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Homicide trial, new taxes and new ambulances all coming in 2014

The calendar year of 2013 may be over, but there’s still plenty to come in 2014 — including a homicide re-trial, a sales tax increase enacted and a whole lot of unresolved issues at the county. Here’s our take on what to expect this year — plus there’s always the unexpected around every corner.

Montesano city government has seen its turn of investigations, which made our Top 10 stories of the year. But there’s still one potential smoking gun sitting out there that may not be resolved for months. During one of the city’s many investigations, at least one image of what may be construed as child pornography on a city-owned computer was found and turned over to the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Taskforce. The photo was a bit blurry and appeared to show a young female nude. The State Patrol is now going over the city computers to see what else may be found.

Meantime, former Montesano Public Works supervisor Russ Burke has a wrongful termination lawsuit against Mayor Ken Estes and the city, which will also take many more months to figure out.

McCleary residents will also want to pay close attention to their city government this year with a potential property tax hike that could be placed on the fall ballot. And, if it doesn’t pass, the mayor has said he’ll contract out police services with Elma or the Sheriff’s Office plus a whole bunch of other functions of city government could be outsourced or closed down entirely. Meantime, negotiations will likely begin soon on consolidating McCleary’s courts with Elma’s in an effort to save money — and expect fewer police officers on the streets since the budget approved for 2014 lays off one police officer already plus a half-time police clerk position, which means the police officers, themselves, will have to do all their own paperwork.

TAXES

With a 70.8 percent approval rate, voters put in place a sales tax increase in November, which should be enacted by the state Department of Revenue early this year. Approval means the sales tax rate goes up by one-tenth of 1 percent. That means on a $10 purchase, it’s a penny extra. The current countywide sales tax is 8.4 percent. In February of 2013, Aberdeen voters increased their sales tax by 0.13 percent to help pay for road projects, so the tax there is the highest in the county at 8.53 percent.With the new increase, the rate would be 8.63 percent in Aberdeen and 8.5 percent everywhere else.

Even though there’s a tax hike, don’t expect weekend bus service to come back right away. The service was cut last fall and Transit officials decided to hold off until 2015 for the extra buses.

Speaking of taxes, Elma City Council members have flirted with the idea of putting their own sales tax measure to pay for road improvements in their city.

And the Elma School Board recently put an $8.4 million bond measure on the February ballot to replace the grandstands at Davis Field and move everything to a new site by the elementary school.

And, this month, a PUD rate hike of 3.75 percent rate takes place with a potential 1.75 percent increase that could go up this summer.

COUNTY

Several county issues are still unresolved and recently appointed County Commission Chairman Frank Gordon says he’s not afraid to make people angry to get things done around the county.

First, there’s the issue with the Assessor’s Office and whether the Assessor and the commissioners will be able to get along enough — and buy the appropriate software needed to help get the office functioning again. Then, there’s the issue of the Prosecutor’s Office and whether there will even be an appointed prosecutor before next year’s election.

Plus, the county commissioners and the judges still need to figure out a firm plan to put in place a new court room, based on the terms of their settlement agreement. The jail needs some much needed fixes, too; and there’s ongoing maintenance needs around the county.

Speaking of elections, County Commissioner Herb Welch announced he wouldn’t seek re-election. That means it’s the first time there’s been an open seat without an appointed placeholder to run for election to retain the seat in years. Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines has been the only one to declare her intent to run for the seat, although there’s a couple of other people in the wings who have not yet made up their minds if they’ll run. Many other elected officials are up for re-election this year, including the assessor, treasurer, auditor , sheriff, coroner, clerk and prosecutor.

Another unresolved issue concerns funding for the county’s needle exchange program. The county commissioners have not yet authorized for the program to continue and County Commissioner Wes Cormier has been vocal that he won’t vote for it. Will there be two votes to continue the program?

The county will also oversee new promoters at the Grays Harbor Raceway, with race fans from all over the region eager to see how that all plays out.

Cormier is also pushing for changes in the way the county manages its critical areas ordinance program and its building codes — changes that may happen before Welch leaves office at the end of his term and the potential Republican majority on the commission is lost.

HOMICIDE

Meantime, the trial for an Elma woman whose homicide conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court is set for a re-do in March. Brenda Zillyette has already pleaded not guilty to the new charge being spearheaded by Acting Prosecutor Gerald Fuller. Zillyette is accused of giving 18-year-old Austin Burrows methadone and Xanax pills, which they crushed into a powder and snorted together hours before Burrows died of an overdose April 1, 2009.

She was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for controlled substances homicide and was released earlier this year. She appealed her conviction on several levels, finally winning a new trial because of a technical detail in her original charging document. Prosecutors failed to specify which drug her charge was based on. Unless they did that, the high court concluded she wasn’t technically accused of a crime.

GOOD NEWS

On the good news front, Fire District 5 will finally receive two new ambulances, thanks to a voter approved property tax hike. They’ve already started shopping for ambulances and will likely receive their new ones later in 2014.

And, if everything works out, East County residents may see more activity at the NewWood facility at the Satsop Business Park if the newly-owned Port facility is able to find someone to operate it.

And, any week now, the long awaited Rottle Field should be re-opened at Montesano High School. Expect big cheers from all around for the resurrection of the facility, torched last year by a fire.