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Cascade County Committee kicks off effort in North Bend
NORTH BEND - King County residents from all over the area met in North Bend last week to work on becoming residents of another county.
The Cascade County Committee held its first formal meeting at the Sallal Grange Hall to introduce a plan for forming a new county out of parts of King County. While attempts to form a new county have been made (and failed) in the past, this recent effort was garnered from residents' frustration over recent county decisions ranging from the placement of the Tent City homeless encampment to the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) land-use regulations.
"Everyone in here has a story," said John Hearing, a Maple Valley resident who has been organizing the committee. "We want to hear those stories."
The committee is still in the preliminary stages (there was a sign-up sheet at the meeting for committee positions), but Hearing said there are some pressing issues to complete on a tight deadline to form a new county. First, he said supporters of the new county would have to to help pass a state law that would spell out how to create a new county. A previous effort to form a new county in the 1990s (then called Cedar County) failed at the state level because there is no state law that allows the formation of a new county. Although there are bills in the state Legislature that would create such a law, Hearing said the bills have no chance of passing and will end up "in the dust bin of history."
Rather than relying on the government to pass the existing bills into law, Hearing said the committee will have to gather enough signatures to get a county-creating law passed through the initiative process, which would allow it to be voted on by the public. That law would force the Legislature to create a new county if it got signatures from at least half of the registered voters within the proposed county's boundaries. To get that initiative on the ballot, the committee must gather a number of signatures equal to 8 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election (2004). Those signatures can come from across the state and Hearing estimated that number to be around 270,000. The deadline to submit those to the state is Dec. 31, 2005, in order to get the initiative on the November 2006 ballot.
If and when that initiative passes, Hearing said the next big question will be where the new county lines will be drawn. Hearing offered four working maps, but nothing has been set in stone. Discussion at the meeting centered around how much of King County, particularly the more urban areas, should make up the new county. Seattle makes up about 570,000 of King County's 1.8-million residents and one of the map options would create a new county out of all parts of the county except Seattle.
"We don't need to be critical [of Seattle]," said King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who attended the meeting. "We just need to say, 'You're too big.'"
Residents at the meeting warned, however, that simply taking Seattle out of the county would not solve anything and that similar problems would come from another urban area like Bellevue dominating county politics. They suggested the county lines be moved further away from urban areas so the county's rural and unincorporated population will be a larger part of any new county.
However the new county will look in the future, Hearing said the immediate need of gathering support is the most important issue for the group. Should the needed signatures be gathered in time for the November 2006 ballot, Hearing said a realistic timeline for the creation of the new county would be January 2007, at the earliest.
Work to fund the effort can start once the committee has filed the proper paperwork next week with the state auditor. The committee will need lots of fiscal resources. Hearing estimated that it will cost $6,000 alone just to get the petitions for the initiative printed.
Hearing stressed that a new county will not solve all the problems of residents who are fed up with King County. Taxes will not necessary be lower and may even be higher while the new county builds its infrastructure. The new county would still have to adhere to the state Growth Management Act, the act King County officials referenced when it was developing its land use regulations.
But Hearing said a new county would give rural residents another chance to get back the control they feel has been taken from them over the years by the increasingly urban constituency and leadership of King County.
"We get a do over," Hearing said.
Preston Drew, a Carnation resident who attended the meeting, was pleased with the turnout, which filled the main room at the grange hall. He said there appears to be a lot of support for the movement, but he was also aware of how easily grass-root organizations can fall apart.
"It's a baby movement," he said. "And baby movements are fragile."
There is no set date or location for the next meeting of the committee, but it will be held in the next couple of weeks.
* For information on the Cascade County Committee, visit www.cascadecounty.kendra.com/default.htm.