For newly elected Commissioners Steve Rogers, District 1; Frank Wolfe, District 2; and second-year Commissioner Lisa Ayers, District 3, one of their key focuses is government transparency.
Rotating the venue through the county, the latest Community Forum was held at the South County Administration facility in Long Beach Oct. 8.
“One of the many things we heard from the public was the need for transparency,” Wolfe said. “The monthly Community Forums is to help with that, inviting the public to attend and voice their concerns on anything.”
Usually with a topic to kickoff the meeting, the commissioners come with no real agenda other than to be available to the citizens of Pacific County and listen.
Running in conjunction with the first meeting of the month, Commissioners take the time to set up evening meetings following their regular scheduled twice monthly meetings specifically to keep their ear to the ground and their finger on the pulse of their constituents.
This month the three representatives brought with them a breakdown of the Pacific County budget.
“We have just come out of budget meetings so thought it would be of interest to share what we found to the communities,” Ayers said.
The overall Pacific County Current Expenses (General Fund) pie chart reflects 66.6 percent of the budget going to Public Safety or $5,663,000 of the $8.5 Million total.
As the largest part of county services, public safety includes Law Enforcement, Corrections, Communications, Juvenile Detention Beds, Current Expenses (Emergency Management Fund 102, Law Library Fund 103, Special Investigation Fund 132 and Juvenile Fund 136), County Clerk, North District, South District and Superior Courts, Prosecutor’s Office and Public Defense.
Public Works gets an 8 percent distribution or $678,000, the next largest piece of the 2013 pie.
With handouts, large graphic displays and district maps to assist their conversation, the commissioners gave a quick breakdown of the counties current expenses as reflected against the annual tax levy of a $100,000 home in communities like Seaview, Long Beach and Ilwaco.
“As Commissioners we can only influence a specific portion of the tax distribution,” Wolfe said. “That is the area of Current Expenses.”
Out of the three example communities cited that represents $151.78 of the $1,210 levy of a Seaview home or12.54 percent under levy code 22. In Long Beach the same amount is part of $1,065 or 14.25 percent, code 34, and in Ilwaco $1,028 or 14.76 percent, code 29.
“With a limited revenue stream we are happy with how things are running and are operating with very little debt,” Wolfe noted.
The forum was opened up for public discussion where items like water issues, mostly drainage, quickly came up.
The commissioners answered the questions with a caveat that water issues are really under the jurisdiction of the county flood authority, but are well aware of some of the problems and advised the public that the same work crew that do the work for the flood authority are also performing public work projects. Not looking to give excuses to the attendees but more of a point that the departments are limited in their resources and all projects get a priority and are worked on from that standpoint.
There was also concern about county bridges and their current state of repair.
Commissioner Rogers had prepared a special map showing the locations of all county bridges and noted that there is no concern at this time about any bridge in the county.
“Everything looks good,” Rogers said. “We have had a good program of monitoring the bridges in the county and feel there is no current issues outside of scheduled maintenance.”
One member of the public stood to give praise to the commissioners and the current work that they are doing.
An additional comment was raised about the perceived abuse of the public requesting documents from government agencies.
“This is the price of transparency,” Wolfe said.
The concern deals with how much time it takes for a person to gather information, and the amount of large requests that take up a clerk’s time when they could be providing service to the public in other areas.
“It is true that some things can be done rather quickly with the technology of today,” Wolfe added. “But it is those requests that pre-date the systems and have to be gathered by hand, going back into archived paper files, looking through every piece of information. It is much like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
It was refreshing to hear that with every concern raised by the public during the meeting that at least one of the commissioners if not two, knew of the concern and had a response as to the status, or working project that would handle the concern. If the issue was on the edge of their knowledge they took down the persons name, and provided their own contact information to the individual with a promise to look deeper into it and open a conversation to get resolution.
The next regular schedule Pacific County Commissioners meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Oct. 22 in the Commissioners Meeting Room of the Court House Annex located at 1216 West Robert Bush Drive in South Bend.