Clark County commissioners eye 5 advisory votes

Cost $5,000-$7,000 per question to put on November ballot

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County commissioners are considering offering voters as many as five advisory votes in this November's election.

Four of those votes will relate in some way to the demise of the Columbia River Crossing project or transportation options facing the region.

The fifth will ask voters what they think about fireworks.

All of them will be nonbinding.

The bounty of voting opportunities stems from what Commissioner David Madore sees as a fortuitous financial opportunity.

"One thing really nice about the freeholders being on this November's election is that if we ever had an opportunity to have a low-cost way to ask the voters for advice on big issues that affect us … (it's) $5,000 to $7,000, compared to $75,000 to a hundred-and-some thousand dollars for a countywide advisory vote," Madore said. "It's a deal. Quite an opportunity."

Because the county has already authorized a freeholder election for individuals to draft a new county charter, many costs to hold a county election have already been undertaken.

The freeholder election is expected to cost the county $96,500. Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey has said it will then cost between $5,000 and $7,000 for each new issue placed on the ballot.

And with those costs in mind, Madore introduced three potential items to send to a vote. One will ask voters for their opinions on light rail, bus rapid transit and an east county bridge spanning the Columbia River.

Commissioner Steve Stuart introduced a vote on how residents feel about seven days' worth of legal fireworks. Stuart said after years of receiving mail from residents upset over the week of noisy explosions, he would like voters to decide on potentially limiting the legal fireworks period.

Stuart later offered up the fifth potential vote when he told Madore he felt the three transportation-related issues weren't broad enough.

"I'm just worried you just have light rail, and that's the only piece of it," Stuart said. "My recommendation is on the notice for the light rail advisory vote you actually change it to a Columbia River Crossing … advisory vote."

Stuart argued that residents should still have a chance to vote on the matter of replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge even if the Columbia River Crossing was killed by the Washington Legislature.

"If you're not afraid of the answer, you shouldn't be afraid to ask the question," Stuart said.

Madore told Stuart he would support him in moving forward with discussion on such a resolution if it was drafted.

The next step is largely procedural, as commissioners will notice a public hearing for each of the resolutions on Friday. That gives them time to create final language at next week's board time meeting and adopt the resolutions before the Aug. 6 deadline to place a matter on the ballot.

Commissioner Tom Mielke stood in support of all five potential votes, saying the board could further discuss the particular language next week.

A sixth potential resolution came from Stuart when he queried if the board should offer the voters a chance to expand the board of commissioners to five positions.

After Madore and Stuart bickered a bit over the scope of the light-rail vote, Stuart said he had "one more advisory vote we can notice."

"There's a petition going around to move from three to five commissioners and we can put that on the ballot ourselves," Stuart said. "So why don't we notice that? I mean, since it's five to seven thousand dollars, it's cheap right? We should trust the people."

The petition for additional commissioners has mostly been discussed by individuals frustrated with Madore and Mielke over recent actions, including the appointment of state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to the director position of the county's environmental services department.

Stuart, a Democrat, saw his suggestion fall on deaf ears from Madore and Mielke, both Republicans, who both said the freeholder process was now the proper arena for voters to change the makeup of the board.

"I wouldn't want to pre-guess the freeholders," Mielke said.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.