OCEAN PARK — “We are not ‘district-centric’ in that you can talk to any one of us if you have an issue you would like to discuss,” Commissioner Steve Rogers told the eight people at the Ocean Park Fire Hall May 14 who attended the first of 11 planned Pacific County commissioners town hall events.

“Steve and I both said during our campaigns that we would hold meetings to find out what the people in our county are concerned about and this is the first of those meetings that we will have each month in different spots around the county. We will hold these in 11 parts of the county and take December off,” Commissioner Frank Wolfe stated.

“The next meeting will be in Lebam in my part of the county,” commission Chairwoman Lisa Ayers added. Wolfe is in District 2 that basically is from Ledbetter Point to Long Beach. Rogers is in District 1 that encompasses most of South Bend and also Ilwaco and Seaview. Ayers is in District 3 that includes Raymond, Menlo, Lebam, Brooklyn, Naselle and points east to the Wahkiakum County line.

“Steve has the smallest area, but with the most dense population and Lisa has the area with the most trees,” Wolfe quipped.

“We have people, too,” Ayers joked back. “Actually each district is very even in size of population.”

Budget review

The commissioners shared in presenting the budget with a pie chart. The county budget for 2013 is almost $8.5 million, down from $9.5 million just four years ago.

Of that amount, 67 percent is distributed for public safety, which includes law enforcement, 911 operation, district and superior courts, prosecutor and public defenders and juvenile and adult detention. “That is a stunner,” Rogers said of the large portion of county expenses that are allocated for public safety.

“When we had to make cuts (of over 10 percent) over the last four years and when public safety is the largest portion of our budget by far, we had no choice to make cuts there,” Wolfe explained. The county is mandated by state law to keep a balanced budget and unlike the federal government, cannot operate with a deficit.

“We have worked to get grants to keep sheriff deputies on the roads,” Ayers related. She said that it costs about $120,000 per year to provide one patrol officer on the road. Grants have been procured in the past for more deputies and Sheriff Scott Johnson and Administrative Manager Cathy Spoor are working on obtaining more grant money for the future. Another major concern is that the county courthouse building in South Bend is almost 113 years old and will be in need of major repairs.

About 43 percent of the taxes levied go toward schools; 14 percent go to hospitals, ports and libraries; while 15 percent is allocated to fire districts. Roads and county expenses amount to only about 28 percent of taxes levied.

“The county sends out one tax statement each year and acts as a collection agency for several other government agencies. That is why we need an assessor, treasurer and auditor,” Wolfe explained.

From 2008 to 2010 sales tax revenue dropped by 15 percent to $1.27 million, timber tax plummeted by 90 percent from $774,000 to $76,800 and real estate excise tax dropped 84 percent from $774,000 to $125,000. From 2010 to 2012 sales tax has remained lower at $1.2 million, but timber tax is up to $513,000. Real estate excise tax was down to $104,000, but is again on the rise so far in 2013. The downward spiral is due in large part because of the sagging economy, especially in the housing market.

“Lisa is our veteran with two years of experience as commissioner and many more years working for the county. Cathy has been with the county over a year and Frank and I are the new kids on the block,” Rogers said after he and Wolfe took over as commissioners less than six months ago. “In some cases new blood can be good,” he added.

Audience ideas

Audience member Brigid Byrne suggested getting a grant to “spiff up” downtown Ocean Park. Wolfe explained that Bay Avenue, which Byrne had provided old photos showing a more aesthetic scene, is a state highway from Highway 103 east to Sandridge Road and that could cause difficulties in making changes.

The commissioners agreed that Byrne’s idea was a good one and that Spoor would look into the possibility of obtaining grants for the project.

Other people did not reveal their names, but asked the commissioners about cleaning up garbage, derelict automobiles and park model RVs being used as residences in parts of the county. Wolfe and Ayers said that RVs that are parked on property for over a year that are 410 square-feet or less, over five years old and that do not meet HUD standards must be moved. The Department of Community Development (DCD) is in charge of such issues, but several problems may arise in enforcement.

DCD is a fund-driven department, with building fees providing the bulk of revenue. “DCD is down from 12 to 8.6 employees,” Ayers said. Enforcement begins with a complaint-driven procedure.

“There is no denying that there are garbage pit residences, including having old cars sitting on property. Once DCD gets a complaint, they call the landowner and the response could be anything from nice to ugly,” Wolfe said. “The county can give a ticket for $1,045 per day for non-compliance and it doesn’t take long to lead to a foreclosure. Sometimes the process leads to the county having property that is a mess and then what do we do?” he said. The county does sell foreclosed property to help recover some of the expenses incurred.

A question of people not paying property tax “for five years” was brought up; the commissioners explained that once a person is over three years in arrears, legal proceedings followed. A suggestion to use excess jail space for revenue was made and the commissioners explained that the jail was usually at full capacity with county offenders.

Dealing with legal pot

The proposed marijuana operation in Raymond was an issue, but Wolfe said that the operation would be on Willapa Port District property and within the Raymond city limits, so the county would not be involved with the process.

He related that the state was trying to get laws on how the Liquor Control Board would control marijuana grow operations and that permits would probably be issued beginning in December. An operation cannot produce, process and sell marijuana and the Raymond operation would not sell marijuana. It would be a very controlled environment where people would have to change into clothes without pockets and that the product may leave in armored trucks. Ayers believed that the federal government was in a “wait and see” mode in Washington and Colorado and then make a decision on what to do about legalized marijuana production, processing and sales.

As for the county’s revenue shortfalls, Wolfe said, “There is a glimmer on the horizon” as the nation’s economy and the housing market are beginning to rebound.

Commissioner meetings are the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at 9 a.m. at the courthouse in South Bend as mandated by state law. Commissioners can be contacted by calling 642-9337. A plethora of county information, including meeting agendas and minutes, can be gleaned from the website, www.co.pacific.wa.us.

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