County department ramps up services for unincorporated areas

If community members are unhappy, the county will modify the agreements and services provided.

A new department of King County government intended to improve services to unincorporated areas is 1 month old and is continuing to staff up and establish the ways in which it will work with those areas.

The foundation of the Department of Local Services is two-fold, according to Director John Taylor. It includes King County Roads and the Department of Permitting and Environmental Review (DPER) — both of which Taylor said the Department of Local Services now has “direct line” oversight of. It also includes service partnership agreements with several divisions of the county. Four of those agreements are currently in place, with service levels, expectations and performance metrics that the county will judge the departments’ performance on. This type of framework had not existed before, Taylor said.

Additionally, county officials will go to unincorporated communities with those metrics and service information and ask for feedback.

“We’ll be taking those out to the community and asking them, ‘Is this what you want? Is this an adequate level of service? Do you want more? Are we measuring it in the right way?” Taylor said.

He noted that if community members are unhappy, the county will modify the agreements and services provided.

Currently, agreements are in place with the parks and surface water divisions of the Department of Natural Resources and Parks, Regional Animal Services and Public Health — Seattle and King County, including environmental health services, on-site sewage systems permitting, and plumbing and gas piping inspection.

Several more service agreements will be finalized throughout the year.

In several communities, county officials will work with area councils and home owners’ associations, reporting on the services those communities have received. Noting that Vashon does not have a representative body, he expressed support for a new council on the island.

“Honestly, if the community out there decides they want to reconvene what was there before, to my mind, that’s helpful,” he said. “It gives us a place to go and a group of people to talk to.”

Without that type of forum, he said the county would turn to existing groups and follow “tried and true” outreach methods.

He and other members of the new department have been to Vashon multiple times in recent weeks, he said, and have attended a recent gathering at the Chamber of Commerce and a meeting of the Vashon Social Services Network.

He added that one of the first items on his agenda is determining how to “amplify” county services on the island. He noted that Community Service Area and DPER representatives are out once a week in the service center across from the fire station and available to island residents, but Taylor would like to enhance that presence.

“We’re in the middle of doing an inventory of determining what we have on hand that we can work with to provide better service and trying to come up with some innovative ways of doing that,” he said.

Taylor also addressed some of the current issues on the island, including ferry service and health care. He has met with groups of people working on both issues, he said, noting the intent is for the department to be helpful.

“On ferries and all issues, we can always be a voice for the unincorporated areas,” he said. “That is one of the intentions for the creation of this department, to have some sort of an institutional voice within the executive branch of government that can take positions on public policy issues that affect the unincorporated areas in a more focused way.”

He also addressed the new ferry schedule and the reduced service from the island.

“It’s a good example of the sort of issue that if we’d been around a year ago and working with Councilman McDermott, we would have been another voice asking for WashDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation) to be more reasonable,” he said.

Regarding health care, he said the county is looking at ways to “stabilize and hopefully enhance” health care on the island.

He added that creative thinking will likely be necessary to solve the problem.

“The issue is how do you layer on more funding without suppressing other funding on the island, and I think they’re working those issues through. We’re going to be part of those discussions. King County wants to be helpful,” he said.

In the months ahead, the Department of Local Services may hold a large public meeting on Vashon, but nothing is scheduled yet. Currently, Taylor said he is focused on talking to discrete groups of people to get a sense of what is on their minds.

“You will be seeing a lot of me and other people from the department out on Vashon … for the next several months,” he said.