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Washington State News Archive

Below are archived news items for the current month. To view a previous month, choose it from the list below.

"Bellingham gets state grant for Padden Creek restoration project"--Bellingham Herald
Among the projects that the WA Dept. of Ecology is helping to fund through the $111 million it is distributing to local governments, tribes, and other organizations is one to restore Padden Creek in Bellingham. Not on the list, though, is a project to re-route Squalicum Creek. Ecology is offering Bellingham both a $500,000 grant and a $1.4 million loan to re-route less than a half a mile of Padden Creek from a brick tunnel into a natural stream channel. While the city hopes to complete the project in 20 13 or 2014, the City Council must first approve an agreement with Ecology and a consulting firm must be selected to provide final designs. - 09/02/2011

"Change would boost Washington's future pension costs"--Olympia Olympian
Next month, the Pension Funding Council will decide whether or not to accept State Actuary Matt Smith’s recommendation to lower rate-of-return expectations on pension investments from 8% to 7.5% over the next 50 years. Other recommendations include tempering assumptions about inflation, the rate of employee wage growth, and the number of public employees. If the 7.5% rate were adopted this year, the amount of taxpayer money invested in public employee pensions would increase by $368 million in 2013-15, however a suggested 10-year phase-in would cost just $38.5 million in the 2013-15 biennium. - 09/11/2011

"Seattle approves paid sick-leave requirement"--Seattle Times
The Seattle City Council has approved a measure that requires businesses with 5 or more employees to provide paid sick leave to workers. New businesses are exempt during their first two years of operation and businesses with fewer than 5 employees do not have to provide paid leave. The new mandate calls for a minimum of five paid days for businesses with 4 to 49 employees, companies with 50 to 249 employees must provide 7 days, and those with more than 250 employees must provide 9 paid sick days. The new measure takes effect in September 2012 and a review will take place after it has been in place for a year. Two other cities, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., require businesses to provide paid sick leave, as does one state, Connecticut. - 09/12/2011

"New at liquor stores: tasting sessions"--Everett Herald
The Liquor Control Board has just launched a year-long pilot project that allows distillery representatives to hold tastings at 30 state-controlled liquor stores. Among the stores selected to participate are private stores that have a contract to sell liquor and one tribal store. Distillery representatives provide the product customers taste and hold the tastings. The representatives must have the same training and permit as a regular bartender and tasters should expect to be carded. Customers can only be served a total of four, ¼ ounce tastes. The hope is that the tastings will lead to more purchases, especially of more expensive liquors, which will help the state’s bottom line. - 09/13/2011

"Hispanic-majority 15th District proposed"--Yakima Herald-Republic
The Washington State Redistricting Commission has released its draft proposals for new congressional and legislative districts. Two of the four proposals would redraw the boundaries of the 15th Legislative District in ways that would make its population anywhere from 50% to 59% Latino. Minorities already make up 58% of the population of the current 15th District, but that figure includes Latinos, Yakama tribal members, and other groups. Three of the proposals call for the 14th District to absorb most of the Yakama reservation, which is currently in the 15th District, and 2 proposals would move east Yakima from the 14th to the 15th District. Proposals for the 4th Congressional District vary widely, although all 4 keep Yakima in the district, while removing Chelan County and shifting the border more east. The addition of a 10th Congressional District impacts Central Washington in all 4 proposals. Redistricting happens every 10 years to reflect changes in population. - 09/13/2011

"Audit calls for tighter oversight of Cathlamet Fire Department funds"--Longview Daily News
According to a recently released state audit that has been anticipated for a year, the Cathlamet Fire Department’s current system of financial management is “placing public resources at risk. …Without monitoring or town oversight, funds could be co-mingled, unaccounted for or misappropriated.” The audit raises concerns about what auditors call an “unreasonable” amount of unleaded fuel that was purchased on four department credit cards, although it also acknowledges that part of the purchases were addressed in a separate fuel theft case. 10 of the department’s 11 vehicles use diesel fuel and the $3500 spent on unleaded fuel for one vehicle and some equipment was deemed questionable. Another issue is the refusal by fire department officials to share information about several bank accounts that they consider private. Auditors say that the accounts are public “because they were set up using the town’s tax identification number and have been used to pay for some department operating expenses. Assistant Fire Chief Fred Johnson says that many of the issues raised in the audit have already been addressed and he notes that the audit does not say that any money is missing or that any has been misappropriated. - 09/13/2011

"Special session near-certain after $1.4B revenue loss"--Olympia Olympian
Forecaster Arun Raha has predicted a $1.4 billion drop in expected state revenue through mid-2013. European debt worries and U.S. congressional deadlock are negatively influencing consumer spending and while job growth will continue at a slow pace, recovery to the state’s peak is not expected until sometime in 2013. < ahref="http://www.governor.wa.gov">Governor Gregoire has announced that she will most likely wait to call a special legislative session until after the November 17th forecast in case things get worse, but talks will get underway between the governor and budget leaders as details about different budget options become known. Tax increases and closing tax breaks for industries have already been mentioned by different legislators. - 09/15/2011

"State audit finds Ferndale needs to improve internal controls on court finances"--Bellingham Herald
An essentially clean audit of the City of Ferndale was released by the State Auditor’s Office on Monday, but the state did send the city a management letter about the Municipal Court. Auditors found some progress on issues with internal controls and compliance over court activities that were discovered in 2009, but it was determined that more needs to be done. Recommendations include getting a second person to sign Municipal Court checks and making sure the court’s bank statements match up with figures in its software program and the city’s general ledger. Auditors also looked at the city’s interfund loans and transfers, credit cards, and safeguarding of assets during 2010 and determined that the city was in compliance with most federal, state, and local laws. - 09/14/2011

“Economic study paints rosy picture of Carlsborg; $2 billion in services, goods over 4 years cited"--Port Angeles Peninsula Daily News
A recently released economic profile of the Carlsborg community in unincorporated Clallam County shows that the area “supports 1,050 jobs and in 2009 earned gross wages for those employees of about $17 million.” The report also notes business sales totaling nearly $2 billion from 2006-2010. The twenty-one-year-old Carlsborg urban growth area (UGA) has 113 businesses, or 4.7% of the total number of businesses in the unincorporated county. The employee growth rate for the UGA was 29% from 2002 to 2009, while the county’s total rate was 7%. The data in the profile is expected to be used in grant applications to help fund a multimillion-dollar sewer system for the Carlsborg UGA. - 09/20/2011

"Discover Pass for state lands raised $5.2 million in first two months”--Bellingham Herald
Sales of the Discover Pass, essentially a parking permit for state recreation lands, raised $5.2 million from July 1 through the end of August. 84% of the amount will fund Washington State Parks, while the rest will be split evenly between the Dept. of Natural Resources and the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife. A recent survey of more than 2,900 Washington residents by the Washington Trails Association shows that 69% support the Discover Pass, while 17% oppose it. 58% of those surveyed said they would pay more for the pass if state recreation lands again face closure. The most common complaint, both in the survey and in general, has been the fact that the permit is not transferable from one vehicle to another. In addition to surveying residents, the WA Trails Association looked at what other states are doing with their permits. They found the 15 states don’t charge a fee, the $30 fee in WA is on the low end, with the high end being AZ, which charges $205, and some states either charge more for a transferable pass or offer a discount for a second one. The association has vowed to work with the Legislature on the transferability issue. - 09/19/2011

Tri-City jobless rate up to 7.4 percent"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald
The unemployment rate in the Tri-Cities rose from 7% in July to 7.4% in August, but stayed below the state rate of 9.3%. Recently released data also shows that Benton County’s unemployment rate rose from 6.8% in July to 7.3% in August, while Franklin County’s rate rose from 7.5% to 7.6%. In the Tri-Cities, growth in private industries helped offset the loss of 700 jobs in the service industry, and the overall decline of 200 nonfarm jobs was less than expected. Farm jobs did not change significantly in August, although a change is expected in September due to tree fruit harvests. - 09/21/2011

"Deputies' contract boosts pay $11.8M from '07"--Seattle Times
A performance audit of the King County Sheriff’s Office has found that a 5% annual wage increase that was part of a 5-year contract signed in 2008 has resulted in deputies receiving $11.8 million more in pay in 2010 than they did in 2007. A fiscal note provided by former County Executive Ron Sims before the contract was approved showed annual cost increases, but not the cumulative effect of those increases. That finding by auditors prompted Kathy Lambert, chairwoman of King County Council’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, to ask staff members to immediately draft an ordinance requiring that the executive spell out the cumulative cost of future labor agreements. Sheriff Sue Rahr, in a written response to the audit, has said that her department has “eliminated 172 positions during the past four years, changed policing strategies and ‘cut entire units of service.’” - 09/20/2011

"Audit finds overpayment for child care"--Olympia Olympian
A recent state audit of Working Connections Child Care, a state program that helps low-income parents with young children by subsidizing child care, found overpayments totaling nearly $2.6 million. Of that, $2 million went to a single provider. The audit was prompted by past state audits, problems in other states’ programs, a legislative audit completed last year, and a federal General Accounting Office review of Washington’s program that showed inadequate controls over finances. Repayments are being sought for $426,000 of the verified overpayments and both the Dept. of Early Learning and the Dept. of Social and Health Services want changes in the law that will allow them to demand records from the providers that the state pays for child care services. They also want an electronic attendance system so that it will be easier to keep records of when a child is actually in the system. Auditors found that the overpayments resulted from, among other things, payments made for ineligible children, payments issued on holidays, and duplicate payments. - 09/27/2011

"UW, WSU to get $80M to develop biofuels"--Seattle Times
The University of Washington (UW) and Washington State University (WSU) have each been awarded $40 million in federal grants to “kick-start a biofuels industry in the Northwest.” The US Dept. of Agriculture is awarding a total of $136 million to schools in Washington, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Iowa, one of the largest amounts it has ever awarded. The UW grant will focus on turning fast-growing poplar trees into two formulations of a new fuel, one for jet engines and one for cars, and the university will also work to understand the environmental impacts of establishing poplar plantations around the Northwest and where they should be located. WSU will be using slash, the unusable branches and bark left after lumber is harvested, to make jet fuel, while also investigating the social implications of a new biofuel industry, such as whether or not rural communities will welcome commercial biorefineries in their areas. - 09/28/2011

"Report: EPA cut corners on climate finding"--Vancouver Columbian
A recently released report has added fuel to the fire surrounding costly new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations to control greenhouse gases. While the report found that the EPA “generally” adhered to data quality requirements when it produced a technical paper supporting its determination that greenhouse gases pose dangers to human health and welfare, and while it does not question the science behind the conclusions reached by the EPA, it does state that the agency should have subjected the paper to a more extensive review process. It is believed that lawyers and politicians will try to use the report to fight the EPA regulations, but the “worst-case scenario for the agency is that a federal judge sends the document back for reworking, putting its global warming regulations on cars, trucks, power plants and refineries in limbo.” - 09/28/2011

"County redistricting affects Bellingham, Lynden precincts"--Bellingham Herald
Using 2010 Census data, a five-person bipartisan districting committee has redrawn district boundaries for the Whatcom County Council and Port of Bellingham Commission. District boundaries are the same for both types of districts. Maps for the cities of Bellingham and Lynden that show the new boundaries have been released, although the changes don’t go into effect until the first local election in 2013. - 09/29/2011

"CDC says miners, construction, food workers smoke more than those in other jobs"--Everett Herald
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that 19.6% of working adults smoke. 30% of workers in the mining, constructions, and food service industries smoke, while only 9% of librarians and teachers smoke. Experts think the high rate of smoking in the industries at the top of the list may be related to the lower education levels of those in the industries, although the younger age and lower income of the workers, and the fact that many of them are not subject to indoor smoking bans, may also contribute. The CDC study is based on in-person interviews with more than 113,000 working adults between 2004 and 2010. - 09/30/2011


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