October 7, 2002
UACs, King Co. leadership have meaningful exchange of ideas
by Jeanette Knutson
They came, they listened and they took notes. And they left with a kind of oral report card.
King County Executive Ron Sims and many of the county's department and division heads came to the Woodinville Library last Monday night, Sept. 30, to participate in a joint forum of the county's six Unincorporated Area Councils (UAC).
These six councils are made up of volunteers concerned about their unincorporated communities' quality of life.
For them, King County is both a regional and a local government. And they want to have input in and a relationship with that government.
A 1994 Executive Order signed by the then County Executive Gary Locke implemented the Citizen Participation Initiative, which laid the groundwork for the formation of these area councils.
And the county's UACs have been evolving since then.
Our area's UAC - the Upper Bear Creek Community Council - represents some 22,000 people who live in unincorporated King County between the Sammamish and the Snoqualmie valleys.
The Upper Bear Creek Council hosted last week's joint forum.
By all counts, the forum provided for a favorable exchange of ideas. The councils were appreciative of a chance to make their key priorities known and to "grade" King County on its responsiveness to their problems. Executive Sims and the county department heads were clearly appreciative of the feedback. Many of the county officials present jotted down queries and issues pertinent to their departments.
Though the six Unincorporated Area Councils are from far-flung areas of King County - the Four Creeks (Renton) area, the Maple Valley area, the Vashon-Maury Island area, the North Highline area (White Center), and the Upper Bear Creek area - their presentations demonstrated that they have common concerns.
Crime: Speaking on behalf of the Upper Bear Creek community, Geoff Clayton reported that the area had very good police. He reported the community wanted to maintain its storefront officers at the Community Service Center on the corner of Avondale and Woodinville-Duvall Road.
Other councils were concerned about attacking "meth" houses or about the decrease in the number of officers per capita while the crime rate was not going down.
Executive Sims explained that the decrease in police numbers had less to do with budget cuts and more to do with the department getting fewer recruits.
Fewer people going into police work was a nationwide problem, he said. Sims also said King County had high standards for its officers and that not everyone who applied met those standards.
Roads and Traffic: Manager of Road Services in the King County Department of Transportation Linda Dougherty received more than one compliment on her timely response to UAC road problems. Increasing general road capacity was on nearly every UAC wish list.
Clayton from Upper Bear Creek encouraged King County to work more with Snohomish County when planning Bear Creak area road fixes.
Parks: Clayton said that Cottage Lake Park had both a basketball court and a pool and the area council wanted to keep both. He said they also wanted to find ways to maintain the area's resource parks and keep its stream steward.
Clayton also said, "(The Route 9 site proposed for the Brightwater plant) is good ground on which to put a regional wastewater treatment facility, but the county has to remember that the site is on a finger of land that protrudes into a residential area."
Clayton said he saw what the county did by providing lights and fields at a pump station in Bothell and he'd like to see active parks for recreation built (with part of the Brightwater mitigation money).
On the whole, the area councils were saddened by park closures.
North Highline area representative Ron Johnson said, "Park closures had a special impact for low-income area kids and families."
Keeping Rural Areas Rural: Rural residents, it was said, like their peace and solitude, their freedom to own land, their freedom to have private wells.
Clayton from Upper Bear Creek said, "This is a wonderful residential area that people choose to live in at certain times in their lives."
Clayton stressed the importance of Bear Creek, that it continue to be allowed broad buffers. He called Upper Bear Creek community "a leader in the protection of riparian corridors."
The Vashon-Maury Island council representative Kyle Cruver said islanders were very anti-growth and development. They wanted to remain the spot of green they currently were and were pushing to preserve what was there, with no changes in zoning.
Making Sure UACs Have a Seat at the Table: Clayton said, "We need new ways to be governed. We need representation. Unincorporated areas are important parts of the county."
West Hill representative Kathleen Royer said, "I am concerned about the (notion of a) reduction in the number of King County Council members. I think it's premature."
Another representative said, "We realize you can save money by restructuring the King County Council. But we need our representatives."
To this Sims replied, "There are days I wish for three council members. ... The UACs will have opportunity to participate."
Youth and Seniors: North Highline's Johnson said, "We have a New Start Program, an alternative high school for troubled youth."
Apparently the program has been successful, but there is difficulty funding it. Johnson asked for county help.
Johnson also said the senior center in Burien was losing its facility. They, too, need support.
Clayton wanted ball fields or recreation areas for Upper Bear Creek youth. He also said smaller buses for seniors to get around would be helpful.
West Hill's Royer wanted to be sure storefront police were maintained and that the community center, which was a focal point for kids, didn't lose its funding.
Some Public Input
Q: On a scale of one to 10, with one being worst and 10 being best, how efficient is King County in spending our money and getting "bang for its buck"?
A: Sims said, "7.5. Credit-rating agencies give us a good rating. We have been creative. Our employee productivity is very high. We are embarking on things no other government has done."
Q: What is the county doing about its retention/detention ponds in wake of the West Nile virus?
A: The problem with mosquitoes is that if you use sprays to try to eradicate them, you kill lots of insects, including mosquito predators. The predators are needed to maintain a balance in the ecosystem. The number of county-owned retention ponds is quite small. We have 10 times more natural areas where mosquitoes can breed. To reduce risk of getting the disease, people can wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, use Deet to spray clothes, not go outdoors at certain hours (dawn, dusk and early evening). Citizens are encouraged not to touch a dead raven or crow if they find one - and to let the county know about it immediately - since the disease is introduced through bird populations first. The West Nile hotline to report the dead birds or to get more information is (206) 205-3883.
Q: This question had to do with the Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES), which is a self-supporting, break-even department because it bills the citizens who use it. People are charged at various rates, sometimes as high as $132 per hour, for the any time spent with a DDES employee beyond 15 minutes.
It seems, by using this pay-for-service technique, the Department was able to pay back a $20 million deficit in eight years' time. The public wanted to know if the county couldn't cut the rates since the $20 million debt had been paid back.
One person said, "$132 an hour, where's the incentive to reduce costs? It seems like an awfully high cost."
Another person said, "It seems like DDES needs to put more effort into helping the customer get the information they need (without charging them $132 an hour)." He said the department actually causes people more problems than it actually solves. He knows that developers have started hiring people just to interface with DDES so that they can keep costs and headaches to a minimum.
A: The user-fee has kept this department self-supporting. The fees have been reduced and staff is laid off as needed. The county will be looking at DDES over the next four months to review it. "We thought we had a good business model," said Sims. "It may need to be tweaked."
Q: With cutbacks in county staff, what percent of those cuts were mid- to upper-management?
A: "We've gone very, very flat," said Sims.
To close the forum Sims said, "Government is made better by UACs. We took a lot of notes this evening. We thank you all for participating. Rural areas will remain rural. And (county government) will be as good as you are. If you use us as a tool, we can be useful to you. Thank you for making us a better government."