News

Cascade County boosters hoping to spawn interest here

By Anne Radford

The Courier-Herald

Are Enumclaw-area citizens interested in splitting much of King County away from Seattle and forming a new county? Different sources give different answers.

Local residents have shown little interest in changing the current system, according to Mayor John Wise.

Drawing a line to separate a county would be difficult, because there is no law in place for such a process, he said. Legislators need to set legislative ground rules to separate a county, he added.

"I haven't had anybody interested in seeing that happen," Wise said.

However, the Cascade County Committee interim chairperson said there is an interest in Enumclaw to create a new county, based on the discussion at a community meeting led by the group on May 31 at the Enumclaw Public Library.

Interim chairperson John Hearing said about 20 people attended the Enumclaw meeting.

"There was a good discussion with a lot of interest, ideas and volunteers," Hearing said.

Cascade County Committee is a group of county residents spearheading the push to divide King County into two entities. The goal of the committee is to create a new county that excludes Seattle and is comprised of the east suburban and rural areas of King County. The committee's Web site lists four proposed boundary options, which can be viewed at www.cascadecounty.kendra.com. The group is also working to get legislation in place to provide laws allowing the creation of new counties.

Hearing said areas such as Enumclaw, North Bend and Duvall have shown a positive response toward the creation of a new county, while areas like Renton and Bellevue are less enthused.

"We are moving around, seeing if we can gauge what people think," Hearing said. "We don't want to force them to be part of something they don't want."

The Cascade County Committee plans to continue a series of community meetings to discuss the creation of a new county, possibly with the next meeting in Auburn.

Hearing said reasons for creating the new county vary, but a main concern is that King County is too big to represent the wide variety of opinions and backgrounds of its constituents. Issues of concern to supporters of a new county include Sound Transit, the viaduct replacement and, in North Bend, the issue of sexual predator housing, Hearing said.

"It is time to create a new county," he said.

District 9 King County Councilmember Steve Hammond, a resident of Enumclaw, attended the recent Enumclaw meeting. Hammond said he's not taking a position on the issue, but citizens are welcome to come to him as a resource for information. He said he wants people to understand how difficult the process is.

"I don't want folks to go into this with anything less than their eyes wide open," Hammond said.

The Cascade County Committee is working to evaluate the level of interest in the new county. It may hire a firm to conduct a public opinion poll and conduct a tax feasibility survey to assure the public that a new county would be fiscally viable, Hearing said.

One challenge is that rules for establishing new counties do not exist, even though bills aimed at creating such rules are proposed almost every year, Hearing said.

"Legislators should pass rules, but so far decline to," he said. "This leaves it up to the citizens."

The Cascade County Committee's primary goal is to pass a statewide initiative to establish laws about creating new counties, including such details as establishing a county seat, boundaries and how to petition for a new county.

"The committee is essentially copying the past bills," Hearing said. "The committee is in the final throes of drafting the initiative."

The committee will also try to get voters in the proposed Cascade County boundaries to sign a petition showing support for the new county. Detailed plans about how the petitions work can be found at the committee Web site.

Hammond said he recognizes that King County citizens have made previous efforts to separate from Seattle and understands the frustration of rural citizens being governed by Seattle, but said his job right now is to represent everyone.

"People have been trying to get a divorce from King County," he said. "My job is to do the best I can to hold the marriage together."

With a new county, items such as a new country charter, new representation and new regulations could be created or streamlined, Hearing said.

"This represents a chance for a 'do over' in county government," Hearing said. "A chance to create a county more responsive to its citizens."

Citizens can contact the committee about volunteering or fund-raising opportunities, and see more information about proposed boundaries and petitions on the committee's Web site at www.cascadecounty.kendra.com.

Anne Radford can be reached at aradford@courierherald.com.

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