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By Max Erikson

McCabe, King talk issues with commissioners


December 20, 2017

The Washington State Legislature has important goals to accomplish when it begins session in January and not a lot of time to do it. This years’ legislative session is scheduled for 60 days, and passing a capital budget is a top priority. So is addressing the water rights stalemate known as the Hirst decision that directly affects the residents of rural communities.

On the county commissioners’ meeting on Dec. 12, State Rep. Gina McCabe and State Senator Curtis King—both Republicans who represent district 14—held an open discussion with Klickitat County Commissioners Dave Sauter, Rex Johnston, and Jim Sizemore who were joined by other county employees and concerned citizens, to talk about the county’s budget and the State’s legislative priorities for 2018.

Topics of discussion included the capital budget, funding for public appointed legal defense, rural water rights, public health services, local property tax increases, emergency preparedness, and the effects of the McCleary decision on local schools.

“It is really important to get an understanding of what Klickitat County is requesting before we go to legislative session,” McCabe says. “It is key to have these conversations early so we have more time to think about what we want to do.”

McCabe and King both said that the capital budget is moving forward and that session committees are currently reviewing the Hirst decision.

The Hirst Decision is legislation that would put a stop on permit exempt wells—unless a hydrogeological study could be done to determine the impact on water usage—for rural property owners who argue that stopping permit exempt wells would slow economic growth and prevent housing development in rural communities.

In this year’s legislative session the capital budget and the Hirst decision came to a stalemate between law makers because a compromise could not be made between republicans and democrats. That issue was held over until next year and will continue to be a challenge for the legislatures to come to a solution.

The criminal justice system is also facing budgetary problems with the allocations of monies for public defense systems. Court appointed attorneys for criminal defendants—who cannot afford legal representation—costs counties about $137 million dollars a year. The state provides minimal funding of only $5 million to help with those expenses. A legislative priority is to increase state funding to counties to offset costs.

The need for a possible property tax increase was also addressed in the discussion. Currently property taxes for counties are capped at 1 percent. A suggested proposal would allow that cap to be increased up to 4 percent to generate more funding to keep up with demand.

With inflation costs and population growth, some counties are financially stretched to the limit and a reversal on the capped property tax would increase revenues to continue to provide for communities and prevent cuts to important governmental services.

Property taxes are the counties’ top revenue source comprising 50 percent of all general funds. According to the Washington State Association of Counties, public safety and criminal justice services make up about 75 percent of counties’ general fund expenditures.

However, Commissioner Dave Sauter says that increasing property taxes is not a top priority for Klickitat County because the county generates much needed funding by the Roosevelt Landfill. But Sauter does admit that more funds are being funneled from the landfill revenues to cover increasing county costs.

McCabe says the priorities of Klickitat County residents is something she will take with her when the next legislative session begins.

“This is home, so we want to make sure that we are taking care of it,” McCabe says. “And I really appreciated everyone’s input.”

The next legislative session begins Jan. 8 and runs until March 8.


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