OCEAN PARK — The county budget dominated the conversation at the last meeting of the year for the peninsula’s Community Watch/Neighborhood Watch group.

The group met Thursday, Oct. 17 at the Family Worship Center, 26310 Ridge Ave.

Pacific County Board of Commissioners Chairman Frank Wolfe spoke at the event. He gave an overview of the preliminary 2020 county budget and talked about the process of balancing county funds. The budget crept up to about $12 million this year and while it sounds like a lot of money, it is never enough, Wolfe said.

“There are a lot of services that your county government would love to provide for, if only we had the money,” Wolfe said.

Speaking up

Karen DeLessert of Ocean Park said she understands there is a lack of funding in the county. But she doesn’t want to stop the conversation there. She and her fellow member, Diana Thompson, are part of the One Voice Initiative. It is an effort on the part of the Community Watch/Neighborhood Watch group to be unified when bringing concerns to county officials. They want to understand how to amplify their voices beyond the commissioners.

While Pacific is a poor county, DeLessert is sure there are grants and other resources out there that can help to fund safety and services for the peninsula.

“How do we learn to help you help us,” DeLessert said.

There are signs of drug use in Ocean Park that concern DeLessert. And properties that are run down or abandoned can be a haven for people with substance use disorder. Plus the rundown lots can drive down the value of her home, she said.

“I never dreamed I’d be able to live at the beach,” DeLessert said. “But this is it. If for some reason we can no longer live here, we’re going to be in dire straits.”

At the meeting, DeLessert was encouraged by what she heard from Tammy Engel, code enforcement officer for the county’s Department of Community Development. A new law gave counties more power to get derelict properties up to code, Engel said. Mortgage companies and banks that own abandoned and foreclosed properties now must notify Engel about the properties. They can request she do an inspection and if there are code violations, Engel will send the companies and banks a letter requiring the companies fix the violations or respond within 15 days. The companies pay her to do the inspections.

It brings in a little money and prevents companies from letting property sit unused and unsecured, Engel said.

Organizer optimistic

The group was launched in May 2018 by Howard Chang, who was appointed by then-Sheriff Scott Johnson to be the volunteer program coordinator. Chang’s goals when starting the group was to build community through face-to-face communication and educate the community on all topics related to security. He is encouraged by the enthusiasm DeLessert and Thompson have shown in leading the One Voice Initiative.

“I am optimistic their efforts, speaking on behalf of the watch community, will help influence key stakeholders to make decisions that will improve our community’s quality of life,” Chang said.

The conversations with Wolfe and Engel are part of a series of panel discussions Chang organized for the group in the last year.

Past speakers have included Pacific County Sheriff Robin Souvenir, Superior Court Judge Donald Richter, South County District Court Judge Nancy McAllister and Prosecutor Mark McClain.

Chang doesn’t want the meetings to be a place to air grievances. Instead, he wants it to be an opportunity for people to meet with their county officials and have productive conversations about the future.

The next watch meeting will be held on Jan. 23.

Meetings are for members, but people can attend as Chang’s guest to see if it is something in which they would like to be involved.

Chang can be reached by email at pc.cwnw@outlook.com or by phone at 425-559-3175.

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