The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Commissioners vote 2-1 to dispose of the Johnson House


August 22, 2019

In a 2-1 vote, Wahkiakum County commissioners on Tuesday voted to dispose of an unused house on county property.

In other business, commissioners raised the ceiling for contracting off the small works roster; Sheriff Mark Howie discussed the need for more evidence storage space, and they heard a request from Assessor Bill Coons to promote two employees.

Commissioners have been debating what to do with the Johnson House, a 100-year old house on Cathlamet's River Street that formerly housed a county mental health program but is now not used. The house sits on a lot adjacent to the courthouse site, and commissioners have agreed they want to retain possession of the lot for possible use in years to come.

However, Commissioners Dan Cothren and Gene Strong have said they're concerned about the costs of improving the house and maintaining it.

On the other hand, Commissioner Mike Backman has wanted to find a party who would use the house and assume maintenance expenses.

"I'd like to see if something could happen for the community to benefit," he said.

Backman said his search for a user hasn't yet born fruit. He said he had talked to leaders of several entities, and all couldn't see a use for the building or funding for a program to be housed there. He said he wanted to continue the search.

"If it's not costing anything, I'd like to have more time," he said.

Strong and Cothren weren't willing to delay.

"I understand," Strong said to Backman, "but somewhere along the line, we have to make a decision about what we're going to do with it. The longer it sits, the worse it gets."

"The land is going to stay with us," Cothren said. "If somebody comes in (to use the house), pretty quick they're going to ask the county for some money.

"If someone had wanted it, they would have jumped on it. This postponing, to me, doesn't cut it. It's just a money pit."

Strong then moved to dispose of the house, either for demolition or for moving off site. Cothren seconded the motion and, with Strong, voted for it while Backman voted against it.

Public Works Director Chuck Beyer said he would work with Treasurer Tammy Peterson to start the process for disposing the house. As a county asset, it must be declared surplus before it could be sold.

Also on Tuesday:

--Commissioners okayed raising the ceiling for contracting off the small works roster from $100,000 to $350,000. The roster contains names of firms wanting to contract with the county for services. County departments may contract with the firms after soliciting quotes for projects instead of going through a more formal call for bids.

Cooperative Extension Agent Carrie Backman requested the change. She has been working with the Wahkiakum School District and Wahkiakum Marine Resources Committee to find a contractor to construct a food processing/instruction building and has been thwarted by lack of bids that meet their budget.

"Contractors from out of the area tack on mobilization cots to their bids," she said. [With the higher limit] "We could invite five local contractors to bid who are already in our area."

--Sheriff Mark Howie told the commission his office desperately needs new secure storage space for evidence.

A new state law requires officers to confiscate firearms from anyone arrested for domestic assaults. Previously, firearms were confiscated only upon a conviction.

In a case that happened soon after the law went into effect, officers had to confiscate 42 guns from a suspect; it took hours to catalogue the guns and filled up available evidence storage.

Howie said he had been talking with Public Works Director Chuck Beyer about using a janitorial closet. Beyer had allowed storage in the closet but wasn't happy about the arrangement.

"I have concerns about space," Beyer said. "Over the years, people have been stealing space from the janitorial department."

"We need a workshop to discuss space issues," commented Chris Bischoff, director of the Health and Human Services Department.

A workshop will be scheduled.

--Commissioners delayed making a decision on a request from Assessor Bill Coons to promote two employees and instead said they would hold a workshop to discuss office staffing.

Coons reported that his chief deputy appraiser analyst had resigned and he wants to promote his appraiser to that position; he also wants to promote his clerk to an administrative position to recognize the category of work undertaken.

Coons said he would fill his vacant position with a less experienced candidate, thereby saving money that could be used to cover the costs of the promotions.

Commissioners weren't ready to support the request. Cothren pointed out that commissioners and department heads have been working on salaries and wages, and he doesn't want to disrupt the process.

"If we do this (for Coons), it will have a big domino effect," he said. "We agreed we'd wait till budget time.


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