February 7, 2019
Wahkiakum County commissioners covered a wide variety of business at their Tuesday meeting, including having discussions on changes to ferry rates and use of the vacant Johnson House as a rental residence.
Ferry patrons have complained about the rates for vehicles with trailers. They say a vehicle and trailer can be charged $28 per trip, taking up the same space as two cars, which would be charged a total of $12. It discourages use.
Public Works Director Chuck Beyer said the rates established two years ago were structured to show state officials that the county is serious about collecting revenue, something the state officials wanted in order to justify the state's 80 percent subsidy of ferry operating costs.
Commissioners seemed to agree the rates were unfair and asked Beyer to present a modified rate structure at their next meeting.
Commissioners and other county officials discussed the possibility of using the vacant Johnson House, which once housed county mental health programs, as a rental instead of declaring it surplus and offering it for sale.
Both Sheriff Mark Howie and Health and Human Services Director chris Bischoff said it's hard for new employees to find local housing. Howie, who owns other rental property, said it would rent for $1,100 per month or more, and that should provide enough revenue to cover expenses.
Commissioner Mike Backman pointed out that the house sits on land owned by the county and abutting county property. Even if the house weren't there, it is a valuable asset that would be very expensive if the county wanted to acquire it in the future for some expansion.
Commissioner Dan Cothren seemed dubious.
"I've seen hidden costs in the past with other rentals," he said. "That haunts me."
"Nothing we do can't be changed," said Commissioner Gene Strong, "unless we sell it."
In other business, Community Center Volunteer Mike Passmore presented a report of community center activity in 2018, which was up 32 percent over 2017.
The center has operated several months without a coordinator. Bischoff said funding for that position had come from state mental health program funds which are going away.
However, he plans to hire someone in a newly approved position who would assume that role.