Time and money: a sense of urgency and restraint

When Franklin Roosevelt firsttook office as President of the U.S., the accomplishments of his first 30 days were amazing, and spoke of a vision and energy that answered the urgent needs of a beleagured nation.

Last week, that sense of urgency was evident in much of the islands’ news. Pete Rose, County Administrator, and Ron Henrickson, Planning Director, addressed the San Juan Builders to hear longstanding complaints were being addressed.. While they offered solid assurances that concerns regarding permitting delays and interdepartmental communication, it is still understandable that some of the builders took their remarks with a cynical (or is it educated?) response.

Glitches, delays, arbitrary decisions, miscommunications, lack of authority and lack of delegated authority have all combined to create a gridlock of sizable proportions at County Planning. The builders have been in the front lines in this impasse with City Hall, and some of their stories would make anyone fume with frustration and impatience.

But in our aggravation with recent history, let’s not blame the messengers, the fixers of a bad accident. Six planning directors in six years obviously fights against consistency and authority in the Planning Department. In addition, updating a cumbersome County code has contributed to the time diverted from addressing planning and permitting issues. Now with a full staff and experienced, committed leadership, the public has a right to expect the behemoth that is the backlog at County Planning to be turned around.

Rose and Henrickson promise to meet with the builders again in February, and Rose has staked his job on delivering efficient service to the builders and to the County Council. Let’s ask the builders to come to these meetings with a forward-looking, cooperative attitude.

On another crucial island issue, State Representative Jeff Morris has grabbed the bull by the horns and is proposing a bill to construct two new ferries on an accelerated schedule, beginning in April. It’s not the perfect answer to WSF’s problems: Morris’ bill proposes smaller ferries with 85- to 91-vehicle capacity. But size is sacrificed for time, with construction using already-designed plans in order to hasten the process.

“It’s not the best solution in the world,” Morris said. But in this case, a good plan today is better than the perfect plan tomorrow.

Budgeting for these ferries raises the question of whatever happened to the $345 billion allocated in 2005 to build four new ferries, now, thanks to inflation and soaring fuel prices, downsized to three new ferries?

And that brings us to money. Yes, the public has questions about Fire Department Commissioners hiring Buddy Wright as Assistant Battalion Chief at a $90,000 a year salary.

When County Administrator Rose has warned repeatedly of the “planned descent” of the county’s operating budget, due in part to declining property and retail sales taxes, when he predicts that the County budget is forecast to be running at a deficit in three years, when the Planning Department struggles for 13 months to hire necessary personnel, and finally is able to do so by offering a “living” wage (more like a “housing” wage) to its employees, and when County advisory committees, including the Planning Commission, the Stormwater Steering Committee, and the Ferry Advisory Committees work without pay, there are plenty of questions as to how the Fire Department, a junior taxing district, can afford to pay $90,000 to Mr. Wright.

As one longtime islander commented, “The Fire Department knows how to spend money.”

The question is not the value of Mr. Wright’s services, but the balance between maintaining a healthy county budget and spending county money spent on county needs. Restraint may be the better part of value here.

The Sounder encourages its readers to contact County Council members and State Legislators on issues of importance to them.

County Council: council@co.san-juan.wa.us

Legislative officials:

Senator Harriet Spanel: PO Box 40440, Olympia WA 98504-0440, 360-786-7678, spanel.harriet@leg.wa.gov

Representative Dave Quall: PO Box 40600, Olymia WA 98504-0600, 360-786-7800, quall.dave@leg.wa.gov

Representative Jeff Morris: PO Box 40600 Olumpia WA 98504-0600, 360-786-7970. morris.jeff@leg.wa.gov