The Morning Press: Commissioner Stuart, port dispute, pensions, garbage



Clark County commissioners, from left, David Madore, Steve Stuart and Tom Mielke.

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Workers sort Bartlett pears on Friday at Northwest Packing Co., a fruit processing plant at the Port of Vancouver that bustles with activity during the harvest season. This year's pear processing will wrap up today.

Liam McCann, 3, and his grandfather Larry Grant wait for Santa to arrive Saturday. Grant is a retired railroad conductor.

Salvation Army bell ringer Kennie Campbell took up the saxophone when he was 10 years old.

This week’s top stories and news you may have missed:

Stuart’s big decision

Steve Stuart, the lone Democrat on the Board of Clark County Commissioners, hasn’t spoken much lately about his political future.

In fact, while sitting on a board that has spent most of the year locked into a rancorous game of partisan political warfare, Stuart has made it a point to avoid the will-he-or-won’t-he discussion surrounding his decision on whether to run for re-election in 2014.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about it.

“I’ll be thinking about it a lot here,” Stuart said last week. “I have been thinking about it a lot. I’ll take the holidays to evaluate it and I will make my decision in January.”

And that is where Stuart leaves the discussion. He won’t go on the record about what will factor in to that decision, or if he’s leaning one way or the other.

But even as he avoids the talk, he still has found himself in the thick of a campaign against the policies of his fellow commissioners led by freshman Republican David Madore.

That battle may be a sign that Clark County politics is at a tipping point.

Read the full story here.

Vancouver pensions least burdensome in study

Vancouver’s pension costs, expressed as a percentage of revenue, were the lowest among 173 cities in a national study by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence.

In its study, “Gauging the Burden of Public Pensions,” the Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization wanted a more comprehensive look at how much residents pay for pensions in relation to other government costs.

To achieve that, researchers considered state and local pension costs for school districts within city limits as well county pension costs. Related portions of school district and county budgets were added to the city budget to calculate a total city revenue base.

“This approach is interesting, because the future of cities is a crucial concern, and it is important because focusing solely on city plans ignores a large percentage of the pension costs borne by city taxpayers,” the study said.

On average, pension costs accounted for 7.9 percent of revenues.

Read the full story here.

Vancouver garbage rates won’t go up in 2014

Residential rates for garbage, recycling and yard debris collection will not increase for Vancouver city residents in 2014.

Instead of asking residents to pay about 30 cents a month more, the city will offset a 1.5 percent rate increase by decreasing the amount of money it makes provider Waste Connections pay in solid waste franchise fees. The city has a sufficient solid waste fund balance to let Waste Connections pay $230,000 less next year, Brian Carlson, director of the city’s public works department, told the city council on Monday.

According to a memo from Carlson to City Manager Eric Holmes, the contract with Waste Connections authorizes rate adjustments based “on changing operating conditions including: an inflation adjustment factor tied to the (Consumer Price Index) and fuel costs, disposal tip fees, the number of customers served and fees paid to the city to support solid waste related programs.”

The typical residential customer with weekly 32-gallon garbage cart service and every-other-week recycling pays $19.02 a month, Carlson wrote. A rate increase would have meant a monthly bill of $19.30, while monthly yard debris rates would have gone up from $6.90 to $7.

Read the full story here.

Processor, port mired in dispute over lease

A landlord-tenant dispute between Northwest Packing Co. and the Port of Vancouver is no minor squabble.

With hundreds of local jobs on the line, the long-running negotiations between a major regional food processor and the state’s third-largest public port provide a rare window into local high-level corporate and government decision-making. And the conflict reveals a tough debate over the role of government in economic development.

Northwest Packing — a division of Vancouver-based The Neil Jones Food Co. — wants a 33 percent rent reduction, public records obtained by The Columbian show. Paying $100,000 annually instead of $149,439 would boost its ability to compete, the company says, despite higher operational costs than in other parts of the state. The port, for its part, says the company has benefited from low rent for many years and now must pay fair-market value.

Northwest Packing, which employs an estimated 550 workers — 125 full time, 425 seasonally — has said it would prefer to stay in Vancouver. But the 40-year tenant of the port might take its business elsewhere if it doesn’t get the rent concession.

The port said Northwest Packing is a good tenant and that it also wants the company to stay and grow. However, the company’s lease contract requires its payments to be brought up to speed, the port said.

Read the full story here.

Record crowd greets Santa

Santa’s steam train has become a Christmas tradition for a lot of local families, one that can span several generations.

Three-year-old Liam McCann had a nice vantage point in the arms of his grandfather, retired railroader Larry Grant.

Dave Sherman used to bring his dad; now he and wife Maureen bring their five kids.

They were among a throng of 2,800 that showed up Saturday for the ninth annual “Santa’s Steam Train” event near Vancouver’s Amtrak station.

The enthusiastic turnout eclipsed the previous attendance mark of about 2,100 set last year, said Gus Melonas, BNSF Railway spokesman.

It was officially scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., but the final visitors didn’t leave until 2:20 p.m.

Read the full story here.

Salvation Army worker puts down bell, plays saxophone

Hate to say it, but some folks find the Salvation Army’s signature sound — that endlessly tinkling bell, as rung by some hopeful kettle maven — about as endearing as the 473rd chorus of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

On the other hand, a soulful saxophone can take a Christmas carol and invest it with real spunk.

Especially when it’s blown by Kennie Campbell. Campbell, 51, has hung out with tigers, eaten fire and clambered around on sky-high scaffolding, survived homelessness and addiction and led the way for others to do the same. Now he’s the sax man who’s spreading funky good spirits from his red kettle station in front of Walgreen’s downtown pharmacy at the corner of Main and Fourth Plain.

“People like it. They thank me for not ringing the bell,” he said. In fact it was some serious irritation with the constant ringing — and some pointedly non-Christmassy snarls that came his way — that had him substitute his beloved saxophone last year. That was just fine with him, he said.

“It’s an extension of the body. It’s the closest thing there is to the human voice,” Campbell said. “More people will stop and talk to me than if I’m just standing here ringing a bell.”

Read the full story here.