Commissioners talk budget, more with Sequim chamber

With so many short- and long-term capital projects in transition in Clallam County, its staff and commissioners said the 2023 budget remains a work in progress.

“There are so many things going on — some things were expedited and some things were slowed down — but until November I won’t be able to tell you what our whole budget will look like,” county commissioner Randy Johnson said at the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Sept. 27.

Mark Lane, the county’s chief financial officer, said those various capital projects will affect the county’s general fund “in one way or another.”

Johnson and fellow commissioners Mark Ozias and Bill Peach along with Lane provided some quick updates on the 2023 budget, projects and more for over 40 people at the luncheon.

Commissioners and staff said the county staff’s recommended budget will be presented on Oct. 10 with a more “relevant” budget on Nov. 14 before likely approval in early December.

With about 50 percent of the county’s revenue coming from tax revenues, Lane said they’re projecting a modest increase of about 2.5 percent next year compared to the last two years as actions were put in place to halt inflation.

“Our numbers don’t contemplate a full bore inflation like 2008 and 2009, but [the budget] does capture some of the downward pressures,” Lane said.

“We’re still in a fluid situation between now and the end of the year.”

By 2023, county staff anticipate about $13.4 million in reserves, at about 26 percent of total expenses.

Lane’s office has also served as the county’s lead for disbursing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and CARES Act funding, at about $25 million. See more at clallam.net/bocc/arpa.html.

“We’ve been really intentional in reaching out for the community’s needs,” he said.

“Dealing with the economic impact of the pandemic,” Lane said. “I’m proud to work beside these [commissioners]. People desperately needed that assistance during an unprecedented time.”

Ozias said they “prioritized turning those dollars around” while addressing some internal struggles that are a statewide issue, such as finding staffing and creating incentives for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Department employees, particularly in the jail.

“The intent of those relief dollars were to meet the needs of the community,” he said.

That funding also included investments in local food banks and infrastructure where demand has gone up, Ozias added.

“We think outside first,” Johnson said. “Putting it in the coffers doesn’t make sense to me.”

Projects in Sequim

Looking ahead, Ozias said the county continues to pursue funding for an off-channel reservoir of the Dungeness River off South River Road.

Work on the Dungeness River levee setback off Towne Road is anticipated to finish in the coming weeks, he said.

“Obviously, we’ve seen a significant impact there and had to compress two seasons of work in the second half of this summer,” Ozias said.

“The bad news is there’s been a lot of noise rumbling up and down roads, and the good news is it’s about to end.

“What we’re going to see over winter and into next year is what happens when the Dungeness River has access to a much larger portion of its historical flood plain.”

With some final habitat restoration work left, he said the final pieces will be reopening the space.

“It’s going to be exciting for folks to see that area transform and evolve over the next couple of years as nature intends,” Ozias said.

Countywide projects

A few of the many projects commissioners mentioned included:

• The county received about $30 million to help expand broadband to rural areas west of Port Angeles for about 1,500 homes and it will add the utility to its services in the coming years, Ozias said.

• More state funding has come in for “foundation public health,” basic elements of health that helped add staff to the county’s health department. Financial support through opioid settlement dollars is expected to begin soon that Ozias said will help “provide services to combat the opioid epidemic.”

• On the West End, Peach said the county collaborated with the Clallam Economic Development Council and City of Forks to attract sawmills tentatively coming online 2024 to provide about 100 family wage jobs.

• Work continues on a Clallam Bay sewer line to support additional housing, he said, along with sewer infrastructure for the City of Forks.

• The county is upgrading its technology with plans for a new website, Johnson said.

• Work continues on chip sealing county roads as needed on a six to seven year cycle, he added.

• To help address housing issues, Johnson said they’ve invited builders, nonprofits and more to provide input. “We know we need to make a difference in housing,” he said. “There’s not one answer … You’re short four million houses in the country now. We can certainly make a dent in that.”

Questions

When asked about the tentative closure of the Hood Canal Bridge for repairs sometime between May and September 2023 for five weekends, Johnson said, “they’re more than a little concerned.”

Multiple agencies gave Washington State Department of Transportation staff their preferred schedules for closures, Johnson said, but they must work under certain weather conditions.

“It could have a disastrous impact on us,” he said. “Just about every weekend is a major event on the peninsula in the summer. We’ve reached out already, and we’ll reach out again.”

On climate change, Peach said they’ve gathered people of opposing views from all three county districts to provide input to the Clallam County Climate Action Group. He also said the county’s main pollutants are vehicle emissions and forest fires, and he recommends more management of forests to prevent fires.

Ozias said in the next few years, the county’s new director of Community Development will receive a priority list with a “significant revamp of the county’s comprehensive plan” on top of it.

“I expect a lot of conversation about how climate change should inform the comprehensive plan,” he said.

“It’ll provide a lot of opportunity for folks around the county to give input.”

One element of it will include mitigation for climate change, he said, and efforts they’re already doing, such as the off-channel reservoir.

“There will be conversations about what do we expect in the future? Will there continue to be an influx of climate refugees to our county? What does it look like?” Ozias said.

For more about the Clallam County Commissioners, visit clallam.net/bocc.

For more about the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, visit sequimchamber.com.

Editor’s note: Bill Peach is running for reelection for commissioner seat No. 3 against Mike French in the Nov. 8 general election.

Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash/ Clallam County commissioners Randy Johnson, Mark Ozias, and Bill Peach speak during the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Sept. 27. They touched on the varying 2023 budget, capital projects and general needs of residents.

Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash/ Clallam County commissioners Randy Johnson, Mark Ozias, and Bill Peach speak during the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Sept. 27. They touched on the varying 2023 budget, capital projects and general needs of residents.