Thurston County Logo Commissioner Romero's
  County Newsletter
Fall, 2013: Building Community in Tough Times
 
Commissioner Sandra Romero

Commissioner Sandra Romero was first elected in 2009 and recently reelected in 2012. She represents district 2 which includes Lacey, Yelm, and Rainier. She is currently Chair of the Board of County Commissioners.

   

In This Issue
Thurston's Bountiful Byway
Partners Protecting Prairies
Thurston Council for Children & Youth
Harvesting Energy
Budget Challenges
Fun at the Fairgrounds
Join us for Community Coffee!

There is a lot happening in Thurston County, and we want to hear from you. Our upcoming community coffee hours give you the opportunity to talk about issues of concern, ask Commissioner Romero questions about the county, and share ideas.

 

Monday, October 28

Extreme Weather Preparedness

 

Rainier

9:30am-10:30am

Rainier City Hall

102 Rochester St. W

 

Yelm

10:00am-11:00am

Tacos Gaby

307 Yelm Ave E

 

Lacey

2:00pm-3:00pm

Olympic Crest Coffee

4211 Pacific Ave

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Board of County Commissioners
Building #1, Rm. 269
2000 Lakeridge Dr SW
Olympia, WA 98502

Email:
Commissioner's Assistant:
Becca Pilcher

Email:
Phone:
(360) 786-5747

Fax:
(360) 786-5441
Commissioner
 Romero represents the Board of Commissioners on:

 The Alliance for a Healthy South Sound

  

  
  
Vice President
  
Vice Chair
  
  
Puget Sound Partnership Steelhead Steering Committee
  
Chair
  
Administrative Board
  
Chair
  
  
  
Advisory Committee
  
Community Involvement
  
  
  
  

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picher@co.thurston.wa.us

Fall is here, and with it comes reflection on the accomplishments of the past year and visioning for what lies ahead in 2014. This has been a year of building new community projects and working innovatively with staff and citizens to overcome challenges. From the success of the County Fair to the new and exciting developments in agritourism, we've been steadily working towards progress in the county.  I hope you find this newsletter helpful. Let me know if you have any feedback about these issues that affect all of us in Thurston County.
  
Sincerely,
Sandra Signature  
Sandra Romero
Chair, Board of Thurston County Commissioners
District 2
 
Thurston's Bountiful Byway

Over the past 3 years I have been working with community members, agencies, and organizations to develop agritourism as a means to encourage economic growth in rural Thurston County. In 2012, my fellow commissioners and I passed the Agritourism Overlay District, targeting growth in South County, too often overshadowed by their neighbors to the north. Now, I am working with community members and my colleagues in the south county cities to develop the Thurston Bountiful Byway; a scenic route that will attract drivers off of I-5 and into all four corners of rural Thurston County.

Commissioner Romero at Rainier City Council
Commissioner Romero presents the Bountiful Byway to the Rainier City Council.
Photo courtesy of George Sharp,
Visitor & Convention Bureau

The establishment of a scenic byway or tour route was one of the ideas brought up to help support argitourism in Thurston County and show off many of the scenic and historical features in our area. Examples from other communities were looked at and a tour of several county roads was completed in December of 2012.

 

This byway will serve as the tourism backbone of the county; creating a new market for potential agritourism businesses county-wide. So far, members of the planning group and I have made presentations to the City of Rainier, City of Yelm, City of Tenino, City of Bucoda, Tenino & Rochester Chambers, and the Thurston County Realtors, all of whom seemed supportive and excited to participate.

Scenic Byway Route

A draft of the Thurston Bountiful Byway tour route.

Created by Scott Davis, Thurston County Public Works

Visioning and planning for the Bountiful Byway is being carried out by the Agritourism Planning Committee, made up of business owners, land owners, WSU Extension Thurston County, the local Visitor & Convention Bureau, Thurston County staff, and many more interested parties. If you would like to get involved with planning you are welcome to attend our monthly meetings and/or join a byway subcommittee. Subcommittees include signage, inventory, safety, and marketing & communication. For more information about meeting times please contact pilcher@co.thurston.wa.us.

 
Partners Protecting Prairies 

Earlier this month, the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) officially published their final rule for two native inhabitants of Thurston County's prairies: the Taylor checkerspot butterfly and the streaked horned lark. Due to the destruction of their environment, the Taylor checkerspot butterfly has been listed as endangered and the streaked horned lark has been listed as threatened. In order to protect vulnerable species like these, it is vital that the county protect our critical habitat through measures like the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) and the Prairie Habitat Conservation Plan, or they will go extinct completely.

 

Glacial Heritage Park
Glacial Heritage Park, home to the Taylor checkerspot butterfly, is one of Thurston County's protected prairies.
Photo courtesy of Becca Pilcher

Required by the Growth Management Act, the CAO is a set of regulations that protects five types of critical areas: important fish and wildlife habitat areas, wetlands, critical aquifer recharge areas, frequently flooded areas, and geologically hazardous areas. In 2010, Thurston County received roughly $100,000 from DFW to update our long-outdated ordinance. With that money, the county was able to develop and adopt a CAO that better protects over 150,000 acres of prairielands. It also set the stage for the development of our Habitat Conservation Plan, which will ensure the protection of prairieland in Thurston County while allowing responsible economic development and sustainable agriculture to occur. To date, Thurston County has received nearly $1.5 million from DFW to create the plan.

 

2013 is shaping up to be yet another great year for Thurston County's prairie habitat and species protection, partly due to continued federal funding and support. This year, we were awarded one of two Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) grants. The grants were awarded by the Department of Defense after a nationwide competitive process. REPI funds will assist the county in our partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the Center for Natural Lands Management, the Natural Resource and Conservation Service and DFW in preserving, restoring, and managing critical prairie habitat and agricultural lands. Additionally, REPI funds will assist the county's efforts to educate the public on the value of prairie and agricultural lands to Thurston County.

 

Protecting an ecosystem is a tough job and we can't do it alone. Partners are important, and with them, we are sharing the burden and the benefits of this work. The awarding of the REPI Challenge grant is a major step forward in what we hope will be a long term partnership to ensure that the South Sound prairies and their species remain healthy and intact.

 
Thurston Council for Children & Youth
In 2008, instances of child abuse in Thurston County began to rise at an alarming rate as our nation's economy worsened. Two years later, I was approached by a social services organizer and asked to help lead the effort to reduce the rate of child abuse in our community.  With that, I became chair of the Child Abuse Prevention Task Force (CAP), bringing together the agencies, staff, and volunteers needed to begin strategizing around this critically important issue.

Most notably, the CAP Task Force had great success implementing the PURPLE Crying program in our community. PURPLE Crying is a modern approach to shaken baby prevention, based on parental education at the time of birth and beyond. Several PURPLE trainings have been held in the community and both of our major hospitals have begun implementing the program.

Click for Babies is part of the Period of PURPLE Crying Program. Every new mother leaves the hospital with an informational DVD and a purple cap for their newborn. Click the image for more information.

Then, last winter, I became Chair of the Thurston Council for Children and Youth (TCCY).  TCCY was established in early 2008 as a result of the failure of the Family Investment Initiative in 2007, which necessitated several youth and family coalitions in Thurston County to consolidate, blend resources, and work with each other to create a structure to support children and youth.  Thurston TOGETHER! helped research and guide the structuring of this new coalition and continues to serve as the group's fiscal agent.

The first thing I did in my new role as Chair was to work with TCCY members and the community at large to restructure the group and merge it with CAP Task Force. Despite these structural changes, TCCY has stuck to its original vision; to create a community where all children and youth of all cultures are healthy, safe, valued, and successful. The group plans to achieve this vision through its components of work focused on increasing community resiliency and decreasing the prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

ACEs are stressful or traumatic experiences that occur in childhood that include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; physical and emotional neglect; a mentally ill, depressed, or suicidal person in the home; alcoholic or drug addicted care giver; witnessing domestic violence against a mother or step-mother; incarceration of any family member; and loss of a parent due to death, abandonment, or divorce.

The good news is that ACEs aren't a life sentence, and they aren't set in stone. There are ways to lessen the effects of ACEs. TCCY's approach to this is building resiliency. A resilient individual is one who is emotionally healthy and equipped to successfully confront challenges and bounce back from setbacks. We are born with resilience, and it can be nurtured and recaptured. Simple actions, responses, and attitudes can help build a child's resilience including developing friendships, critical thinking skills, and having a trusted adult in their life.

TCCY also serves as the Child And Youth Resiliency Action Team for Thurston Thrives, a countywide Collective Impact Initiative to improve public health and safety.  Thurston Thrives is a project aimed at bringing together local partners to ensure that our county is thriving through collaboration on the public health and social services that we bring to our community.

All TCCY members participate on one of five work teams. These teams are Building Community Capacity, School Outcomes, Risk & Protective Factors, Healthy Safe Environment, and Economic Stability. To get involved in TCCY, contact Becca Pilcher at pilcher@co.thurston.wa.us.
 
Harvesting Energy 

Turning cow manure, trap grease, and expired beer into renewable energy may sound like an urban myth, but in Thurston County we have the potential to make it a rural reality.    

 

Last spring I hosted Harvesting Energy, an educational forum on how, with an anaerobic digester, a community can produce energy, protect its air and water quality, help keep dairies operating, reduce the amount of waste in its landfills, and produce high quality manure-derived soil amendments.  

 

Inspired by Qualco Energy, a nonprofit partnership made up of dairy farmers, the Northwest Chinook Recovery, and the Native American Tulalip tribes, Thurston County partnered with WSU Thurston County Extension and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance to educate farmers, community activists, and local agencies about the potential benefits of bringing a digester to our community.

 

Qualco Speakers
Qualco representatives Daryl Williams, Andy Werkhoven, and Dale Reiner explain how community members and organizations in Snohomish County purchased and operate a digester. 
Photo courtesy of Steve Brown, Capital Press

Qualco Energy President Daryl Williams, Treasurer Dale Reiner, and Systems Manager Andy Werkhoven explained how community members and organizations in Snohomish County worked together to purchase and operate a digester. Those in attendance showed a great interest in pursuing nutrient management, so WSU Thurston County Extension Director Lucas Patzek will continue to explore the potential for developing an anaerobic digester in the South Puget Sound.

  

Patzek says about the project, "Anaerobic digestion is being used across western Washington to transform organic waste from a problem into an environmental, economic, and social solution, so there is no reason that the technology can not be utilized in Thurston County."

 

Anaerobic Digestion: Beyond Waste Management
Anaerobic Digestion: Beyond Waste Management

A new 7 minute video, Anaerobic Digestion: Beyond Waste Management, features commercial operators and WSU researchers showing how state-of-the-art anaerobic digestion systems can offer multiple benefits to society. The video is produced by the WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

For more information on planning for an anaerobic digester in Thurston County, you can contact Lucas Patzek at: patzekl@co.thurston.wa.us; 360-867-2151. 

 

 
Budget Challenges
One of the most important responsibilities we have as County Commissioners is preparing and adopting a fiscally responsible budget each year. This will be a difficult process for 2014.  In 2012 and 2013, due to inflation and other increases, the amount spent grew faster than the amount of revenue. Taking into consideration 2013 expenditures and early revenue forecasts for next year, we will need to trim about $6 million dollars from 2013 spending levels for the 2014 budget.

Six million dollars represents about 7% of the total county General Fund. To meet this challenge, we asked county elected officials and department directors to prepare draft budget proposals outlining how they would move forward with reductions of 5% and 10%.

We have spent the past several weeks meeting with every department director and elected official. Every agency presented reduction proposals, many with 5% and 10% reductions.  There were also requests for additional money to support ongoing or new programs.  Added together, the proposed agency cuts reduced the budget by less than $1 million.  We will continue to work with county agencies to find ways to make these painful reductions.

Accountability and Restitution Center
Opening the new county jail is one of several major budget initiatives for 2014.
Because over 75% of the County's General Fund budget goes to support law and justice, any reduction in this area could be significant for the overall budget. As a result, the Sheriff, the County Prosecuting Attorney, Superior and District Courts, and the Office of Assigned Counsel are examining policies and work processes.  They are discussing alternatives that could modify the way individuals engage with the criminal justice system, a promising approach that could lead to savings as early as 2014.

But these possibilities are "birds in the bush." We have to adopt a budget with "birds in the hand."  Commissioners will spend most of October scrubbing all the budget proposals looking for savings, and we will continue to monitor revenue projections for 2014.

Even with $6 million in reductions, the county budget continues to allocate significant resources to ensure that our citizens are secure in their homes and community; that our food is safe and our drinking water is clean; that our roads are safe, and that we do everything possible to preserve our environment. We will be moving forward on major initiatives from past years, including opening the Accountability and Restitution Center; continuing work on Thurston Thrives, our vision for community health; supporting rural economic development through our agritourism work; collaborating with our neighboring jurisdictions in implementing recommendations from the Urban Corridors Task Force; and developing a Habitat Conservation Plan to ensure the county is responsive to the federal Endangered Species Act.

We have scheduled a public hearing on October 29th to hear from citizens. We need to know and understand our community's priorities and concerns as we make final decisions for 2014.  The budget hearing will be held at 5:30 pm at the County Courthouse, Building 1, Room 280.
 
Fun at the Fairgrounds
This year's Thurston County Fair was a rousing success.  With attendance and revenue up, the hard work of hundreds of community members who put in thousands of hours preparing for the fair really paid off.  

In 2012, in the midst of tough budget decisions, my fellow commissioners and I decided to take a more active role in making sure the fair is sustainable.  We worked with our staff, volunteers, and the fair Board of Directors to paint and reroof buildings, fill garden beds with flowers, and clear the remains of the Hicks Barn that was destroyed in a blazing fire earlier this year. 
Commissioner Romero painting Fair Barn
Commissioner Romero painting one of the buildings in preparation for this year's County Fair.
Photo courtesy of Commissioner Karen Valenzuela
We also held several visioning meetings with community members, brainstorming ways to make the fair enticing to a broader audience.  Out of that process came ideas for this year's new events such as the Live & Local music series and the Savor South Sound tasting event. Local music paired well with locally crafted beer, wine, and hard cider, and brought a few new faces out to the fairgrounds.

Our fair has a rich history. The positive impact on our youth and the greater community is immeasurable. We will continue to grow the fair and come back next year with even more exciting events to enjoy.