There are a number of issues facing Yakima County, according to Sunnyside Daybreak Rotary Club guest speaker and Yakima County Commissioner Rand Elliott. He highlighted some of those issues at Wednesday morning's meeting.
Elliott began, stating the county is excited at new staff additions at Yakima Valley Community College. He said the new staff members and their families are moving into the county, purchasing homes and adding to the county's tax base.
He stated that Yakima's Boise Cascade property was recently purchased by a development group from Oregon and will become a "mixed development" property. The property spans 200 acres, according to Elliott, and development of the property will involve changes to the infrastructure of the area.
Elliott then spoke of the Prosser Memorial Hospital ambulance assessment anticipated to be on the November 2008 general election ballot. The increase will affect Grandview and Mabton residents for the purpose of continued ambulance services.
He said the commissioners are also "...spending a lot of time on the three-tenth's tax." He said voters approved the three-tenth's of one percent sales tax for the purpose of providing law and justice funds. The tax, approved November 2004, is due to expire in 2009 and Elliott said Yakima County residents will be encouraged by the Yakima County Sheriff's Department to approve the tax once again.
"Speaking of the Yakima County Sheriff's Department...they are in the process of considering the site of their new substation," Elliott stated, explaining the Sheriff's office has been looking at building a substation at the entrance to the Zillah Lakes property. He said the substation, which had been in Buena, was destroyed by an arsonist. Sheriff's deputies serving the Lower Yakima Valley since the blaze have been without an office.
Elliott then highlighted the fact that the new Yakima County jail facility has not been a talking point in the media. He said the occupancy at the jail "...appears to be good and the jail seems to be operating well."
What has been a media subject, however, is the Toppenish jail property acquired by the county in 2002 for just more than half of a million dollars. The plan to build the new county jail was scrapped when it was discovered the property did not have adequate water rights. Elliott said county officials are in the process of putting the property up for auction, with a minimum bid of $200,000. The acreage of the property is a little less than 40 acres, and Elliott said the commissioners have hopes of "...getting it off the books."
Another topic in the media as of late has been the Donald Wrecking Yard, according to Elliott. The wrecking yard is being moved from an island in the Yakima River, located near the tiny community of Donald. He said commissioners and county officials are exploring landscaping options for the purpose of providing a less offensive site. The landscaping will involve a screen provided by trees and bushes, and Elliott believes the cost of the project will be less expensive than was quoted in recent newspaper coverage. "That was a preliminary figure," he stated.
He told Rotarians the commissioners have been looking at the county 2009 budget, "...and it is tight."
Elliott said he feels the one percent limit on property taxes was a good decision on the part of voters, forcing those in official capacities to "cut the fat."
He continued, stating the commissioners will need to assess the services and all that the county does, analyzing where budget cuts can be made. He said he believes the goal is to make the county more efficient with the taxpayers' money.