After three months of waiting for Valley residents to come to her, Spokane County Commissioner Kate McCaslin decided Wednesday night was a good time to go to them.
Making good on a campaign promise to facilitate community involvement, McCaslin gathered county staff members, convened a town hall-style meeting at Horizon Junior High, and then listened for two hours while Valley residents quizzed her about the proposed Valley Couplet, mass transit, growth management, responsible growth, sewers, deteriorating roads and Mirabeau Point.
“I hope you don’t hold me accountable for the past and that you will hold me accountable for the next four years,” McCaslin told a crowd of about 50 people.
This week’s meeting was the first in what McCaslin plans to be a series of quarterly forums scattered around the Valley.
McCaslin’s message throughout Wednesday’s meeting was involvement and communication. Half the battle is identifying the problem, she said.
To that end, the head of almost ever major county department attended the meeting.
McCaslin called on Jim Haines, Valley Couplet project engineer, to explain that the proposed road’s first phase stops at University Road because of funding limitations. As soon as construction begins on that phase - the most expensive portion - money will be sought for a second phase that probably would connect with Appleway Avenue at Tschirley Road, he said.
Utility Manager Bruce Rawls addressed a resident’s concern about the cost of hooking up to the sewer, saying a recently adopted revenue bond program should help distribute the costs more fairly because it will charge residents based on wastewater volume and not lot size.
John Mercer, who oversees long-range planning, was asked by McCaslin to explain the comprehensive planning phase of the state’s Growth Management Act.
County Engineer Bill Johns and Public Works Director Dennis Scott fielded questions about how road projects are funded and built.
One man wanted to know why more durable, concrete roads weren’t being built. Denise Adam wondered why new roads often were busy as soon as they opened. In those cases, engineers should plan for that and build wider roads, she said.
“If they need four lanes they should go ahead and build eight lanes,” Adam said.
Johns said engineers are aware of that problem, but it comes down to funding. Money is tight, making it tough to find funding for projects to meet even minimum needs.
“We’re drowning at year one,” Johns said. “When you’re drowning at year one it’s hard to look out at year 20.”
That’s where a county commissioner comes in, McCaslin said. It’s a county commissioner’s job to make sure the solutions are financially sound, McCaslin said.
“Government is about setting priorities,” McCaslin said.
McCaslin said her priorities have been keeping taxes down and limiting spending.
She said she has pushed to implement performance standards that projects must meet if backers hope to get future funding. Those standards include a list of detailed uses and goals, McCaslin said.
“The good news is I have found … that all three commissioners, including John Roskelley and Phil Harris, are in lock step on this issue,” McCaslin said. “It’s anything but a rubber stamp.”
McCaslin was forced to cut off comments at 9 p.m. because she had arranged to use the school for only two hours.
“I think you’re brave to have a meeting the week (property tax) assessments came out,” Rich King said.
That’s her job, McCaslin said.
“On New Year’s Eve I woke up at midnight and said, ‘Oh no, what have I done?”’ McCaslin said. “I now have 410,000 bosses.”