King County officials were on-hand to discuss their work, answer questions and connect with islanders during a town hall and open house event last week at Vashon High School.
The event was hosted by the Department of Local Services. Director John Taylor and King County Councilmember Joe McDermott delivered opening remarks that were followed by briefings from the directors of nearly a dozen county departments including Elections, the Sheriff’s Office, Community & Health Services, Permitting and Road Services.
Those were followed by three breakout groups where smaller, guided discussions were held about permitting and alternative housing throughout the county, public safety and funding for the Vashon Senior Center.
As part of his address, McDermott spoke about questions islanders have recently asked such as whether he would support a potential fireworks ban on Vashon.
“This year, in an unprecedented way, I heard concern about wildfires on Vashon well before the Fourth of July,” he said, adding that residents have expressed concern over fireworks elsewhere in unincorporated King County, such as White Center, where he noted that an elderly man was killed over the holiday after a blaze caused by fireworks destroyed two homes.
McDermott said that he will be working with Executive Dow Constantine to bring a ban to fruition, citing safety concerns.
“That will take a significant amount of work to accomplish legislatively,” he said, noting that according to state law, any such ban could not take effect for 12 months, so legislation prohibiting the use of fireworks on Vashon would likely not be in effect before the Fourth of July in 2020.
Senior center funding
Later in the town hall, McDermott reiterated his dissatisfaction with how the county divided up $20 million from the expanded Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy this summer among “hubs” of senior centers that joined together in partnership to apply for support. The county awarded the Vashon Senior Center a one-time award of $90,000 compared to others that will receive $440,000 each year for five years, for a total of $2.2 million. The funding was awarded to senior centers that serve socially or geographically isolated populations, according to a county press release.
“Can you find a more isolated senior center than on an island that depends on ferry service for access?” he asked those in attendance. McDermott added that he will be working with local services and Constantine to find additional revenue for the Vashon Senior Center and others that were disproportionately affected by the shortfall.
Vashon did not partner with other senior centers in the region to apply for funds, but the senior center did join forces with other island nonprofits, including Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS), the Vashon Community Food Bank and Vashon Island Pet Protectors to create a sort of island hub and better qualify for support.
Denise Rothleutner, deputy director of Community and Human Services, explained that the decision to award funding to senior centers in the county was made by a diverse review panel that included key stakeholders and seniors as well.
“This group reviewed all of the proposals received,” she said. “We received many more proposals than we were able to fund.”
Susan Kalhorn, the former board president of the Vashon Senior Center, was in attendance and said members took the position to support the expanded levy in 2017 because they believed it would benefit seniors on the island. She said they gave a lot only to receive very little back.
“Frankly, I have to say I feel a bit duped as a result of this,” she said. “It’s just unacceptable; it’s frankly unacceptable. And I think that that really needs to be relayed to your staff.”
In a follow-up conversation, Vashon Senior Center Executive Director Catherine Swearingen said that island seniors will need stronger allies in the county, and for McDermott to play a greater role in procuring more support for the senior center.
“I am guessing that had he been more engaged and involved the outcome might have been different,” she said.
Swearingen acknowledged that the county provides some funding annually to the Vashon Senior Center. The organization is slated to receive about $27,000 this year. Last year, the county awarded an $84,000 grant using levy funds to upgrade out-of-date IT systems and senior volunteer transportation services, provide in-home aide training for seniors and carry out an inclusion assessment survey. But Swearingen noted that the only other funding the senior center receives comes from private donations, and programming such as the Bluebird transportation service — connecting seniors with a ride to off-island medical appointments — remains one of the most critical and underfunded needs.
“We’re as isolated as it gets in this county, and I just don’t understand,” she said. “I sincerely hope that the county will find the money.”
Jim Chan, director of the Permitting Division for local services, reiterated that the use of asphalt millings — making headlines after last year’s island highway paving project — is prohibited on Vashon without a permit due to the island’s status as a critical recharge area. He added that the county’s enforcement process for responding to locations where millings were used unpermitted is ongoing.
“We are currently on hold on those cases pending an outcome of the legal action that’s been taken,” said Chan, providing no further details. “We hope there will be an outcome that will be best for everyone.”
Asphalt millings were used in the highway project and are allowed on King County roads according to Rick Brater, Roads Services division director, who attended the town hall.
Crime and safety
A workgroup led by Major Jesse Anderson of the sheriff’s office discussed reported drug houses on Vashon.
“We do care about these issues that come up,” he said in a later phone interview, noting that the procedures for how officers respond may feel ineffectual to some. “We do take multiple different steps to try to resolve the problem, but we obviously have to follow the law, and the law isn’t always acceptable to the people who are impacted by these kinds of activities or behaviors, which is frustrating.”
Anderson said that reports about narcotics activity may be filed online anonymously at bit.ly/2DfOwBZ.
“Some people are concerned about having it come back on them and so I appreciate that,” he said. “I don’t want people to be retaliated against, especially for a complaint like that.”
Islanders, he said, can also go to the sheriff’s substation on Vashon at 19021 Vashon Hwy SW and speak to a deputy.