ASOTIN — Asotin County officials are exploring ways to mitigate the impacts of Gov. Jay Inslee’s new COVID-19 orders, which were put in place this week.
At Monday night’s commission meeting, Chairman Chris Seubert said the board recognizes the latest rules will cause financial hardships for many businesses in Clarkston and surrounding areas. They are hoping for relief funding from the state and federal agencies, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc at the local level.
“Asotin County has provided nearly $600,000 in aid to our businesses in the community, and we hope the governor’s office will provide additional funds quickly to continue the support of local businesses,” Seubert said during the Zoom meeting, which was unavailable in some area households because of an unstable internet connection. “The Southeast Washington Economic Development Association has also received funds that have been distributed over the past few months.”
Inslee’s orders did not specifically define local governments, so Asotin County is continuing to operate under the Phase 3 guidelines, the commissioner said. Payments can be made at a dropbox outside the courthouse in Asotin, but the doors to the county seat remain unlocked.
People who need to conduct business at the courthouse are required to wear masks and sign in for contact tracing in the lobby. Appointments with elected officials are encouraged, Seubert said, and direct contact information with each department is available on the county’s website. In addition, a walk-up window to the auditor’s office has been installed along Filmore Street in Asotin to help the public make transactions.
On the second floor of the courthouse, it’s business as usual with masks required and social distancing protocols in place. Jury trials are being conducted at the new Asotin County Fire District building on Appleside Boulevard, but other court appearances are ongoing in District and Superior courts in Asotin. A full law-and-motion docket was conducted this week, officials said.
“The restrictions do not apply to courts or court-related proceedings at this time,” Seubert said.
Commissioner Brian Shinn said the governor’s new restrictions could have a dire effect on small businesses, including the restaurants located on the Washington side of the Snake River in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. According to state sources, very few coronavirus cases have been directly linked to restaurants, Shinn said, which makes him question Inslee’s orders.
“I’m not buying it, but it’s the law, and we’re following it,” Shinn said.
Commissioner Chuck Whitman encouraged Asotin County residents to support Washington-based restaurants by ordering takeout or delivery until the restrictions are lifted.
“We really need to help our restaurants here,” Whitman said.
In other county business:
A public hearing was held on a 1 percent property tax increase, with Chris Kemp, chief operations officer, providing the latest information. The uptick is the most allowable by state law and will be voted on Monday. No comments from the public were mentioned.
If approved, the tax increase will generate about $27,000 for the general fund, $18,000 for the county road district, approximately $13,000 for new road construction and improvements, and about $27,000 in new construction under the general fund, Kemp said.
Shinn said the 2021 tax bill will include a Tri-State Memorial Hospital tax exemption refund, which was determined by the state Department of Revenue based upon a request by the hospital.
According to the county assessor, Jenny Rynearson, the exact amounts won’t be known until Jan. 15, but the total refund is projected at about $440,000 for Tri-State offices that were determined to be exempt from taxes because of their nonprofit status for the past 3½ years.
Junior taxing districts in the county, such as the cemetery and library, will see some increases, but the bulk will be felt in the city of Clarkston, where the hospital is located, the assessor said.
The one-year tax hit for Clarkston property owners is projected at about 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which amounts to $100 next year on a house assessed at $200,000, Rynearson said. The state made the determination, and local authorities had no say in the decision, the assessor told the Lewiston Tribune on Tuesday. The Tri-State properties added to the list of nonprofit exemptions is valued at about $11.3 million, she said.
The subject of the new Asotin County Jail will be discussed during a town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, which will be available on Zoom and accessed on the Asotin County website. The Asotin County Commisson has entered into a purchase agreement to buy 6.4 acres near 14th Street and Port Drive for the new facility.
The Florida architectual firm of Clemons, Rutherford and Associates, which was hired to oversee the $13.7 million jail project, will be joining the session to answer any questions submitted by the public.
In addition, information about the three sites considered for the new jail is now available at www.asotin.co.wa.us under the sheriff’s office tab. Comments or questions about the project can be sent to the commissioners via email, phone or mail by noon on the day of the town hall meeting.
The commissioners approved filling vacant positions in several offices, including a deputy prosecuting attorney, a clerk in the auditor’s office and a building inspector.
Attorney Nick Ward has resigned from the prosecutor’s office to go into private practice with Scott Chapman in Lewiston, and Darlene Wilkinson is retiring from her duties at the auditor’s office, where she helped handle the payroll and vouchers, according to county officials.
Sandaine may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.