King County residents fret about proposal to cut unincorporated area councils
January 14, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 8 a.m. Jan. 14, 2011
King County residents have called on leaders to preserve community councils in rural and unincorporated neighborhoods, despite directions from the County Council to reduce the program.
Residents from the Puget Sound shoreline to rural areas near Woodinville operate unincorporated area councils to conduct neighborhood programs and foster citizen participation.
The councils also act as liaisons for unincorporated area residents to the county government based in Seattle. The county is home to 1.9 million people, including 340,000 residents in unincorporated areas.
But County Council members winnowed the budget for the unincorporated area councils from about $330,000 to $50,000 late last year, as the county faced a $60 million budget gap.
The council also directed staffers to craft a plan to consolidate the groups into a single unincorporated area commission. Staffers must send the plan to the council by April 15.
In addition, the budget funds staff positions related to the unincorporated area councils — community service representatives Marissa Alegria and Bong Santo Domingo — through February.
The directive prompted protests from rural residents and members of the unincorporated area councils.
The changes tucked inside the 119-page county budget document also surprised Lauren Smith, unincorporated areas adviser to County Executive Dow Constantine, and unincorporated-area leaders.
“We can’t do the work until we talk to all of you, because that was part of the budget proviso,” Smith said during a Thursday night meeting at the King County Library System Service Center in Issaquah.
The meeting brought together representatives from the half dozen unincorporated area councils — citizen groups elected by residents in regions as disparate as Vashon Island and rural Maple Valley.
The group includes the Four Creeks near Issaquah. The area encompasses 14,000 residents in Maple Hills, May Valley, Mirrormont and other communities between Issaquah and Renton.
Peter Eberle, Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council president, said the councils reflect the cultural and geographic characteristics of each region.
“Many of the current UACs are made up of citizen participants who are proactive in terms of county government,” Eberle said. “It would be a great loss as a county to lose the participation of these dedicated people, the people that are in this room.”
Smith said staffers had received similar feedback from community leaders and residents in rural and unincorporated areas.
“Another thing the county has heard a lot from unincorporated areas is, ‘Hey, we’re all different. Don’t treat us the same,'” she said. “Vashon is different from Upper Bear Creek, which is very different from Greater Maple Valley.”
The participants at the Issaquah meeting called for a meeting of the full County Council and unincorporated area representatives to discuss possible solutions.
Reagan Dunn, the only unincorporated area resident on the nine-member County Council, said the unincorporated area councils act as a key resource to residents in the neighborhoods outside the 39 cities.
“If you live inside a city, you have a city council and a mayor and a city administrator and city staff to go to, and then above that, the county,” he said. “If you’re in unincorporated King County — like in my district, I have 220,000 residents; 100,000 of them are in unincorporated King County — you have me and you have Dow. That’s it.”
Dunn said the unincorporated area councils should remain in place, as long as county staffers can set some guidelines for insurance and public disclosure requests — potential problem areas for the groups.
Dunn voted against the 2011 county budget in part, he said, due to the cuts to the unincorporated area councils.
“It sounds like this unincorporated area commission is dead on arrival,” he added.
The councilman represents rural King County near Issaquah, plus Maple Valley, Newcastle and areas inside Bellevue and Renton city limits.
Greater Maple Valley Area Council President Steve Heister said the creation of a countywide commission based in Seattle could mean scant attention for local concerns.
“My fear is, a rural commission is not going to be effective and it won’t have local representation,” he said. “It won’t be out there meeting in the community, in the rural areas, once a month as the citizen UACs do.”
West Hill Community Council President Paul Berry said the council had insulted the unincorporated area councils by calling for the groups to be folded into a single organization.
“Whatever you’re talking about in terms of a modified structure, it has to be locally based,” he said. “My people aren’t going to go get involved in a countywide operation. They’re not going to spend more resources and time fighting to just be able to do what we barely can get people to do anyway.”
(West Hill is a neighborhood wedged against Lake Washington, Renton, Seattle and Tukwila.)
Tom Carpenter, a former Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council president, offered a suggestion to county staffers: “Don’t try to come up with a formula for the UACs,” he said.