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Saturday, June 3, 2023
June 3, 2023

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Benton’s department may be under threat

Chair candidate Dalesandro proposes eliminating Department of Environmental Services

By , Columbian Education Reporter

Dissolving Clark County’s Department of Environmental Services will be high on council chair candidate Mike Dalesandro’s priority list if he’s elected.

The Democrat, a current Battle Ground City councilor, said he will propose a resolution calling for the department to be eliminated and its employees rolled into other existing departments.

Dalesandro denied that the recommendation is personally targeting Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, the director of the department. Benton’s role at the county still haunts the department’s reputation two years after Republican Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke controversially directed county staff to hire him.

“I saw this as the lowest hanging fruit in terms of being able to reduce expenses and improve efficiencies,” Dalesandro said. “I think this is an opportunity to improve efficiencies without even having to entertain raising taxes.”

It’s not up to the council to reorganize departments, however. That responsibility, under the county’s home rule charter, falls to the county manager. Acting County Manager Mark McCauley, for example, earlier this year restructured Clark County’s two information technology offices into one.

“I’m a proponent of performing functions efficiently,” McCauley said, adding he would have to evaluate any councilor’s suggestion to reorganize departments.

Dalesandro said just because McCauley can eliminate the department doesn’t mean he will. Voting to eliminate Environmental Services would give a clear policy directive to the county manager, he said.

“This resolution would go through an inclusive, transparent process and discussion, and give policy direction to the county staff,” he said.

Dalesandro’s idea is not a new one. Former Commissioner Ed Barnes, a Democrat, recommended eliminating the department during his brief stint as a commissioner last winter.

Estimates made at the time indicated three positions — director, finance manager and administrative assistant — could be eliminated, saving the county more than $700,000 over two years in employee costs.

Benton said the department has already saved enough money to make up for any savings that would occur from eliminating it.

“I think there’s enough savings here to take care of this department for the next 75 years,” Benton said. “Savings that occurred under my leadership here.”

The Department of Environmental Services’ budget, according to county budget documents, was $29,122,782 for the 2015-2016 budget. That’s about $7.8 million less than the previous cycle’s budget of $36,930,918.

Council chair candidate Marc Boldt, no party preference, said he may support the elimination of the department after “a long conversation” with his fellow councilors, the county manager and other employees in the department.

“One thing the voters don’t want us to do is go in for emotions and overstep the county manager’s authority,” he said.

District 2 candidate Julie Olson, a Republican, said the county should be looking across departments to find ways to be more efficient, but singling out Environmental Services is a political move.

District 2 candidate Chuck Green, a Democrat, said he wants the councilors to “respect the charter and the authority” it gives the county manager to organize departments.

Madore and Mielke, who did not return phone calls on Thursday, were uninterested in Barnes’ proposal at the time.

Councilor Jeanne Stewart, a Republican, was wary of the idea, saying she doesn’t want the county to act based on “political resentment” over Benton’s hiring.

“I want a reasonable, logical answer about why we don’t need it,” she said. “I’d be really concerned that we not overestimate the savings.”

Columbian Education Reporter