Folks who want to create new counties in Washington - there are at least four such efforts under way - are hoping their cause will find backers on the state Supreme Court.
A case brought by supporters of a new Cedar County, which would be formed from the eastern part of King County, is scheduled for high-court review May 6. The justices may clarify the ground rules for establishing new counties.
“If (the justices) rule in Cedar County’s favor, it seems to me they have to acknowledge the other county movements, and we can all be recognized as counties,” said Gayle Luedke, secretary of the Pioneer County Movement, a group trying to form a new county out of part of Whatcom County.
Two other such efforts propose creation of Freedom County from the northern part of Snohomish County, and Skykomish County from the southeast portion of Snohomish County and a northeast section of King County.
Under state law, creation of new counties is up to the Legislature, based on petitions from voters in the affected area. Backers of the new-county movement argue that if more than half the prospective residents sign such petitions, a new county should be formed automatically.
But the state attorney general’s office says lawmakers aren’t required to create new counties merely on the basis of petitions.
The last time a new county was created was in 1911, when Pend Oreille County was separated from Stevens County. This year, bills to create three new counties all died in the Legislature.
“I don’t think we need any more counties,” said state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.
The movement for a Cedar County stemmed from frustration with existing county government - particularly land-use controls and environmental regulations.
Partly because of rules, “it’s not financially feasible to raise cattle … anymore,” said Dick Peacock, a retired firefighter and fourth-generation resident of a farm near Hobart.
Peacock and others collected signatures from 23,765 of the 45,033 registered voters in the area of the proposed new county.
The court case stems from a request by Cedar County backers to Secretary of State Ralph Munro that he certify their petition signatures to the Legislature, giving them the same status as election results.
Munro reported the figures to the Legislature, but didn’t certify them. Supreme Court Commissioner Geoffrey Crooks subsequently ruled that Munro wasn’t obligated to certify the results.
Cedar County backers want the full court to overturn Crooks’ ruling and order certification of the petitions as a binding requirement that their new county be formed.
A five-member panel of Supreme Court justices is scheduled to hear the case May 6. If they agree unanimously to let Crooks’ ruling stand, that would end the matter, Deputy Supreme Court Commissioner Steve Goff said. If they can’t reach a unanimous decision, the full court likely would meet to decide how to handle the issue.
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