Growth plan is costing millions

Monday, December 15, 2003

By ERIN MIDDLEWOOD, Columbian staff writer

Olympia, WA - You could buy a road map for every person in Clark County and have $800,000 left over for the price of the map Clark County is working on.

The county's effort to update its 20-year growth plan, which guides where new houses and businesses can be built, has cost $2.3 million so far.

And it's not done yet.

"Planning is a good thing, but this is really expensive," said Commissioner Betty Sue Morris, who had asked county staff to tally the costs. "We're going to have to find a way to do it less expensively."

The state's 1990 Growth Management Act requires counties to plan for 20 years.

Clark County, now home to 372,300 people, has grown 33 percent since 1994, when it adopted its first plan under the law.

In 1999, the county began a five-year review of the plan. But that took so long, county commissioners decided to morph the effort into the required 10-year update, which involves adjusting the boundaries between urban development and rural land.

The plan has been expensive because the law requires many studies and public meetings, said Rich Carson, director of the county's community development department, which oversees planning.

"We've been the fastest-growing county in the entire state and in the Portland-metro area, which means we've got a lot of stuff to deal with," Carson said.

"There's more rural counties in Washington that could get through a lot faster and cheaper, but they don't have anything to plan for."

The plan's price tag did not surprise Scott Merriman, a policy director at the Washington State Association of Counties.

"It's not an easy task," he said. "The amount of work that's required to make a defensible decision is significant."

The $2.3 million includes staff time and contracts totaling $773,420, said Pat Lee, the county's long-range planning manager.

David Evans and Associates of Portland had a $400,000 contract to develop an environmental impact statement and capital facilities plan.

The county's own geographic information system division did $232,000 worth of work.

Jeanne Lawson Associates Inc. had a contract for $91,000 for early public involvement efforts.

The county also paid for court reporters to transcribe public meetings at an average of $67 an hour.

The county received $488,000 toward the 20-year growth plan update but has had to bear the rest of the cost.

The Growth Management Act "is an 80 percent unfunded mandate," Carson said.

"Our finances just aren't the same as they used to be," said Morris, referring to tax-slashing voter initiatives that have cut into the county's budget. "It's time for local government and state government to have some discussions."

The county commissioners had hoped to finish the 20-year plan by the end of the year, though it's not due to the state until next December.

The county and its cities still are outlining needed road and utility projects and how to pay for them, which may delay completion.

Plus, environmentalists, business groups and others who are critical of the proposed plan have urged commissioners to postpone adoption and rework the maps before them, which would add between 15 and 24 square miles of urban area.

Merriman and Carson both noted that the county may end up spending even more money if the plan is appealed to the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, as the first plan was.


Clark County commissioners will consider the 20-year growth plan at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., sixth floor.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site