By SCOT PEARSON
SOUTH BEND - For many residents of Pacific County when they hear about the elected officials serving as Pacific County Commissioners, they see them only in the light of the elected title. The truth to the matter is that the commissioners serve a variety of positions that many are unaware of in their role as a Pacific County Commissioner. Across the three positions they hold, at least eight individual duties, as well as seven board positions for Pacific County. And it is a major misconception that they run the county.
"Many people do not understand that we do not run Pacific County; every elected official is a peer," said Commissioner Lisa Ayers representing District 3.
All three Commissioners are members of the following boards:
Steve Rogers, District 1; Frank Wolfe, District 2; and Lisa Ayers, District 3; are also the Pacific County Board of Health, PC Board of Equalization, PC Flood Control Advisory, PC Emergency Management Agency, the Pacific Transit System and the Solid Waste Council of Governments.
Individually, they serve in various capacities to include: PC Economic Development, PC Finance Committee, PC law Enforcement Officers and Fire Fighters, Olympic Area Agency on Aging and Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (Rogers); PC 367C Labor and Management Committee, PC Law and Justice Council, Lower Columbia River and Joint Fisheries Coalition, Timberland Regional Support Network (Wolfe), Coastal Community Action Program, WA State Association of Counties - Legislative Steering Committee, Shoalwater Tribal 2% Impact Gaming Commission, Washington Counties Risk Pool, (Ayers). There are several more in which at least one or two commissioners cross over and share responsibilities as well as tackle individually.
On the organizational chart that Pacific County promotes, the 10 elected positions fall under one group, the citizens of Pacific County.
"The only authority that we have over any department is budget authority," said Commissioner Ayers.
But that is really more of a check and balance system.
With the bulk of Pacific County revenue coming from property taxes, (which are restricted to a 1% annual growth), and with the rise in cost of operating a county the current path for Pacific County is sullen.
The nation in fact is in a similar situation, so to think that the issue of municipalities and counties is any different is to not understand what is taking place.
The State has tightened their purse strings, as well as the Federal Government, so routes of the Pacific County revenue stream is slowly drying up and taking its toll.
And they all agree that if things are not sorted out soon, come 2018, the county may be in serious trouble.
One of the biggest roles performed by the Pacific County Commissioners is that of budget control, but with new demands coming from various Pacific County Department Heads, the commissioners for the most point, are denying an additional spending.
"This year we have eliminated ten positions and we are shuffling responsibilities," said Commissioner Rogers.
"It is not something that the community is really noticing yet, but if we continue at this rate, they will start seeing the impact," noted Commissioner Wolfe.
The county is running shorthanded and it looks like if things do not turn around in the very near future, there may be additional cutbacks that will really impact the services that the County provides.
"DHSH is already down to four days a week," said Commissioner Ayers.
But it is not all bad news, as the commissioners are scouring the possibilities for additional revenue.
"We lobby the Legislature continually," said Commissioner Ayers. "We have the ear of out local members and they are working well with us, but they are only three voices."
With over 350 miles of road to maintain and 60 bridges, filling pot holes may just have to wait as they also have to balance the request from department heads for additional funds.
"We recently had a request from the Pacific County Sheriff's (Office) for $250,000; but if we pay that, who is going to go without?" said Commissioner Rogers.
Working with Department Heads, the commissioners asked them to each bring back a reduction that looked at both a 10% and 5% cutbacks.
"We have some departments that even at a 5 percent reduction would shut them down," said Commissioner Ayers.
But for the most part, the commissioners report that most departments are doing what they can to take a hard look at any reductions that can be made in order to keep personnel and continue to serve the residents of the community.
As the new year starts, the county runs on the previous years reserves in hopes that when April Tax revenue starts to hit the books that they will be able to pay out what has been spent. Part of the issues with the fact that grants along with State and Federal funding is starting to slow down. Also Timber, another source of Pacific County revenue, is highly volatile with its peaks and valleys in pricing; not a stable factor.
For many in local municipalities and even counties, the hope that the new marijuana industry would bring in the shortfall in revenues is yet to be seen.
"We do lobby to get some of that revenue, but the State speaks of taking away one revenue stream and replacing it with another," said Commissioner Ayers.
It seems to be the ultimate shell game from the State. In theory, Federal and State agencies collect revenue and pass down the dollars to the counties. The reality is that downstream flow of dollars is slowing to a trickle. The commissioners are also held accountable to the State if they determine that the county is spending the money from the "Current Expense" budget improperly.
Even with some flexibility in Current Expenses, last year the commissioners supplemented one department with $30,000, it has been determined that to keep that same level of service it is going to cost $200,000 this year from the same shrinking pot of money.
"Eventually it stops working," said Commissioner Wolfe.
The commissioners are not holding out for just the marijuana industry as they are also looking at how to bolster the seafood industry and are working hard with the EDC and the Port of Willapa Harbor for any additional ways that revenue may be created.
"The three of us working together are a force for what is good. We can move forward and we can help to see what is best for the county," said Commissioner Wolfe.
"It is important to note that when I am at functions, I see this issue is not just Pacific County, it is statewide and nationwide as well. It is a long term issue that will not go away unless someone at the state level does something," said Commissioner Ayers.
"I think that the residents of Pacific County are dong what they can. They have been very reasonable and very supportive of what we are trying to do and are willing to enter into discourse with us. But it is not sustainable currently, if we have to cut more we will, but it has to stop someplace," said Commissioner Rogers.
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