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Saturday, December 2, 2023
Dec. 2, 2023

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Cheers & Jeers: Jobs strong; city staff stumbles

The Columbian

Cheers: To employment. Jobs reports always include enough numbers to make our eyes glaze over. So we will narrow the focus: 15,700 more people are employed in Clark County than in February 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest report on local employment shows rapid growth, with the construction industry leading the way.

“We still have a fairly tight labor market with low unemployment and good job growth,” said Scott Bailey, regional economist with the Washington Employment Security Department. Since the start of the pandemic, Clark County employment has increased 9.2 percent — second in the state behind Adams County. A combination of population growth and a strong economy have boosted the numbers in Clark County, providing another sign that the region is moving in the right direction.

Jeers: To Vancouver city staff. While the merits of expanding tax breaks for developers are worth debating, the process warrants jeers. The tax breaks — which are designed to spur construction of affordable housing — currently apply to limited areas of Vancouver. City councilors are considering expanding those areas and discussed the issue at a meeting last week.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said: “It’s how it’s being communicated that bothers me, because it’s the first time I’m seeing this outline.” According to The Columbian’s Carlos Fuentes, “Council members criticized city staff for the lack of public outreach and the confusing nature of the maps of the proposed areas.” If city officials are unaware of the proposal and have difficulty understanding it, then the public is likely to be in the dark, as well.

Cheers: To internet access. As part of a nationwide effort to improve broadband service, the Biden administration has announced that our state will receive $1.2 billion in federal funds. The money will be used to build connections in places that have slow, unreliable or nonexistent service.

For rural areas with difficult terrain, establishing high-speed internet can cost up to $10,000 per address; state officials say that could add up to $2.4 billion in Washington. The federal money will not cover all of that, but it is a step toward providing a necessary amenity for every household.

Jeers: To Battle Ground Public Schools. According to a routine audit from the Washington State Auditor’s Office, the district failed to maintain proper records of how it allocated COVID-19 relief funds. “Since we do not have a reasonable basis for estimating how much of the district’s expenditures are allowable, we are questioning all unsupported costs,” the auditor’s report said.

Governmental bodies at all levels faced a difficult situation during the pandemic. Money was provided by state and federal governments and needed to quickly be disbursed. Mistakes are understandable, and the situation points out the importance of the auditor’s role as a watchdog. Battle Ground schools and other public entities must make financial transparency a priority.

Cheers: To a new orca. A calf apparently has been born to the Northwest’s endangered southern resident orca community. Officials at The Center for Whale Research say photos reveal what appears to be a newborn in the L pod near Tofino, B.C.

The baby would be the first addition to the pod since 2021. The L pod is the largest among the southern resident population, with about 35 members. Researchers say they will need a closer look to assess the baby’s health and determine its mother, adding, “We hope to see this calf in our study area very soon.”

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