Unlike communities where power is concentrated in one or two cities, Clark County is a quilt with multi-jurisdictional patches. It might surprise many local folks to learn that fewer than 55 percent of county residents live inside the eight city limits, and fewer than 40 percent of county residents live in the largest city, Vancouver. This means the center of power is in county government, overseen by Board of County Commissioners.At his State of the County address last Thursday, Commissioner Marc Boldt focused on several goals of county government, and we commend him for placing jobs and senior citizens at or near the top of those priorities. It’s a rather ironic pairing, because when people think of growing old, they usually think of leaving the work force. But the disparate factors actually are related: improving the jobs market means improving the local economy, which means improving the local quality of life, a trend that encourages senior citizens to remain here or move here.
Boldt said the county wants to attract more jobs by making it easier for businesses to survive, expand and move here. Two of many tactics in that strategy are to reach a compromise with state officials on reasonable stormwater regulations, and modify road standards in ways that lower the cost of roadways, thus lowering traffic impact fees for businesses. Both initiatives require immense planning and intense negotiations, but it’s all necessary to build a greater trust in county government.
Regarding senior citizens, Boldt wants to help people remain in their homes, and he urges strengthening public transit to better serve people who no longer drive. This yearning to help seniors is fed by humanitarian interests, but there also are statistical factors involved in the issue. By 2030, the percentage of Clark County residents who are 60 or older will grow from 16 percent to 23 percent of the population. And the number of people age 85 and older will increase by 50 percent.
Fortunately, county officials are responding pro-actively to improve the lives of senior citizens. Commissioners will have a public hearing on Tuesday regarding the county’s aging readiness plan, which is the blueprint for meeting the needs of affordable housing and transportation. Already, significant progress has been made in protecting vulnerable seniors from financial and abuse crimes. Among many county officials working valiantly in that arena, Prosecutor Tony Golik is coordinating much of the crucial work of the Elder Abuse Justice Center.
Several awards were handed out at Thursday’s event. Director of Community Development Marty Snell was named County Employee of the Year after reworking the fee schedule to more accurately reflect how much staff time it takes to process applications. Snell also has proposed a fee holiday that will go before commissioners on Tuesday. Also last Thursday, the Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force was recognized for Operation Gang Green last October, the largest drug raid in county history. Numerous volunteers also were honored.
The enduring message is that county officials continue to work hard, and in recent years under difficult financial circumstances: $62 million has been cut from the budget since 2007-2008, and 270 positions have been eliminated. Through it all, a long list of varied priorities continues to prevail, and we agree with Boldt, that creating jobs and improving the lives of senior citizens should rank at or near the top of that list.