Hadlock sewer instrumental to future of county

Posted 12/18/19

The county’s budget for 2020 and 2021 was adopted by commissioners Dec. 16 and addresses three major issues facing Jefferson County: the availability of affordable housing, regulating and encouraging development (and enforcing those regulations), and dealing with an aging population.

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Hadlock sewer instrumental to future of county


The county’s budget for 2020 and 2021 was adopted by commissioners Dec. 16 and addresses three major issues facing Jefferson County: the availability of affordable housing, regulating and encouraging development (and enforcing those regulations), and dealing with an aging population.

The 2020 budget is $59.920 million; the 2021 budget is $56.439 million. There will be a mid-biennium review to make amendments to the 2021 budget if necessary.

While the budget was described by county administrator Philip Morley as a “status quo” budget, it does include items that have the potential to stimulate growth and development in Jefferson County.

“We are a rural county, which means we have a whole lot of land that doesn’t generate tax revenue,” said Mark McCauley, Central Services Director for the county. “The tri-area is where we could develop and increase business activity that would still preserve the rural character of the county.”


The only urban growth area in Jefferson County is in Port Hadlock. The Growth Management Act, a series of state statutes first adopted in 1990, requires fast-growing cities and counties to develop a comprehensive plan to manage their population growth. It has strict limits on subdividing rural parcels and protections for preserving rural character, McCauley said.

Without a sewer system in Port Hadlock, larger buildings for business and for housing cannot be developed. Not only that, but many of the current buildings in the Tri-Area have old and failing septic systems, which need expensive repairs or replacements.

“The Port Hadlock Wastewater Treatment System project would open up the County’s only urban growth area outside Port Townsend, and foster commercial development (jobs and improved incomes), multi-family (more affordable) housing, and allow single family homes on smaller lots (no need for a septic system and reserve field),” Morley said.

“In 2020 our Department of Public Works will undertake and complete final design of a re-scoped Port Hadlock Wastewater Treatment System with funding appropriated by the State Legislature, update a sewer ordinance, continue working with an energized group of local landowners from the initial core area to plan for a Local Improvement District, and moving into 2021, will prepare grant and loan applications for system construction,” wrote Morley in his annual budget memo.

Beyond the sewer, the county is also focusing on regulatory reform, which will help developers have an easier time navigating the county code and building permitting process.

“Our department of community development is trying to streamline and simplify their processes to stimulate development in a way that is consistent with the growth management plan,” McCauley said.

The county has been providing additional funding for the Department of Community Development to complete a revision to the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance, which is scheduled to be adopted in February of 2020.

A Critical Areas Ordinance will make it easier to regulate environmental protections in the county, at less cost, Morley said.

Later in 2020, DCD will be tackling similar revisions to the Shoreline Master Program, which regulates the development of Jefferson County’s shorelines.

“Community Development is also making structural changes to help better serve our citizens,” Morley wrote.

Hiring a code compliance officer to help citizens comply with county code and building regulations is one way DCD has improved its services. The department is also compounding land-use permitting and building permitting into a single division, so staff can promptly process all permits.

“This will make building in the county easier and less time consuming for our citizens,” Morley wrote.


Streamlining the county’s building code is important because of the current lack of affordable housing.

“A lack of affordable housing for residents and the local labor force is a pressing community problem, especially for households that have low or very low income,” Morley wrote.

In the coming two years, the county has three major projects to work on increasing affordable housing.

The first is a partnership with Olympic Community Action Programs on a 44-unit affordable housing project at the Castle Hill complex in Port Townsend. The county is selling a parcel of land to OlyCAP to help them leverage project development funds.

The county has also partnered with the city to create a Housing Task Force and create a five-year homeless housing plan for the county. The task force will make recommendations for allocating funds from the county’s recording fees to use for homeless housing.

“There is also a change afoot with house bill 1406, which will divert sales tax funding for affordable housing,” McCauley said.

Substitute House Bill 1406 was passed by the State in 2019 which diverts a portion of state sales taxes to counties. Once local adoption is complete it is expected to make about $80,000 available annually to the county and city for affordable housing.


Focusing on development of business and creation of affordable housing could help even out the population in Jefferson County, McCauley speculated. Jefferson County currently has the oldest population in the state.

A population of retirees is not very stimulating for an economy: there are fewer kids in schools, meaning less funding for said schools, housing is occupied by single people or couples, while business owners have a hard time finding employees, as demonstrated by the shortage of restaurant staff downtown Port Townsend this past summer.

The county is working to improve social services and healthcare, making sure there are facilities and resources for the aging population.

The Community Health Improvement Program is one way this will happen. Jefferson County Public Health is partnering with Jefferson Healthcare and the City of Port Townsend to develop a new Community Health Improvement Plan based on a Community Health Assessment that was completed in late 2019.

“The new CHIP will focus on four or five health priorities identified using data from the Assessment,” Morley wrote. “The CHIP will help improve the quality of life for people who live, learn, work and play in our community.”

But for the county to grow economically, there needs to be more young families stimulating the workforce: creating businesses, supporting local businesses, building houses and paying taxes.

“A growth trend tends to feed itself,” McCauley said.

But this is not possible without the completion of the sewer and creation of more affordable housing, which is why those two items are a major focus of the county for the years to come.


It has been 11 years since the 2008 recession. Typically, economic recessions are predicted to occur every four to five years.

So are we due for another one?

“Currently I don’t think the recession threat is ominous,” McCauley said.

But that doesn’t mean the county isn’t preparing for the possibility.

“We’re stable, we have a sustainable budget trajectory,” he said. The county commissioners adopted two resolutions in July which established a General Fund Reserve goal of 15% of total expenditures—which means 15% of expenditures will be saved in a reserve fund.

From 2019 to 2020, the General Fund’s total reserve grew by a half million, from $2,729,669 in 2019 to $3,218,697 in 2020.

The reserve is a “cushion” that will buy additional time and flexibility in how the county responds to another economic downturn.

Right now, the county still feels echoes of the 2008 recession.

“We’re still 15 or 16 employees down from 2008,” McCauley said. “We just don’t have the means to bring those folks back on.”

But all in all, wrote Morley “this is a good news budget that funds some strategic enhancements, yet also strengthens the county’s fiscal security going forward.”