King County proposes changes to outreach

June 7, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Plan calls for dividing unincorporated communities into service areas

King County intends to overhaul outreach from county leaders to residents in rural and unincorporated areas, including more than 16,000 people near Issaquah.

The proposal could reshape the relationship between county leaders and the Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council, a liaison for unincorporated area residents near Issaquah to the county government based in Seattle.

Similar groups exist in unincorporated areas across King County, from Vashon Island to urban Highline between Burien and Seattle.

The unincorporated area councils do not represent all rural and unincorporated residents, however, prompting county leaders to consider other options for outreach.

So, County Executive Dow Constantine offered a proposal to divide unincorporated communities into so-called community service areas. The plan calls for assigning county staffers and residents in a designated area to coordinate on issues, such as crime prevention or concerns about development.

Unlike the existing arrangement, Constantine proposed for the community service areas to include communities not represented by a local council, such as Klahanie and the Snoqualmie Valley.

The proposal keeps the unincorporated area councils intact, but does not guarantee future funding for the organizations. Each council used to receive $10,000 per year in county funding.

The plan also preserves existing community service centers and staff members.

Officials crafted the plan after the council directed Constantine last year to consolidate the unincorporated area councils in order to cut costs.

Lauren Smith, unincorporated areas adviser to Constantine, hosted community meetings — including a January meeting in Issaquah — in order to shape the proposal.

“Our thinking is that this proposal will benefit everyone in the unincorporated area while allowing us to continue our relationship with the UACs,” she said.

Change or status quo

The community service areas proposal is meant to connect residents and a designated staff team, rather than leaving residents to navigate county bureaucracy.

“One of the things that I heard universally from the UACs is, ‘We really need to have our single point of contact. It just makes life easier,’” Smith said. “They don’t have to figure out who to call. The staff knows and it’s just much easier to work with one person.”

Peter Eberle, Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council president, and other council leaders across King County remain skeptical.

“I have to agree with most of the rest of the UACs that we would just as soon leave things status quo,” he said.

Census 2010 data shows 16,500 residents in the Four Creeks Unincorporated Area. The community encompasses Maple Hills, May Valley, Mirrormont and other communities in a 38-square-mile stretch between Issaquah and Renton.

County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert said the decision to overhaul outreach reflects a desire to provide services to as many people as possible, especially as the county faces lean budgets.

“The budget is very different than it was years ago, and there had to be a tradeoff,” she said. “Would the unincorporated area people rather have their meetings or would they rather have their three sheriff’s deputies?”

(Lambert represents Issaquah proper, but the Four Creeks Unincorporated Area falls inside Councilman Reagan Dunn’s district.)

Critics called for a more inclusive system and said the councils do not reflect the composition of each community — a statement Eberle disputed.

“For Four Creeks, we have a pretty varied group that’s on the council,” he said. “We represent most of the neighborhoods in the Four Creeks area.”

Unincorporated area shrinks

Still, increasing public participation in the councils can pose a challenge.

“It’s hard to get volunteers to come out and spend a couple nights a month doing public outreach like we do,” Eberle said.

The county and the councils formalized a relation after then-County Executive Gary Locke enacted the Citizen Participation Initiative in 1994.

The county is home to 1.9 million people, including 284,000 residents in unincorporated areas. (The number reflects the number of residents shed in a substantial Kirkland annexation June 1.)

The county claimed about 500,000 residents in unincorporated areas in 1994, but the number dropped in the past 17 years due to annexations and incorporations.

The residents in outlying communities often raise different concerns than city dwellers.

“Every neighborhood is different,” Eberle said. “That’s one of the problems that the county has with us. You have to treat each one of us differently, because we all have different issues.”

Constantine announced the proposal April 18 after sending legislation and a 17-page report to the County Council for consideration. The council has yet to act on the measure.

“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,” Constantine 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.”

Tom Carpenter, a former Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council president, said the framework remains in place for the council to advocate for residents.

“Four Creeks is going to continue on until we determine that we can’t go further,” he said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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