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Struck looks back on nine-year run as county commissioner

Last meeting was Dec. 18

Nine years is a long time in politics, but even so it tends to go by pretty fast.

It doesn't seem like nearly a decade ago that Don Struck of White Salmon was chosen by the Klickitat County Republican Party (and then by a vote of the remaining two County Commissioners) to replace fellow Republican Lane Smith, who stepped aside midway through his four-year term.

Struck, who owns the Husum Hills Golf Course, will be leaving office at the end of December. His last meeting as a County Commissioner will come on Dec. 18, but he will continue with his duties as commissioner until Jan. 1.

A year still remains on Struck's four-year term, so a replacement candidate will be selected, probably in January.

After being appointed to serve out the remainder of Smith's term, voters elected Struck to two full four-year terms of his own in 2000 and 2004.

Although he has enjoyed his time in office, Struck said he doesn't expect to run for political office again.

"I want to get reacquainted with the golf course, and maybe get back into coaching basketball," he said in an interview Friday. "I also have some development projects in the Husum area I'll be working on."

Struck said there are not a lot of hot issues on the county's front burner right now, but there will always be controversies that come and go. The next one might be the Husum-BZ Corner zoning issue, he said.

"There will be another public hearing on that in White Salmon, probably in January," Struck explained.

Another concern could be the impact of the county's switch to vote-by-mail on the various community councils around the area.

Since the county did away with polling sites, the move took away the councils' ability to piggyback their election processes onto the regular polling facilities. And the alternatives have proven to be costly, confusing, or both.

Although most of the councils came up with an alternative way to elect officers, the Husum-BZ Corner Community Council went as far as temporarily suspending its election process -- which had been set for November 2007 -- in response to the change.

Struck said the county planned to offer its help in resolving the community council election issue.

"I think what we'll try to do is provide detailed maps of the councils' boundaries, and list all the parcels with names, then we'll give them a list of registered voters within their districts," Struck explained. "They're going to hold their own elections, so they'll need their own voters' list. We'll give them enough information to either set up a vote-by-mail system or hold an annual meeting to vote."

Struck added that each council would need to figure out how to handle its election procedures.

"It'll be up to them, on a community by community basis," he said, adding that the Husum-BZ Council should be able to hold its elections sometime in the first quarter of 2008.

"They should have adequate information by then; but it's their decision," Struck said.

Looking back over his time in office, Struck recalled outlining his primary goals when he first started as a commissioner.

"I had a half-dozen goals," he said.

Struck noted that he is most proud of helping to accomplish the following from his priority list:

Building the wastewater plant in Dallesport, which helped create "shovel-ready parcels" at the Port of Klickitat, and instituting joint ownership (with the city of The Dalles) of the airport at Dallesport;

Working to get the Pioneer Center built.

"That was the most gratifying, to bring county services to the west end. I'm really proud of that accomplishment," he said.

Setting up the Energy Overlay Zone, which Struck believes will greatly enhance the tax base of the county.

"Wind farms will double the assessed value of the entire county within three years," Struck said.

Forming a partnership with the Klickitat Public Utility District to operate a landfill gas project.

"That brings in $250,000 a year in steady revenue to the county," Struck pointed out.

On other topics, Struck said the county was no longer as opposed to the Klickitat Rail-Trail -- which uses portions of the former railroad corridor between Lyle and Goldendale as a trail -- as it once had been.

"I think we've softened on it, as long as the trail proponents mitigate potential problems with landowners along the trail as far as conflicts with dogs and leaving garbage," Struck said. "The County Commissioners are meeting with Washington State Parks officials in January, and we're agreeable to listen to a state proposal to make improvements along the trail."

Struck defended the county from those who have questioned the way the county distributes its landfill revenue.

"The main question I've always had is, where does the landfill money go? The amount of dollars from the landfill to my district alone is over $10 million," Struck said. "That's a lot of money."

Klickitat County Commission District No. 1, which Struck has represented, covers the western end of the county and includes the cities of Bingen and White Salmon, Trout Lake, Glenwood, Husum, BZ Corner, and stretches to just east of the BZ-Glenwood Highway.

According to Struck, over the years the money has gone to pay for a wide variety of development projects, including infrastructure improvements for the Port of Klickitat at Bingen Point, Bingen's downtown revitalization projects, the Pioneer Center in White Salmon, the White Salmon Youth Center, road paving projects, and the annual community development ideas.

Further, Struck noted that landfill money is used to "buy down" the property tax levy rate for county residents.

"In our 2008 budget, we'll buy down about $1.7 million of the property tax rate off the total of $4.5 million," Struck said. "That makes the tax bill about 35 percent lower than it would have been. Taxes are still high, but it would have been much worse if we lived in a county without the ability to buy down that rate. We have the lowest or second-lowest tax levy rate in the state."

The county has also been able to sock away about $20 million into a cumulative reserve "rainy day fund," Struck said.

Struck also commented on the controversy regarding holding public prayers at places such as the Pioneer Center.

"Basically, we had to inform seniors that because of the threat of litigation, we couldn't condone open prayers," Struck said. "I think it's tragic. We resisted making that decision, but there was the very real threat of litigation if we didn't have a policy against open prayer."

Struck added that a formal policy against public prayer would be in place next week, after Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney Tim O'Neill visits the senior centers in Lyle and White Salmon and explains what the policy will be and why it is necessary.

Struck said he has enjoyed working for the residents of the county, and will miss it.

"I grossly underestimated the magnitude of the job when I took it," he said. "What I'll miss the most is working with the people in county government, especially my fellow commissioners, Ray Thayer, Joan Frey, and David Sauter. And our secretary, Cris McEwen. She's the best employee in the history of the world."


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