The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Michele Smith
The Times 

Commissioners Discuss Budget Shortfalls

Tucannon Road construction project concerns also get board’s attention


DAYTON—At last week’s department head meeting, the Columbia County Commissioners asked for feedback on how to fund essential services in 2018 in light of continued reductions in state funding and continuing budget issues.

“Our budgets are not flush for the next couple of years,” said Commissioner Norm Passmore.

The commissioners and department heads discussed the merits of asking voters for general budget help, or for specific help in particular areas, such as Law and Justice, which has seen drastic revenue shortfalls.

According to District Court Judge Scott Marinella, the state is supposed to fund 50% of Law and Justice expenses, but is only funding 17%.

“With the state backing out, we have to make tough decisions. It’s up to the citizens to make that decision,” said Commissioner Mike Talbott.

“The county is working to keep afloat,” said Commissioner Merle Jackson. “We haven’t had significant tax increases. Voters should make the choice,” he added.

Creating a junior taxing district for flood control was also discussed at the meeting. The county plans to meet with city representatives on the topic during the week of April 20.

Jason and Cheri Towery, owners of The Last Resort, Blue Mountains KOA; Kari Dingman, Assistant Wildlife Manager with the Department of Fish and Wildlife; and Audra Sims, Blue Mountains Area State Parks Manager, expressed numerous concerns about road closures slated for this summer due to the Tucannon Road construction project.

County Engineer Andrew Woods said there had been a miscommunication, and he assured the parties the road would not be completely closed. Woods said a schedule will be determined when the contractor comes on board, and concerned parties will be notified about it.

Woods said the intention is for the project to be finished before the beginning of hunting season. Hartsock and Blind Grade Roads have been designated as alternate routes to get to Camp Wooten.

The commissioners approved a request from Martha Lanman, County Public Health Director, to support efforts to write Foundational Public Health Services language into Washington State law for core health services. The commissioners also signed a memorandum of understanding in regard to a Washington State Pharmacy Bill.

Lanman said she is looking at other grant opportunities to extend the level for state funding in light of potential cuts to public health programs and low-income programs at the federal level.

Public records requests are getting onerous, according to Tim Dyke, the county’s information technologist. He told the commissioners that there is a backlog of 6,600 e-mails, going back to 2013, to be processed. Because the county prosecutor hasn’t the time or staff to process the requests, they have fallen to other staff who might not know what information is or is not confidential, he said.

The commissioners will obtain information from the state about how to go about hiring someone to process records requests, and to ask about costs, and they might check with other local entities to see if the work and costs can be shared.

The commissioners also approved a request from Dyke to allow the purchase of an additional camera to be used in Superior Court, for greater visibility and for the safety of the judge.

Port Manager Jennie Dickinson asked the commissioners to sign a two-year contract re-designating the Port of Columbia as the Associate Development Organization for the county, and they did.


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