Work can get done in government | Rich Elfers

One of the criticisms of government is that nothing much gets accomplished. I served on the Enumclaw City Council for a four-year term. Now, nearly five years later, I reflect on what was accomplished both during my term and what has been accomplished in the five years since. I discovered there are lessons to be learned from looking back.

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  • Thursday, September 29, 2016 4:30pm
  • Opinion

One of the criticisms of government is that nothing much gets accomplished. I served on the Enumclaw City Council for a four-year term. Now, nearly five years later, I reflect on what was accomplished both during my term and what has been accomplished in the five years since. I discovered there are lessons to be learned from looking back.

Three issues that originated during my term on the council (2008-11) should be examined today to judge what accomplishments the city has made since that time.

A major issue that originated during my council term dealt with whether the city should give up control of the library to the King County Library System. Those who strongly opposed this change did so on the basis of fear of losing control of our own library and also concern for the loss of the city’s library employees.

The major argument in favor of bringing in KCLS was that KCLS had the best system in the nation. Hours of operation and resources available to citizens would increase dramatically. They had a guaranteed source of funding through property taxes, which the city did not have due to the ongoing recession. The council was seriously considering cutting the library hours of operation due to a decrease in city revenue.

The argument was settled in March 2012, when voters approved the annexation by 50.71 percent – just 34 votes.

A second major issue that was debated throughout my four years on the council was over signage and wayfinding. This was a deep concern especially for merchants who had pushed for several years to have the city take action. At one time local merchants had talked about putting up an electronic reader board on state Route 410. There was a lot of discussion but little movement on this issue during my time in office.

The third issue was what to do with what is now called the Expo Center, originally called the King County Fairgrounds. King County was losing money on its property and the city was concerned the fairgrounds might shut down, causing a loss of business to downtown merchants. A deal was finally struck in 2007 that gave the property to the city along with $2 million for capital improvements and promotions.

KCLS: Before KCLS took over, the city library was open 36 hours per week. Now, under KCLS, the library is open 63 hours a week. Under the city there were nine employees, now there are 17, including previous employees. Before, there were nine patron computers, now there are 18. Pre-annexation, the library offered children’s story times and a book discussion group. Post-annexation, teen programming, computer classes, and Study Zone were added. Under the old library, patrons could only place holds on materials the library owned. Now, with KCLS, 4.1 million items are available. Additionally, the library now has new carpet and furniture, a cyber bar and self-checkout stations.

Signage and wayfinding: Just look at the new signage as you enter the city from the east along SR 410. Observe the beautiful new monument sign and signage directing drivers to the businesses on Cole and Griffin. There are also new markers on SR 164 entering the city from Auburn and as you enter the city on SR 169 from Black Diamond.

Expo Center: A nonprofit committee called the Enumclaw Expo and Events Association, made up of city residents, took control of the Expo Center on July 1, 2015. Scott Gray is the manager. In the first year the association turned a $53,000 profit on revenues of $750,000.

In November of 2015, King County, through its 4Culture grant, awarded $77,026 to refurbish the historic fieldhouse and $55,000 to support the King County Fair for two years. Additionally, the King County Council put $10,000 toward the fair in its biennial budget.

Through the efforts of Mayor Liz Reynolds and state Rep. Chris Hurst, the state awarded $339,500 to refurbish the Expo Center’s main buildings and to make electrical improvements to the south parking lot. By taking $140,500 from what was left of the $1 million capital improvements given by King County in 2007, vast and much-needed improvements have been made to the Expo Center.

The dilemma of profitability of the Expo Center was a major issue during my four years on council. This problem appears to be solved. It feels like the “monkey-on-our backs” has been lifted after all these years.

We now have a far superior library system, we finally have signage and wayfinding signs and the Expo Center is operating in the black. The lessons to be learned from these three examples are that government grinds slowly, but depending on the leadership and determination, improvements get done. The system works.

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