Business people and community leaders were treated to a down-home State of the County address, delivered by Commissioner Phil Harris on Friday.
The address, sponsored by Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and Community Colleges of Spokane, was held at Mirabeau Park Hotel and attracted about 200 people.
During the address, Harris praised county employees for helping to make the area a desirable place to live and for accepting a cost-conscious three-year contract with a 2 percent annual cost of living increase, an increase he said was lower than employee contracts in many other jurisdictions.
“Some people forget that things happen because of people,” Harris told the audience.
Guests were given reports that showcased the many services provided by county departments through the 2004 budget, which totaled more than $350 million.
A newer expenditure mentioned by Harris was the recent hiring of a lobbyist to look out for local interests in Olympia.
Relocation of the Geiger rail spur, a project to move an industrial railroad track to better serve local companies, is expected to get under way this year. It’s expected to cost between $6 and $7 million and generate industrial development.
The county plans to widen and straighten Bigelow Gulch Road.
At the end of the speech, Harris referenced a letter to the editor that labeled commissioners as “Bushites.”
That letter accused commissioners of stomping on citizen rights by trying to downsize the County Planning Commission by two seats.
Saying it was an honor to be listed in the same paragraph with the president, Harris donned a cowboy hat – garnering a hearty round of applause.
Afterward, Mike Casey, a dentist and chairman of Spokane County Republican Party, said Harris’ speech was delivered with a “Will Rogers” flair.
“It’s good for the citizens, even those of us involved in public life, to visualize all of the services and the people that make the community function,” Casey said.Commisioner Todd Mielke said the county is working to change its culture and improve efficiency.
In addition to regular meetings with department heads, the commissioners are encouraging employees to shed bureaucratic tasks that serve no productive purpose.
Employees are improving customer service by educating people seeking building and other permits about options available under state law, in addition to goal setting and strategy building, Mielke said.
“We’re reaffirming the notion that you can enjoy your job and still get your work done.”
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