By Michele Smith
the Times 

Columbia County Newbies Eaton and Strickland assess and prioritize

Understaffing and radio system upgrades are top concerns


DAYTON-Since Charles Eaton and Ashley Strickland have stepped into their respective roles as the county's Public Works Director and Emergency Management/E-911 Director, they have been busy assessing and tackling the issues in their departments.

Eaton told the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), on Monday, that his department is seriously understaffed. He said Public Works Lead Inspector Robert Yates announced his retirement from the department that very morning. Yates has worked for the county over thirty years.

Now there are four open positions in the department and three employees are on medical leave.

The good news is that both Geographic Information System – used for mapping and analyzing geographic data – positions have been filled.

Eaton is concerned about how being understaffed will impact the work that needs to be done. He said he plans to double up on the engineering side, himself.

"We'll work out the options after the fourth," he said.

Eaton told the BOCC that his department received a letter of noncompliance from the state Department of Ecology for the way green waste is collected and contained at the transfer facility. He said constructing a storm water containment pond is the likely long-term solution.

Eaton said he would like to create a six-year transportation plan going into the upcoming, and future, budget cycles.

"This allows us to forecast and capitalize expenditure," he said.

This six-year plan would be flexible enough to take challenges, like unforeseen weather conditions, under consideration.

The BOCC approved an agreement with the City of Dayton for the county to provide bituminous surface treatment services (also known as chip sealing) on North Cherry Street and South 5th Street, which will cost a little over $30,000.

They also awarded a contract for the South Touchet Road Reconstruction Project to Barker, Inc.

Barker, Inc. had the low bid at just under $1.6 million. The county will need to identify an additional $404,000 for the project.

"We will do everything we can to keep it at the lowest numbers possible," Eaton said.

Emergency Services/E-911 Department Director Ashley Strickland also has a long-time employee retiring.

Barbara Phinney, who served as interim director prior to Strickland's employment with the county, will retire on Oct. 25.

Strickland said the department still has two employees who are well versed in the system.

Strickland said the Thorn radio repeater has failed again and attributed the problem to the fact that there are third party carriers involved. He said, recently, the loop between the carriers overloaded the system, and it crashed every ten minutes, during a 24-hour period.

Strickland said the solution is to place the backhaul data onto a private network. That would cost between around one million, for the whole system, or around $750,000 just for radios, he said.

He believes the majority of funds can be obtained through grants.

Strickland also has concerns about what would happen to the radio system in the instance of a courthouse evacuation.

He said the Public Works Department has a radio system, but there is no computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and there are no 911 phones. So moving emergency service operations to that department would not be a good solution.

He said Walla Walla county uses the same CAD, so a possible solution would be to work with them to create a true back-up center.

Strickland said he will investigate that over the next few months. There are grants available to help offset costs, he told the BOCC.


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