With a unanimous vote, the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners has approved a resolution that identifies 17 "historically-established" community councils as the only ones eligible to request funding from the landfill account.
For hosting the regional landfill at Roosevelt, Klickitat County currently takes in a guaranteed minimum of $6.2 million annually. The county sets aside a portion of that -- typically $350,000 per year -- to be divided up to pay for projects that benefit communities around the county.
The county's Economic Development Authority (EDA) reviews project requests from the various communities around the county, then prioritizes the projects. The Klickitat County Board of Commissioners make the final decision each year.
Communities recognized in the resolution are: Alderdale, Appleton, Bickelton, Bingen, Centerville, Dallesport-Murdock, Glenwood, Goldendale, High Prairie, Husum-BZ Corner, Klickitat, Lyle, Roosevelt, Snowden, Trout Lake, White Salmon, and Wishram. Only the community councils representing these jurisdictions will be invited to participate in project funding for 2003.
Three of the communities -- Snowden, Appleton, and High Prairie -- are new additions since the first year of landfill funding.
One community that previously received grant funding -- but did not make the new list -- was the Lower Burdoin Mountain Community Council. Representatives of the area were not pleased.
"In view of some really important issues going on, it's hard to comprehend why that decision was made," said Fred Heany, president of the Community Council. "One thing we're working on is a fire station. The Community Council has given us a vehicle by which we can deal with issues of economic development, fire safety, and health of the area."
Earlier this year, the county's EDA board granted $10,000 to help the Lower Burdoin Community Council fund its top priority: a new fire station on Burdoin Mountain.
Heany pointed out that the Lower Burdoin council is the only one within the county that has developed a disaster-response plan.
"Principally through the efforts of Jody Fleury and Ernie Matthews, we have implemented a community disaster action plan. I'm not aware of any other community doing this in Klickitat County," Heany said. "What we felt was, we can't count on anyone outside the area helping us in the event of certain disasters."
Heany added that no one from county government contacted him to let him know that his council would no longer be allowed to compete for landfill dollars.
"There was no notification -- except through you [The Enterprise]," Heany explained.
He promised that the council would continue to meet to discuss issues of interest to the community.
"This doesn't stop us from having a Community Council," Heany said. "It just doesn't put us in the same recognized state as the others, and I can't comprehend why the county would do that."
Heany pointed out that the financial considerations were never the primary motivation behind forming the Lower Burdoin Mountain Community Council in the first place.
"It's not just the dollar issues," he said. "There are other issues so important to the vitality of the county. I don't care if we never get a dime out of it, but the projects best for the county are the ones that should happen. It makes sense to have a more competitive process."
Maryhill, which received EDA funding several years ago, also was not included in the new list.
"Maryhill hadn't participated for the last four years," explained Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck.
Communities or other neighborhood groups outside the 17 communities listed will still be allowed to take their ideas to the nearest community council for consideration. The councils can opt to add proposals onto their own request list; however, each community has traditionally been limited to requesting funds for no more than two separate projects per year.
According to the Board of County Commissioners, over the past four years approximately $2 million has been allocated from landfill funds for locally-proposed projects. These have ranged from firefighting equipment to park improvements.
"These projects have given communities direct access to landfill dollars to meet local needs," said Commissioner Joan Frey. "Over the years, about half of the funding has gone to fire districts."
The new structure for funding projects from the landfill account stemmed from confusion over the last couple of years about how local groups were chosen.
Public meetings were held in January and June to decide how to clarify the funding program.
White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen, who serves on the EDA board, said he felt the new agreement was a good one.
"From the very beginning, the EDA has tried to deal fairly and evenly with all the people of Klickitat County," Holen said. "But in the best of all cases, we end up with judgment calls. I think this plan comes as close to being reasonable as anything could."
Holen added that he hopes the process is reviewed each year to ensure it remains as equitable as possible.
Commissioner Struck said he thought the new process would make the program more efficient.
"One of the goals has been to keep the process simple and to involve the communities in deciding how to proceed when questions like this have come up," said Struck. "The proposed resolution meets both those goals as we look toward 2003."
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel, who also serves as a member of the EDA board, agreed the county's plan is a good solution.
"We can only direct funds to certain agencies," Prigel explained. "Even community councils aren't eligible to receive and handle the funds. That, coupled with the fact the county wanted projects to be pre-screened to set priorities for the whole community, so we don't get requests from every single household, ultimately."
Struck added that no final budget decision on community funding for 2003 has been reached, but he believed it was "pretty certain" the funding pool will be available again next year.
Despite early consideration of altering the boundaries of some of the community councils to eliminate overlapping of fire districts, no boundary changes were included in the final resolution.