County Likely To Downgrade Level of Public Services

By Wendy HarrisOn Oct 11, 2012

I just reviewed the agenda for tonight’s Whatcom County Planning Commission meeting to see what kind of trouble my favorite group of citizen appointed ideologues was getting into. The Planning Commission is holding a work session on amendments to the County Comprehensive Plan that will downgrade public services reflected in the county six year Capital Improvement Program.

In a staff report being reviewed this evening, Planning and Development Services is proposing to delete the level of service standard for county maintenance and operational facilities, (which includes parks, trails, correction facilities, and government office space). The staff recommends this change because “these facilities are not related to growth management planning.” Huh???

The GMA has a concurrency goal for new growth and adequate public services. The idea is to ensure there is enough funding to timely pay for the infrastructure and services required as a result of development. RCW 36.70A.020(12). It is simply smart planning to ensure that growth demands do not outstrip a community’s financial resources. How is eliminating smart, comprehensive planning in the public’s interest? It isn’t.

What particularly caught my attention was a statement in the staff report that the Lummi Island ferry will not meet the adopted level of service standard over a six-year planning period. The funds for preliminary engineering were approved as part of the county’s Transporation Improvement Program. However, the funds to actually obtain the ferry were not included.

Concurrency requirements are highly recommended under the GMA, but, with the exception of transporation, are not mandated. The county must ensure that transportation improvements and financial commitments are in place to meet concurrency requirements over a six year period of time. RCW 36.70A.070(6).

If transporation concurrency can not be met in a six year period, as determined through the use of a locally determined “Level of Service,” development should be prohibited. However, local jurisdictions must have a program to correct existing deficiencies and bring existing transportation facilities and services up to locally adopted standards. A developer may not be required to pay for improvements to correct existing deficiencies. (In other words, where the county failed to charge developers an adequate fee the first time, it must pass the cost along to the public.)

So the county needs to come up with a method to meet existing transporation needs. It appears one method will be to reduce the level of service it provides for other important government services, such as county maintenance and operational facilities, which are not specifically regulated under state law. All of this disguises two important facts: 1) our quality of life is being decreased, and 2) the public is paying for the externalized cost of private development. And this is all occurring in an obscured way, hiding the reality of the situation from the public. If the county was charging impact fees, it might have the money it needed to operate without engaging in this form of Three Card Monte.

About Wendy Harris

Past Writers • Member since Mar 31, 2008

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