This plan had been put together painstakingly and was ready for passage when I took office. Presumably, I was supposed to sign, but upon reading it, I could see many problems. There was redundancy, verbiage (meaningless words), and I felt the public needed another crack at it in a public forum.
The plan was presented in parts over several evening sessions, most of which were heavily attended. Citizens feedback was considered. The cleaned-up document was about a third lighter. It still has fluff, but I was pressing my luck.
Syringe Exchange Program
It took me several months and the support of the public to get the one more vote needed to terminate county involvement in the Syringe Exchange Program. Some results of this action are:
The county saves $100,000 per year
The county does not give mixed signals about drug use. On the one hand, drug users are prosecuted, while they are given tools for drug usage.
“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” -Thomas Jefferson
I have written about this extensively and you can find some of the writings on my blog.
I spent considerable effort on this project, and I learned what the thought of a large amount of money can do to some people. I also learned how poorly nearly all principal aspects of the landfill had been handled.
Summarizing, I took the landfill from a poorly understood asset, valued at $90 million, to a responsibly managed asset conservatively valued at over $600 million and likely considerably more.
It remains to be seen what happens to the county, which remains at risk for adverse action due to the clean air, carbon tax, and other unforeseen events.
While I remain certain that the County would be substantially less at risk and would make more money had the landfill operating contract been awarded to Republic Services, since the decision to keep operation in the county, I have supported the then new director of public works on this issue, and he is doing a great job for the county. In fact, he handles Public Works very well in all facets.
Behavioral Health Sales tax of .1%
One form of taxation is called concilmatic tax, which is implemented as a sales tax, upon a vote by the Commissioners. Such a tax can be rescinded or extended by the commissioners. The so-called Mental Health Tax (MHT) is one such tax.
The purpose of that tax was to help the county to finance efforts to cope with mental health issues, which fell on the counties because of the state eliminating services. It was passed in 2012 with a five-year sunset clause, so it came up for renewal in 2017.
Superior court lobbied heavily for this tax, and I agreed to extend it provided it had a four-year sunset clause.
That tax has been used to address many issues. Just like any tax, it invariably gets “overspent.”
For brevity, I skip over some history to the latest call for a now oversubscribed tax. The head start program of Lower Columbia College requested $150k each year for two years of this MH tax money. What does mental health tax have to do with two to five year old children? There was no reasonable justification to grant this money from an already oversubscribed source. I voted against it and lost the vote.
The tax will be up for renewal shortly, and it most certainly will be renewed, but with another sunset clause I hope.
Late in 2018 district court judges lobbied heavily to start something called Community Court. Despite my strong objections, Community Court was formed, and true to form it started to gobble resources.
My reasons to vote against the Community Court:
We have a separation of powers doctrine for special reasons.I cannot support the judges driving public policy and coming up with ways to spend taxpayer money. I want a judge to provide proper and just administration of the law, not act as welfare agents.
The uneven application of the law is extremely dangerous. For a given crime, justice should be blind. Instead, some people will be put into a special program while others will go to jail.
I have heard the claims of “this program will save the county money.” After three and a half years, I have yet to see a reduction in government cost. Some of the specific arguments are plain false.
I do not succumb to extortion: the community court cost effectiveness argument is akin to this: “County pay me $1,000/month and I won’t cause trouble, which you know will cost money for police, jail, and courts.”
Like most programs, the data about success and cost effectiveness cannot provide any sense of overall cost justification.
And, as it is with all programs, the costs grow. “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” happened. The grant that funded a community court staff member went away and the court came to the BoCC for money. I voted against that, but it passed.
Architectural and Engineering services
The County owns many buildings and also is in the middle of trying to build a new morgue. Many activities with buildings require architectural and engineering services, so the County entered into a personal service agreement with an architectural firm and the board set aside $300,ooo as a pot of money from which staff, principally the Facilities Department, could draw funds for these services.
The claim by staff is that this is an efficient way to save on administrative costs. The BoCC fortunately retained the say on the individual draws out of this fund. But there is the tendency to ask when an item is presented, "is it within the allocation?" If so, then the board typically would not pay any more attention to it. But I do.
Within two or three months of the first vote to provide the $300,000, staff requested another $500,000. This is a bad thing to do, but the board approved it over my objections.
Recently, a $36,000 draw was put in the consent agenda for A&E services for the repair of the roof on an 8,100 square feet portion of the jail. This illustrates some key issues:
Why is a 15 year old roof in bad shape. In government few people feel accountable or responsible. "It did not happen on my watch." Where is the warranty?
The claim is that there are no drawings on the roof, so we have to pay an architect to create those drawings. What???!!!
The argument presented is that the A&E work will ensure that when the county goes out for bid on the roof, the county will not be abused. What happened to the idea to go out and get bids for the roof from reputable contractors?
Castle Rock UGA => UTA
The mayor and public works manager of Castle Rock requested a boundary alignment to what had been around for many years, called an Urban Growth Area.
I wrote about this in my blog.
I voted against it, yet it passed, because the other two did not see the ramifications of protecting the property rights of individuals, nor did they seem to care about using force to get county people to hook up to a municipal water supply.
The citizens, who prior had been unaware of these activities, (so much for transparency), got together and forced the Castle Rock City Council to rescind the entire UGA.
But bureaucrats are not easily denied; they came back with an Urban Transition Area (UTA), and the others voted again to support this request.
The principle here is that the county does not tell the city how to run, and the city should not tell the county how to run. This is not an issue where each side gains by a cooperative agreement. There is nothing for the county citizen … except a certainty that in time there will be more creep on their rights.
Some grants make sense as we struggle to fund mandated activities. And many grants are useful for coping with unexpected events, such as landslides, but grants to fund normal operations tend to be problematic. We should not seek grants for typical operating activities, which are intrusive as well as non-productive. Building a system on unstable grants leads to abuse of the public.
Tobacco and vapor products educational grant
It has become a way of life for departments to support themselves and to grow by going out for grants. One of many such minor grants was to get money to be used for Tobacco and Vapor products education. I lost the December 2017 vote.
These kinds of programs are a waste of taxpayer money because these issues already are widely understood. The real problems are tied to social mores. For example, it wasn't until MADD was formed by the people that drunk driving became socially unacceptable.
Furthermore, this is one of the many programs you never heard about and never voted to be taxed for.
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
There are many negative aspects about these grants. From a practical standpoint, the county found these grants too expensive to administer, so we will not be applying for them any longer. There is value, though, in reviewing some concepts about that program to illustrate how taxpayer money is abused.
Recently, one of the recipients of a CDBG grant asked the commissioners to allow the homeowner to refinance the house so that he could take money out of the house. I was away for this meeting, and the other two approved the request.
I would NOT have approved that request, and I was upset that they did not hold that aside (as I have done for them) to give me chance to speak about the request. This issue points out several problems:
Why did the county give a grant for a $250k valued house? Can a person qualify for assistance when they own a house of that value?
Because of the repairs and the market, the value of the house went up to $350k. So, the owner wanted to draw out money from the house. But to do so, he needed the county to take a secondary position on the lien on the house. The residual equity in the house, after a refinance, would be enough to cover the first and second lien, so the county was protected, argued the other two. This is the kind of usual silly assumption government makes about many issues … that all things stay the same.
There was NO gain at all for the taxpayer. The county will get its (the taxpayer) money back unless the housing market collapses … we all know that can happen.
There also is a moral issue aside from point number 1, above. That money was intended for necessary repairs; by refinancing, the money was used no longer for repairs.
A program such as this one creates demand for taxpayer money. So, a problem never is solved; instead a dependency is created.
Why does the county frequently use consultants? I have several thoughts about this for another discussion. Below are examples of some problems with consultants.
When I first came on board, the BoCC had been paying a Dr. John Luthy as a management consultant for all county departments. I was given a copy of Dr. Luthy’s book, and I was able to get through only one or two chapters before I concluded it was useless.
I investigated the matter and learned that:
Over the span of about two years the county had spent nearly $250k for his consulting services.
No one who I interviewed felt it was useful.
There was noticeable time lost to the many sessions of “forced” attendance to Dr. Luthy’s seminars or meetings.
When a vote came to fund yet another Luthy effort, I tried to stop it. As a concession to me, the other two reduced the proposed expenditure. I voted against that continuation.
Shortly thereafter, all involvement with Dr. Luhty stopped. And the county NEVER missed him, and I never heard him mentioned again.
I feel compelled to ask: What were the other two doing? How were they protecting the taxpayers?
Court audio visual upgrades
In this case the IT department hired a consultant to write the specifications for an audio/visual system for the courts. That was decision taken before my time, so the die was cast. However, I can tell you my impressions as part of the lessons not learned at the county:
We are a small county and we should be able to use the solutions that were developed by other counties. Cutting new ground or reinventing the wheel is not good for us.
I sat in one and only one meeting with the consultant, and it was evident that expertise was lacking. Who was supervising the consultant?
Vendors are only too glad to have the opportunity to design a solution for customers. Having a consultant set the requirements typically causes a system to be more expensive than it should be.
This project took about four years, and I cannot be sure whether the staff of law and justice are satisfied.
I am attentive to requests from citizens for changes in county code to further individual liberty.
One such contact I received was a request to adopt regulations in accordance with an RCW that gave counties the prerogative to allow licensed off-road vehicles the permission to use country roads which have speed limits no higher than 35 miles per hours.
This simple request took a year to satisfy. One commissioner spent time looking for roads which he thought should be excluded from WATV usage, even though the roads qualified. It became quite a chore for something so simple.
Opponents made claims that never materialized. Commissioners must be able to judge what is real and what is not.
There are two points to highlight:
Commissioners are here to serve the people and they should have a “can do” attitude to provide the public with the maximum liberty to use facilities for which they already pay.
Rather than complicate the issue, use a simple solution until it is proven to be a problem.
It is a good thing when citizens are joined by a commissioner to make things happen. Such cooperation has many benefits, including showing the citizens that it is their government and the commissioners work for them, not the government.