“We work for you. You’re our boss. That’s why we like to hear from you and one of the reasons we do these forums,” Commissioner Frank Wolfe explained. This is the second year of the monthly public forums around the county.
The commissioners began by describing the roles of elected county officials. “One of the questions we get a lot is, ‘Who’s in charge of the county?’” Commissioner Lisa Ayers explained. “There is no person in charge of the county. Washington State has made it so that each elected official is individually accountable and responsible for their departments that they oversee. So, if you looked at a county organizational chart, the top is going to be the citizens. Then every elected official is on the same plain. We all have responsibility for our own departments, with the exception that the county commissioners are in charge of allocating the budget. . . But outside of the budget piece, we don’t have authority over any of the elected officials.”
“But we are the only legislative body,” Commissioner Steve Rogers added. “We can make laws.”
“The assessor, he’s the one that assesses your property for property taxes. If you have a problem with your assessment, you have to go talk to him, Commissioner Wolfe explained. “The treasurer accepts your taxes and invests them and takes care of them, as far as making sure that they’re secure and kept safe. Then, the county commissioners are the ones that divide that tax money up on paper and decide how much goes to each of these offices.”
The commissioners explained that the county currently employees around 170 employees full-time, which is down from about 200 employees in 2009.
“We watch attrition. When someone leaves, we study it real close. It’s not an automatic renewal of the position.” Commissioner Rogers said.
Commissioner Ayers explained that departments have to request to refill the position “I don’t see us going back up to over 200 employees unless we get a real big boom,” she said.
The subject of increasing the sales tax was brought up for discussion. About two years ago, “the legislature actually passed legislation that would allow the counties to increase the sales tax by a tenth of a percent to support mental health and chemical dependency,” Commissioner Ayers said.
A study completed in 2011 by local health agencies and businesses revealed that this increase would generate around $200,000 - $225,000 per year in county revenue. “Because it’s based on sales tax, a big portion of our sales tax is from tourism. So they calculated out that if this was implemented, each citizen in the county would pay $6 a year to provide this extra service,” Ayers continued.
Instead of spending 78 cents in sales tax on a $10 item, consumers would pay 79 cents.
The commissioners are considering the idea of investing the money into mental health programs for youth. “We’ve had suicides, we’ve had other issues with youth and we’ve talked about having counselors in schools that will focus specifically on these mental and chemical dependency issues for youth.” Commissioner Ayers said. Currently only South Bend and Naselle school districts have counselors.
The county presently receives state and federal funds to address mental health and chemical dependency issues. “But they’re designated for specific purposes and for specific people. They’re all tied to some type of limitation,” Ayers continued.
“If you can use a little funding and some counseling to catch a kid at the high school level who has mental health problems or drug dependency problems and straighten them up, well that’s going to pay back with their whole life being straightened out,” Commissioner Wolfe stated.
“I’m sure that people will say that this is a slippery slope; ‘now you do this and then you’re going to raise our taxes on something else’. But that’s not our intent,” Commissioner Rogers said. “We’re just trying to meet a need.”
The commissioners next addressed the question of where tax dollars raised by the marijuana industry will go. “There’s a 25 percent tax at growing, processing and retailing and the state’s got all that money going to them. They have not committed to the counties or the cities yet,” Commissioner Ayers explained. As the commissioner that serves on the Washington State Association of Counties Legislative Steering Committee, she has been working with other county commissioners to pressure the state to give some of these dollars back to cities and counties.
Raymond and South Bend cities will be receiving sales tax from the retail sales and some property taxes from the port.
“The building permit on building 15 that you see at the port dock was I believe $1.125 million,” Commissioner Rogers explained. “They’re planning to build nine other buildings on property they bought from the port, down where the drying shed is down on the South Fork property, plus rebuilding the drying shed to make it viable too. So that will add to the amount of money that is assessed for taxes because they’ll have to pay property taxes.”
“It’s hard to say, but I think that if they sustain, if these businesses stay, we’re going to see some growth in Raymond and South Bend that we haven’t seen in a long time,” Ayers commented.
Next month’s public forum will be in Ilwaco at the community center, August 12 at 6 pm.