One of the biggest issues facing our local businesses right now is very similar to that challenge facing the ag and construction industries—access to good, reliable labor. Ironically, one of the contributing factors to a challenging labor force is the growing housing affordability crisis we have in North Central Washington. It’s counterproductive to attracting and retaining workers when area rentals and entry-level homes are beyond the reach of so many. Instead of keeping our workforce here, they’re slowly being pushed out. This poses a significant threat to our overall vitality and quality of life in Douglas County. I want to continue tackling, head-on, the underlying and contributing factors to the housing affordability crisis with meaningful, effective solutions that go beyond studies and talk.
Agriculture and ag-related activities are without a doubt a most critical piece to Douglas County’s economic engine—serving as our number one industry and accounting for nearly a third of our workforce. Moreover, the rich history, values and quality of life that we enjoy in Douglas County is intricately interwoven with ag. Currently, we’re seeing farmers, ranchers and growers being challenged in a whole host of ways—be it by ever-growing regulatory requirements; domestic and international policy changes; a shrinking labor market and all of the typical challenges that any small business faces. I believe that the County can best support our farmers, ranchers and growers by ensuring that we’re not adding to their regulatory burden; that we’re doing all we can to provide them with as much flexibility in the utilization of their property as is possible, while continuing to place an emphasis in maintaining county roads that serve as an invaluable link between the farm to market process. I come from a farming background and I wholeheartedly support our farmers, ranchers and growers.
Unfunded State Mandates
I’ve been watching smaller, rural counties like Douglas County continue to be burdened, year-after-year, by growing mandates handed down by the State–many of which are unfunded or grossly underfunded. Consequently, counties are left scrambling to stretch operating budgets to fund mandates such as indigent defense. In some cases, smaller counties are having to move funds away from critically important responsibilities like road construction and maintenance in order to meet these required mandates. These unfunded mandates are increasingly putting significant pressure on smaller counties in being able to continue providing essential services. This simply is not right and needs to be corrected!
The Hirst decision was a Washington State Supreme Court decision that was born out of Whatcom County in 2016, and essentially changed state law and how rural property owners could—or more accurately—COULD NOT use their property. Frankly, in my opinion, this effort was nothing more than a thinly-veiled attack on rural counties and rural property owners by Western Washington elites that have absolutely no understanding of our rural way of life, but who ultimately seek to “herd” everyone into cities. The leverage or tool they are using to pursue their objectives just so happens to be water. While I certainly would have preferred that the Legislature would have effectively reversed the Hirst decision, the work that Representative Taylor and others did in passing SB 6091 provided immediate and necessary relief. Make no mistake, rural counties like Douglas County will need to remain vigilant in pushing back against this continuing assault on rural Washington moving forward.