From my perspective, we the citizens have much to be concerned about with regards to how and what has transpired within the County over the past 8 years.
On July 14, 2016, I attended the first forum for candidates seeking public service to present themselves to voters. For a fairly sizable group of Kittitas County citizens, we listened to three groups of individuals answer whitewashed questions about their opinions of issues within our County. For the PUD Commissioners, I was impressed; not so much on the others.
This isn’t about the questions asked or answered but rather about the closing statement from a sitting Commissioner that has “served” us for 8 years and now is asking us to re-hire him. In Mr. Jewel’s closing statement, he stated that we the citizens, as well as the County, were in much better shape than when he assumed office/issues in 2008. He stated that “under his insightful guidance, lawsuits, water issues and challenges by groups of outside interest have been abated”. I guess it is a matter of perspective on how you perceive the State of our County.
From my perspective, we the citizens have much to be concerned about with regards to how and what has transpired within the County over the past 8 years. Under Mr. Jewel’s tutelage, our County has lost a decisive lawsuit in the courts over our right to determine how and in what direction the County can or will continue to grow. This loss was about issues but more importantly, about leadership’s lack of insight by not following the legal mandate in the law by providing the documentation of written records.
The Growth Management Act is explicit in its deferral to local opinion based on a written record developed by citizen and County staff. This record was construction over two years worth of citizenry work to build the record but was ignored by County leadership. As you read through the Court’s decision, the Court admonishes the County repeatedly of not providing the written record as required by law. ( See 2011 Supreme Court Decision )
Mr. Jewel makes claims of having fixed the exempt water issues within our County. My perspective is he has been instrumental in orchestrating a reorganization of water ownership from water viewed as a public resource to water now being available for sale by those with a permitted right to use. Very simply, a public water “permit to use” is now provided by County mandate as a private ownership to sell. What is more troubling is no other County in the state has provisions for private sales of water.
On the topic of exempt water, our current Commissioners’ actions are unprecedented; they or their predecessors provided for the division of land with the applicant’s expectations of access to public ground waters of the State and then after the fact, restricted residential owners uses of those parcels to be further conditioned on water access purchased from private parties.
The above issues are reasons for concern but they pale in comparison to the effects of settlements or agreements reached on the behalf of we the citizens. As a result of the Supreme Court case loss by the County, County leadership has entered into a settlement agreement which will impact this County for over a decade and allows for environmental groups oversight of our development standards. ( Kittitas Settlement Agreement )
As with everything in this day and age, “issues” generally, come down to cost; which is why Commissioner Jewel’s closing statement was so disturbing. These costs will and have been borne by us citizens in two ways;
- The actual dollars expended; in building the written record which was never used
- The cost of hearings and approvals which were eventually challenged
- The cost of defending a position that is doomed to fail due to bad oversight, ( several hundred thousand )
- The cost to private rural citizens in the loss of use and value for their property, (in the millions)
- The loss of value to rural lands deemed unbuildable due to lack of water, (in the millions)
- The loss of land value to the county for taxation which is now spread to other taxable properties, ( tens of millions)
- The cost of water purchases to County citizens now tasked with purchasing water just to regain some of the values lost in rural lands, ( $5.7 million plus to date )
- The cost of a new bureaucracy to manage and oversee water purchases and administration of water through a County water bank, ( this will translate into tens of millions over time)
- The above illustrates the cost in dollars to us citizens, but how can anyone value the following:
- Surrendering our development oversight to environmental groups and Olympia bureaucrats, The continued restrictions on rural lands that were legally platted and then deemed unbuildable by County restriction of ground water access
- Citizen involvement and the commitment to serve which was then ignored by elected officials
- County regulations and obstructions imposed on citizens over the past 8 years
- The overall cost of up zoning rural lands once again and the lost value due to the up-zoning,
Commissioner Jewel is asking us, the citizens, to re-hire him for 4 more years. It is our responsibility to review his record and decide if he has been responsible on our behalf in his 8 year tenure as Kittitas County Commissioner, District 1
- Regulations have soared,
- The County budget has ballooned from approximately $60 million per year to just under $100 million,
- Rural land values have plunged while County Tax valuation has been reduced due to up zoning,
- A large percentage of the developable land that was available within the County in 2008 is no longer available for development because of water restrictions and upzoning.
We need to ask ourselves, just how much is enough? I would suggest that Mr. Jewel has served his time and we the citizens exercise our option of retiring him. I think we can do better!