Clallam County plans active role in affordable housing

Commissioners respond to Charter Review Commission recommendations

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County Commissioners indicated they will take a more robust role in addressing affordable housing as part of their response to recommendations from the Charter Review Commission.

But they also said it’s complicated considering the department, led by the nation’s only elected community development director, has the primary responsibility to set housing policy.

Affordable housing was one of five subjects brought by the Charter Review Commission, which also included recommendations on ranked-choice voting, 5G broadband access, the hiring of a forester for state Department of Natural Resources management, and code enforcement.

“Our County Charter contains a job description for the elected Director of Community Development …You will see that the job description would indicate that the DCD should be primarily responsible for helping to define and set big-picture housing policy, including affordable housing, for the county,” board chairman Mark Ozias said.

“However, the Commissioners do play an overlapping role,” he said. “The community often looks to the Commissioners as the responsible officials — just like the Charter Review Commission did — despite the Charter language indicating DCD’s primary leadership role.

“The Commissioners have a more formal role to play in terms of addressing the homelessness end of the housing spectrum since this is more service provision than housing/development policy.”

The county is currently planning for funds that could come from House Bill 1406, legislation that designates a portion of sales tax dollars to be returned to the county to be used toward affordable housing development, Ozias said.

In addition, the county is leading a working group on how funds from the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) can address the crisis, and it is working with various community partners on development projects, he said.

“The Commissioners believe that the combination of new revenue sources, primarily HB 1406 and ARPA funds, coupled with an intense community focus, provides the opportunity to make real gains in the provision and availability of affordable housing in the next few years,” the commissioners said in their response to the Charter Review Commission.

Ozias said the county has used ARPA funding to help move several housing projects forward, including projects for Habitat for Humanity, the Northwest Veterans Housing Network and Peninsula Behavioral Health.

The language in the county’s response to the Charter Review Commission suggested affordable housing might better be addressed by the director of the Department of Community Development, “who is specifically empowered by our Charter to ‘administer, enforce and advise the County Commissioners on all laws, except health with respect to land and shoreline development, including but not limited to zoning, land divisions, environmental policy, building and fire codes,’ ” commissioners said.

The Charter Review Commission also recommended the county and DCD should seek out and engage with a third party to review county code enforcement issues, and Ozias said the county has taken that step with Peninsula Dispute Resolution.

Other recommendations from the Charter Review Commission included requiring a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) study prior to allowing internet or cell phone franchises to develop connections. The county concluded there was no action it could take that isn’t already required by the federal government.

“There is no action that Clallam County could reasonably or legally take to ensure compliance with NEPA that federal law doesn’t already require making any proposed Ordinance redundant at best and potentially placing the county in legal jeopardy at worst,” the commissioners said.

The Charter Review Commission also recommended the county join several others in pushing the state Legislature to allow voters to participate in ranked-choice voting.

The voting system would allow voters to rank multiple candidates by preference on the ballot rather than voting for a single candidate. The county noted such legislation has not been successful in even making it out of the preliminary stages of the legislative process.

“Since there is no clear mandate from Clallam County voters, the Commissioners believe there would be little to no impact in forwarding such a Resolution at this time. Of course, any interested individual is encouraged to reach out to our state representatives to share their support for, or opposition to, ranked-choice voting,” the commissioners said.

The Charter Review Commission also recommended the county hire a forester to allow for better management of its trust lands. The county stated it doesn’t plan to hire a forester but will continue working with other members of the Timber Counties Caucus and DNR on land trust management.

“We will continue to work with fellow Timber Counties Caucus members and the Department of Natural Resources both locally and in Olympia to continue to improve and provide recommendations regarding forest management, operations, improved transparency, sustainable harvest calculation, and the fiduciary duty of the DNR to provide funding for our schools and junior taxing districts,” the commissioners said.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached by email at [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.

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