Spokane County is seeking volunteers from rural areas to fill several open seats on government committees and boards that have been open for years.
The result is that rural communities are unrepresented and may miss out on the potential for projects and funding.
The county has several boards made up of elected officials, constituents and service providers that advise county commissioners on how to spend money on mental health, homelessness and community development. Some positions on boards, such as representatives from the city of Spokane, are easily filled, but some rural positions have sat empty for years, or have never been filled.
The county’s Housing and Community Development Advisory Committee has representatives from Spokane, Spokane Valley and most of the smaller regional cities in the area, but the Medical Lake, Waverly and south Spokane County areas all have vacancies.
Kathleen Torella, director of the Community Services, Housing, and Community Development Department for the county, the organization that oversees several of the boards, said it can be difficult to know what gaps there are in services and infrastructure in the most rural parts of the region if people from those communities aren’t regularly weighing in and participating.
“It’s important to hear from those smaller communities,” she said.
Torella said previous board members have said both time and travel were difficult for them even though committees reimburse board members for mileage.
Doug Ross, city administrator for Medical Lake, said City Council members usually serve as representatives on boards, but time is an issue. Most members on the Medical Lake council have full-time jobs on top of council duties. Members are paid $200 a month.
By comparison, Spokane Valley council members make $1,415 a month; Spokane City Council members are paid $46,700 a year; and Spokane County commissioners make about $114,000 a year.
“It can be tricky and I know people are going to say it’s important, you’ll find the time,” he said. “But they have to take a half day off of work, it’s just not that simple.”
Medical Lake has had a vacancy on the county’s Housing and Community Development Advisory Committee since last year when a council member resigned because of time constraints. Another council member recently volunteered to take his place.
Lynda Brown, city clerk for Tekoa and Waverly, said a Waverly City Council member who also worked for Spokane County represented the city on the Housing and Community Development Advisory Committee for years. Waverly has had a vacancy for two years, and Brown said the council decided not to fill the position because the city wasn’t eligible for many of the federal grants the board distributes. She said many council members didn’t want to make a time commitment to join a board when they weren’t likely to get funding for their community.
She said in the past, Waverly had received money for water infrastructure projects and had recently received a letter that they were eligible for federal dollars again, and were discussing committee membership.
Ginna Vazquez, clerk for the Spokane County Board of Commissioners, said members usually have plenty of applications from the city of Spokane and north Spokane County, but far fewer from south Spokane County or the larger region. She said people in rural unincorporated Spokane County may not know there are openings.
There are currently two south Spokane County positions open on the Housing and Community Development Advisory Committee, one that has been open for two years and one open for 10.
Spokane County also has had difficulties filling the Spokane County Regional Behavioral Health Board. The board is supposed to be made up of representatives from Adams, Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties, but all of those counties have vacant seats, four of which have never been filled.
Spokane County is also looking to fill positions on the Solid Waste Advisory Committee as well as on the Water Conservancy Board. The board prefers candidates who own or operate a well and have water rights.
People looking to join a board or committee in their community should approach the mayor of their city, who nominates candidates to the board, or if they live in unincorporated Spokane County, county commissioners would appoint them.
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