– Jim McEntire Report, Jan. 2016
Former Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire
George Mason of Virginia, our most unheralded founding father, wrote in the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights that it is desirable from time to time for those who serve in public office “… be reduced to a private station, [and] return into that body from which they were originally taken …” So it is with your former public servant.
It is equally desirable and customary for a recently retired elected official to write a retrospective on his time in office, adding up the successes along with his disappointments. But I would rather look forward, putting my past time in office in perspective of the future. I continue to see Clallam County in a situation similar to many communities in America: on the cusp of one of two possibilities – becoming a vibrant self-sustaining community; or become a government (mostly Federal) dependency.
It is no secret that there is an employment and household wealth crisis in Clallam County. Sobering trends can be seen in these charts:
Workforce participation rates are declining. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, is down 4.6% since the end of the recession in 2003. Folks are feeling pretty strapped, and with good reason.
As others so rightly put it, “Our main export should not be our children.” However, other than at election time or with regard to school bond rhetoric, the subject gets scant attention. This is why I am very proud of three accomplishments in office: making a decision and getting the Carlsborg sewer system underway; standing up the Composite Recycling Technology Center (CRTC); and the formation of the Timber Trust Lands Advisory Committee (TLAC). However, if any of these things are going to have lasting impact, they must be viewed a starting point, and not as end solutions in themselves.
Every piece of public economic infrastructure developed in the county should lead to more business. I was very happy to hear that our Port of Port Angeles people were having success in convincing Shell Oil to use Port Angeles as its base of operations for vessels supporting its drilling operations, looking beyond the one-time docking of their rig here. While it is unfortunate that the opportunity didn’t pan out, the work of the whole community in welcoming the Shell personnel is noteworthy. Image what we could accomplish if we were equally welcoming to the Navy, or to other maritime businesses at our splendid deepwater port.
There is something more fundamental we should be doing to grow business here. We should always be looking to grow more complex forms of business along the same lines. Recent discussions on producing and marketing engineered wood products falls into this approach: in addition to our historic dimensional lumber industry, using lesser quality wood, coupled with greater intellectual (engineered) content increases the value, hence price of the product per unit of labor or materials consumed. Perhaps the TLAC can help move his proposal along from talk to action. But this is made more difficult unless State government through the Board of Natural Resources provides for better timber harvest levels from public lands. One can readily see the relationship between supply and increasing demand from lumber and engineered wood product mills.
Likewise, CRTC should be viewed as an opportunity to grow from making piece parts to assemblies and eventually to entire subsystems. That goal could be off in the distance, but as we move beyond the current first steps to the future, the engineering content, hence job and pay value, of our products rises considerably.
How does this happen? It is clear that we need a concerted effort envision and sell opportunities that I alluded to. There is no place for turf wars or assuming it’s someone else’s job. We need leadership. That is why I am also quite proud of my work to revitalize the Economic Development Council as the integration point for these efforts. We can’t just look to the EDC, however. Much leadership must be forthcoming from the County Commissioners, City Councils, and Port Commissioners to rally the citizens to support development of specific business lines. Then we can see the benefits of the initiatives it was my privilege to help start.
A few other specific things to look for in the future:
Cost of County Government: All eight union contracts end in December, 2017. Since personnel costs consume more than seventy percent of general government spending, actions the commissioners take in setting wages and salaries substantially drive the course of the County budget. The U.S. Supreme Court will be deciding a case by June that will tremendously effect these negotiations – the court could very well rule unconstitutional the clause in all the County’s labor contracts requiring union membership (and therefore union dues) as a condition of employment. The effect of that on union membership levels is hard to predict, but these negotiations could be an inflection point for a different relationship between government and employees.
County Fiscal Policy: County government cannot and must not overstress family budgets by causing tax levels to grow too fast, especially since Sequim School District has, and Port Angeles School District likely will have, capital construction levies in front of voters. As always, the best way to increase local government revenues is for the County’s economy to move faster. Clallam’s general government property tax levy has outpaced inflation over the last 10 years; but the property tax levy for roads has not.
That’s enough for now – It has been a privilege to have served you in elected office for these past eight years, and I am everlastingly grateful that you gave me these opportunities. My best wishes to you and yours for the great year of 2016!