Commissioners okay pay raise, handle other varied business
Wahkiakum County commissioners approved a pay increase for employees, discussed the trend of hunters paying for access to private timberlands and acted on other business when they met Tuesday.
The board formally approved a 2 percent pay increase for most county employees. The raise is retroactive to January 1 of this year.
Commissioner Blair Brady, the board's negotiator, said he doubted there would be a raise next year because of a decline in revenue (see related story in this issue).
In other business:
Rosburg resident Poul Toftemark urged the board to do what it can to keep private timberlands open to hunters and other recreationalists. He pointed out that companies such as Weyerhaeuser and Rayonier are charging access fees and restricting the public's access to their lands.
"We're getting fenced in," he said.
Commissioners welcomed Toftemark's comments.
"It sounds like you've got it right," Brady said.
"I wish more people would comment," commission Chair Dan Cothren said.
Cothren added that the largest private timberland owner in the county, Hancock Forest Management, who is also his employer, hasn't started charging access fees.
But the overall trend will challenge the way of life of rural hunting families and communities. The advent of fees will restrict access to people who can afford them and drive the less wealthy people away. Ultimately, there will be few hunters, and preservation groups will become strong.
"You can go buy a beef for what it (access fees)costs," he said. "A way of life is gone."
Commissioners noted that Grays Harbor County has acted to end timberland tax breaks for private land owners who charge for access. Commissioners said they might consider such action if Grays Harbor's ordinance stands up to legal challenges.
Rosburg resident Al George commented that Port District 2 is working to remove navigation buoys on Grays Bay. Six years ago, George was instrumental in getting the port to install the buoys. The county contributed $7,000 to the cost of buying and installing the buoys, and the commission should ask for an accounting, he said.
"You're right, Al," Cothren said. "We need those buoys there."
Commissioners said they would host a meeting with representatives of Port 2 and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has a boat launch on Deep River.
At their meeting August 19, Port 2 commissioners authorized Manager Janet Bryan to contract for removal of the buoys by September 1. Attorney Tim Hanigan said the US Coast Guard has ordered their removal by September 1, or the agency will do the work and bill Port 2.
The port commission has said the district doesn't have staff, equipment or revenue, to maintain the buoys, which require annual inspections by a diver.
Commissioners authorized staff of the Department of Health and Human Services to proceed with purchase of a small piece of land adjacent to the department's compound on the Elochoman Valley Road for $7,000.
The commission also authorized the department to take advantage of funding from Timberlands Regional Support Network to hire a counselor to be part of a Program of Assertive Community Treatment service.
Mental Health director Chris Holmes said the service is a response to the shift of treatment responsibility from the state to local programs. This will provide a staff person to work with clients who formerly would have been in a hospital or other facility.
The board also approved a contract with Cowlitz County providing for disposal of Wahkiakum's solid waste in Cowlitz's Headquarters Landfill. Since the early 1980's, Cowlitz has allowed disposal of Wahkiakum garbage in its landfills.
"They are especially good neighbors to allow us to go to their landfill," said Public Works Director Pete Ringen.
Under the contract, Wahkiakum will pay $49 per ton for garbage disposal; the rate is subject to periodic review.
However, Ringen said, other counties pay more: Skamania pays $150 per ton; Pacific, $130; Grays Harbor, $94, Lewis, $90, and Clark, $87.