King County overhauls outreach program for unincorporated residents
August 3, 2011
By Dan Catchpole
Unincorporated communities would be divided into service areas
Like many residents in unincorporated areas, Karen Lee wants King County to be more responsive to her needs and questions.
For her and her neighbors, King County is their local government. But it doesn’t seem as accessible as local government.
The county is working on a new outreach program to better serve Lee and other residents in unincorporated areas. The program will break the county into service areas with a single contact person for each area. Residents will be able to call their area’s liaison person, who will help find the person they should talk with.
Right now, those residents are largely on their own when they need help with services.
Unlike nearby residents in North Bend and Snoqualmie, Lee can’t pop over to City Hall with her questions. When she calls, she has to navigate through a flood of departments and agencies that often are tasked with serving unincorporated and incorporated areas.
Sure, there was the time she called about a pothole in her street, which was promptly filled, but that was the exception, she said.
“Everything else with the county I’ve sought assistance for, I haven’t gotten it,” she said.
Unincorporated area councils already perform a similar function, but they don’t cover all of the roughly 284,000 unincorporated county residents, including more than 11,000 people in the upper Snoqualmie Valley.
That prompted County Executive Dow Constantine to propose dividing unincorporated communities into so-called community service areas. The King County Council approved the plan July 11, and county staff members are working on getting it started.
The plan keeps existing community service centers and staff members, and unincorporated area councils. But it does not guarantee future funding for the councils, which, before this year, received $10,000 per year from the county.
“Our thinking is that this proposal will benefit everyone in the unincorporated area while allowing us to continue our relationship with the UACs,” said Lauren Smith, unincorporated areas adviser to Constantine.
Change or status quo
The community service areas plan is meant to connect residents and a designated staff team, rather than leaving residents to navigate county bureaucracy.
That is a message Smith heard again and again while meeting with people in unincorporated areas, she said.
“They don’t have to figure out who to call,” she said. “The staff knows and it’s just much easier to work with one person.”
A single point of contact would be useful, Lee said. It would especially be helpful when she is older, because she has no children.
Some members of UACs are skeptical, though.
“I have to agree with most of the rest of the UACs that we would just as soon leave things status quo,” said Peter Eberle, Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council president.
County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert said the decision to overhaul outreach reflects a desire to provide services to as many people as possible, especially as the county faces lean budgets.
The plan requires an annual meeting with residents for each service zone to discuss problems, service changes and other developments.
“That helps people know what to expect,” said Lambert, who represents the Snoqualmie Valley.
The council amended Constantine’s proposal to require council members’ involvement in organizing the annual meetings.
The outreach program is expected to be operating by the start of 2012, Smith said. Staff members are finalizing the number and shapes of the service areas.
Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Report Warren Kagarise contributed to this report.