Outdoor burn ban imposed in county
A stage 1 burn ban was imposed Tuesday (Dec. 29) in Okanogan, Kittitas, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Asotin and Walla Walla counties, the state Department of Ecology (DOE) announced. The ban will continue through at least 10 a.m. on Monday (Jan. 4), DOE said.
DOE said it imposed the ban because stagnant air conditions are forecast in the region, putting the counties at risk for air pollution to reach unhealthy levels.
Under a stage 1 ban, all outdoor burning is prohibited including residential, agricultural and forest burning. Use of uncertified wood stoves, fireplaces, inserts, and other uncertified wood-burning devices is prohibited unless they are a home’s only adequate source of heat. Certified wood stoves, pellet stoves and other certified wood-burning devices are allowed.
Call (866) 211-6284 if you think someone is illegally burning or you are affected by smoke. Up-to-date burn ban information is available at www.waburnbans.net.
Mazama Ranch House zone change OKed
The owners of the Mazama Ranch House will be permitted to build two new structures with ground-floor commercial businesses and tourist-residential units on the second floor, following a Dec. 19 decision by Okanogan County Hearing Examiner Dan Beardslee.
Beardslee also approved the other aspects of the proposal by Mazama Ranch House owners Steve and Kristin Devin, which would alter existing buildings, allowing tourist/residential or seasonal housing above ground-floor units for commercial, tourist or residential use. It also permits them to create additional trailhead parking by moving the existing building that currently houses the North Cascades Cycle Werks bike shop.
The changes will be accomplished by amending an agreement for the 2.67-acre Chechaquo Ranch–Mazama Ranch House planned development, and by changing zoning to allow housing on upper floors.
The owners must obtain permits from Okanogan County Public Health for water and septic systems for each lot before any construction can be done.
The Mazama Ranch House project is separate from other projects in the area, including the Chechaquo Ranch/Pasayten Peak planned development that would also provide for retail, tourist-residential units and expanded and reconfigured parking for Methow Trails. That project was approved in the summer.
Renovations to the adjacent parking lot are a separate project proposed by Okanogan County, the state Recreation and Conservation Office and Pasayten Peak.
County considers changes for overnight lodging
The Okanogan County Board of Health is considering revisions to the county’s regulations for overnight transient accommodations.
The Public Health regulations cover matters of health and safety at places with fewer than three lodging units. They include regulations for water, sewage or septic systems, heat, kitchen and cooking facilities, bathroom and hygiene facilities, fire exits, lighting and trash collection.
Each overnight transient accommodation must have a valid permit from Public Health to operate, which must be renewed annually. In addition, the licensee must ensure that the establishment complies with local zoning, building and electrical codes. Sleeping rooms must have carbon-monoxide and smoke detectors.
The Board of Health will consider the proposed changes on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 1:30 p.m. in the public services building in Okanogan.
Copies of the proposed regulations are available from Dave Hilton at (509) 422-7144 or email@example.com, or Michael Harr at (509) 422-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org. They are also available online at www.okanogancounty.org/ochd.
The public can comment in advance by writing to either Hilton or Harr, or provide input at the hearing.
State adjusts property-tax relief for seniors
The income limit for a property-tax reduction for homeowners over the age of 61 and certain disabled individuals has been raised to $40,000. The state recently increased the income threshold by $5,000.
To be eligible, the individual must own and occupy the house and, along with a spouse or co-tenants, must have a combined disposable income (including Social Security benefits) of $40,000 or less. Property-tax exemptions are also available to individuals with a service- or job-related disability.
The Legislature also increased the income limit for the state’s tax-deferral program, which allows eligible homeowners to pay their property tax late. Under the deferral program, the Washington Department of Revenue pays the taxes for the property owner. The taxes, plus interest, become a lien on the home until the full amount is repaid by the property owner.
To qualify for the deferral, the property owner must be at least 60 years old and be unable to work. The surviving spouse or partner of someone who had been in the deferral program at the time of death can also apply. The surviving spouse must be at least 57 years old.
The state uses 2015 income as the basis for an exemption in 2016.
For more information, contact the Okanogan County assessor at (509) 422-7190.
Feds and state recruiting firefighters, others
Experienced firefighters and equipment operators interested in signing up with state and federal agencies can learn more about opportunities for the upcoming fire season.
The U.S. Forest Service and Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hire chippers and fallers; operators of water tenders, heavy equipment and engines; office and clerical support; mechanics; and operators of weed-washing and mobile laundry units, among others.
People can meet with contracting representatives from DNR and the Pacific Northwest Fire and Aviation Contracting Team at two open houses to learn the process and requirements for becoming a wildland fire contractor or vendor.
An open house is scheduled in Wenatchee on Feb. 1, 2016, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Confluence Technology Center. There is another open house at Spokane Community College in Colville on Jan. 27, 2016, from 5 to 8 p.m.
For more information on federal opportunities, visit www.fs.usda.gov/goto/r6/workingtogether/contracting/fact or email email@example.com.
For more information on state opportunities, visit www.dnr.wa.gov/CallWhenNeeded or call (360) 902-1317.
County adopts $76.9 million budget for 2016
The Okanogan County commissioners adopted a $76.9 million budget on Monday (Dec. 28). While the budget is a 16-percent increase over last year’s operating budget, the increases were mainly for the Public Works Department and miscellaneous funds — many reflecting grant-supported or similar programs that had lapsed in recent years, according to Laurie Thomas, the Okanogan County auditor.
Department heads were asked to be as conservative as possible in submitting their budget requests, said Thomas. The majority of increases are due to staffing changes or increases in salaries or medical benefits. Still, the current-expense budget, which covers salaries, benefits and basic operating expenses, barely budged from last year.
When the county started working on the budget in the summer, there was a gap of about $1.5 million, said Thomas. With the carryover of the ending fund balance from 2015 and many small adjustments, the budget team closed the gap over the next few months. The team consists of the county’s three commissioners, auditor, treasurer and financial manager.
Still, the process is always difficult, said Thomas. “Costs go up, but resources are more limited — something’s got to give,” she said.
The ending fund balance, which is carried over to start the new year, has been growing by a small amount in each of the past few years, indicating that the county is not overspending, said Thomas.
“As long as I can remember, the county has used its ending — which becomes the beginning — fund balance to balance the budget, so we’re counting on not spending it,” said Thomas. “It lets people know we’re being as fiscally responsible as possible, and not spending every penny budgeted.”
Some line items have decreased from 2015, such as the vehicle-reserve fund, since the Sheriff’s Office replaced several vehicles last year, said Thomas.
The Public Works budget increased in part because the county wanted to do maintenance and other projects that had been postponed for a number of years, said Thomas.
There are no layoffs or reductions in hours connected with the budget.