County officials seek IT crew expansion


October 6, 2022

Wahkiakum County's elected officials spent a good amount of time Tuesday trying to resolve a conflict between security and deficit.

Department heads and county commissioners agreed that they need to add a second person to their IT Department, but they're looking at a revenue shortfall next year and they're wondering how to cover the expense.

With the county's budgeting process for 2023 about to start, commissioners asked department heads to identify the funding so that the position can be implemented.

Department heads said the county's IT needs have surpassed the department's ability to respond to all issues.

With just one on the county staff to respond to problems, employees have to bring in consultants from More Power Solutions, and there are often delays.

"[IT Supervisor] Josh Holt needs more time to address cyber security issues," said District Court Judge Heidi Heywood. "This is something that has risen to the level that must be addressed."

County Emergency Management Director Beau Renfro has often been called in to assist, Sheriff Mark Howie said, but his time is limited.

Estimated cost of the position is close to $90,000, and officials said they can already identify funds for a good portion of the cost.

Howie said his department can come up with $44,000.

Health & Human Services Mental Health Director Julie Johnston said that department can contribute another $20,000 in grant funds; however, the department would need to receive that much in benefit in order to justify the use of the grant funds.

Howie commented that the state Criminal Justice appropriation is likely to increase and that could contribute.

Initial analysis shows the county's Current Expense Fund is heading into a $250,000 shortfall, according to Auditor Nicci Bergseng and Treasurer Tammy Peterson.

Department heads are supposed to submit budget requests this week for preparation of a preliminary budget. Commissioners will review budget requests with the officials later this month.

"Come back with a plan," said commission Chair Gene Strong. "We can approve this when we see how this will roll out."

"My only issue is that I want to see where our budget is," said Commissioner Dan Cothren.

Commissioners addressed other issues on Tuesday, including:

--Health & Human Services substance abuse program coordinator Pam Hongel described program activities. Almost all clients arrive via the criminal justice system and stay for a year, she said.

The Blake Decision, which reduced charges for possession of illegal drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor, has resulted in delaying client entry in treatment programs.

"There are no teeth to get people into treatment," Hongel said; "that's what's so dangerous. The impact on families is tremendous."

Sheriff Howie said many other problems have emerged from the Blake Decision, and he hopes the legislature will address them.

"It expires in two years," Undersheriff Gary Howell said. "It needs to be fixed so there isn't a free for all."

--Commissioners passed a resolution allowing a four-hour closure of Eden Valley Road on Oct. 18 so that the County Road Department can replace the South Creek culvert under the road.

The project had been scheduled in September but was delayed to complete permitting with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.


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