Executive proposes reform for outreach to unincorporated areas

April 19, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 10 a.m. April 19, 2011

King County Executive Dow Constantine has proposed reforming the system county government uses to engage residents in unincorporated areas.

In a proposal released Monday, Constantine called for all unincorporated area residents to have a single point of contact for county services. In addition, the executive proposed for teams of existing county staffers to coordinate outreach to community groups.

“All residents should be able to have meaningful involvement in the decisions that impact their communities, and that’s just as true for those who live in unincorporated areas as those in cities,” he said in a statement. “This proposal retains the value and expertise of the existing unincorporated area councils while expanding our outreach to all unincorporated area residents.”

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 284,000 residents in unincorporated areas.

Constantine proposed community service areas to encompass all of unincorporated King County, including areas not represented by the half dozen unincorporated area councils. The system is designed to provide a conduit for greater participation by all residents in a work program for each community service area.

The councils include the Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council near Issaquah. The area encompasses 14,000 residents in Maple Hills, May Valley, Mirrormont and other communities between Issaquah and Renton.

The proposal also recommends for interbranch teams of existing staffers from across county programs and services to coordinate public outreach and service delivery in each community service area, in close collaboration alongside the King County Council member for each district.

Under the proposal, county staffers and the unincorporated area councils could continue working together, and expand outreach to include community councils and other organizations.

The proposal preserves the existing community service centers to provide remote access to county services, as well as existing liaison staff for the unincorporated area councils.

Constantine met the presidents of the unincorporated area councils Feb. 2. The executive’s office also hosted  community meetings to gather ideas on the proposed reforms, including a January meeting in Issaquah.

The proposal aims to build upon the 16-year-old Citizen Participation Initiative. The county and the unincorporated area councils formalized a relationship after then-County Executive Gary Locke enacted the Citizen Participation Initiative in December 1994.

Then, about one-third of the county population — 500,000 people — resided in unincorporated areas. The number has since declined due to annexations and incorporations.

County Council members cut funding for the program last year, and directed Constantine to craft a plan to consolidate the unincorporated area councils into a single unincorporated area commission. The idea received a tepid reception from residents.

Constantine is due to send the final proposal to the council in September as part of the proposed 2012 budget.

Councilwoman Julia Patterson offered early support for the idea.

“Everyone in King County deserves the same access to services and the opportunity to be involved in important decisions that will affect their community regardless of where they live,”  she said in a statement.

Patterson represents West Hill, home to the largest urban unincorporated area council in the county for the area along Lake Washington between Renton and Seattle.

“In an age of declining resources and the need to do more with less, the council directed the executive to reform how we are engaging the public in our unincorporated areas, while ensuring that residents still have a voice,” she continued. “I look forward to learning more about his proposal through the legislative process in the coming weeks.”

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