Opinion

Editorial: Constantine pays a visit, gets an earful about Vashon issues

King County Executive Dow Constantine visited Vashon last week, using the occasion to meet with the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce, Island friends and colleagues and The Beachcomber, where he touched upon a range of issues.

In his brief visit, before dashing off to catch a ferry, he said he’d gotten an earful about the importance of ferry service and public transportation on Vashon and expressed sympathy for an issue that is the bane of many Islanders — the lack of coordination between the state ferry schedule and the county bus schedule.

He heard from the chamber about its desire to see the county ramp up visitor promotion and the need for some basic signage that directs people from, say, the ferry terminal on the north end to Vashon town, about five miles away.

He also addressed some of his own concerns — noting, for instance, that the county faces “tremendous financial challenges” as it attempts to balance a budget at a time when sales tax receipts are down.

This was Constantine’s first official visit to Vashon since his election as county executive last fall, and it took place during a rough week for the new executive: Just two days before, in two back-to-back votes, the Republican bloc on the allegedly nonpartisan council defeated his efforts to get first a sales tax hike and then a property tax hike on the August ballot to close a gaping hole in the county’s criminal justice budget.

With all that going on, we were glad he was able to include The Beachcomber in his itinerary. And we appreciated much that he had to say.

He’s working, for instance, to ensure that there’s money in the county’s Conservation Futures Fund — an account made up of property taxes levied throughout the county for the purpose of purchasing open space — to support the purchase of Glacier Northwest’s 237-acre mine site on Maury, should a deal come to fruition.

“I want to make sure those funds are protected and that we have the capacity to participate in that kind of a deal,” he told us.

He acknowledged that some county council members have questioned funding of the Vashon-Seattle passenger-only boat, adding that he’ll work to protect that vital transportation route for Island commuters. He no longer chairs the county’s ferry district, now that he’s off the council, he noted. But he oversees the county’s Department of Transportation, which gives him other ways to shape and support the small county-run ferry system.

“I’m trying to make sure we can run it as efficiently as possible — not only to maintain service but also improve it,” he said.

And when we encouraged him to look into efforts by a handful of residents to build an eco-friendly bio-conversion facility — a front-page story in last week’s Beachcomber — he promised he would. County officials, we told him, could either actively support the effort or passively do little, making the effort much more difficult or even impossible. He seemed intrigued and open to the effort, noting with a smile that “only on Vashon” would such an ecologically innovative effort make front-page news.

Constantine seems fond of the Island, and he seems to understand our concerns and sensibilities. We hope he’ll visit again soon. We also hope he’ll be able to stay a bit longer next time, creating room in his itinerary to mix it up with any Islander who wants to meet him. He has much to offer the county — and Vashon — and we’d like to see more of him.

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