Commissioners, legislators discuss priorities for session


January 5, 2023

Wahkiakum County Commissioners and District 19 legislators on Tuesday discussed issues the county board would like to see addressed in the coming session of the Washington State Legislature.

Rep. Joel McEntire, R-Cathlamet, met with the board in person, and Senator Jeff Wilson, R-Kalama attended via Zoom. Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, reportedly had a scheduling conflict.

Topics ranged from compensating counties with trust timberlands that are encumbered by species habitat restrictions to laws affecting law enforcement and drug offenders.

For Commissioner Dan Cothren, a top priority was compensation for encumbered lands.

Cothren urged the legislatiors to maintain the $9 million appropriation in the governor's proposed budget that would benefit Wahkiakum, Pacific and Skamania counties.

"One of you guys," he added, "needs to get on the Board of Natural Resources. That board is so critical for timber counties."

Cothren also urged the legislators to improve rural country representation on the state Fish and Wildlife Commission and to work with that commission and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to reduce hunting season impact on local elk herds.

Four months of hunting takes a toll on herds already dealing with hoof rot disease, and the harvest of too many elk cows is going to have a long range impact on herds, Cothren said.

"This year was the worst hunting season I've ever seen in my life, "he said.

Sen. Wilson commented that he has twice written to protest the lack of District 19 representation on the commission. He added that a suit by people in eastern Washington focuses on the same issue.

Rep. McEntire said he would support legislation to change statutes to mandate a better split of urban/rural representation on the commission.

"That's already in the statutes," Wilson said. "I'll do some follow up and get back to you."

County Commissioner Gene Strong asked the legislators to expand state funding for the county ferry. The state currently subsidizes 80 percent of ferry expenses, with a cap of $1.5 million over two years, and with the legislature having to approve the appropriation every two years.

"We'd like to change it so we don't have to keep coming back," he said.

"Put it in writing and send it to my office," Wilson said. "We're meeting with the chair of the ferry caucus."

Wilson added that the ferry will have heavy, 24-hour use for six days sometime later this year when the Lewis & Clark Bridge at Longview is closed for repairs.

"Mention that in your letter," he said.

Strong also recommended legislation to expand local officials' limited authority to remove and otherwise deal with recreational vehicles and boats parked or abandoned along public roads.

Sen. Wilson responded that recent court cases have complicated that issue, but he is working with another senator who is introducing a bill to address the issue.

Commissioner Cothren said he and constituents want to see change in the process for setting property tax assessment and rates. With assessments based on market sales comparisons, assessments can rise so fast that people are forced out of their homes. It impacts other issues, such as support for school levies or building bonds.

"This is the number one issue I get mail about," McEntire said. "It isn't just a rural issue . . . it's a good tax base versus a poor tax base."

In response to questions from Sheriff Mark Howie, Wilson said there would be legislation to address law enforcement concerns about restrictions on pursuits and changes in the way drug offenses are charged.


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