunities, and earn a paycheck. Interns worked on recycling projects, supported the County’s Financial Services, created educational resources for the public, and much more.

San Juan County launched a new platform called ‘Engage San Juan County’ in January of 2023. Since its launch, the site has amassed 65,111 site visits, 1,494 contributions, and 607 registrations.

The platform provides opportunities for the public to participate in large-scale projects. Users of the platform can sign-up for news alerts, submit questions and feedback, and follow a project through its stages of completion. The platform now hosts 12 projects.