Letter to the Editor: Farmers, other rural stakeholders deserve better from county



Clark County Citizens United’s membership is grateful to the Clark County Council for listening to their rural constituents and voted to retain the agricultural building permit exemption. CCCU remains concerned how county staff has been trying to end a decades-long permit exemption for agricultural buildings. Even more concerning is how a county agency was allowed to use bias in the process. Such permit exemptions are allowed in counties throughout the state and the nation.

Agriculture is much different than other industries and requires costly investments in land, equipment, fuel, water, is seasonal and labor intensive. Profit margins are slim, especially for small farms. Those small family farms dominate local agriculture and the state.They aren’t able to easily absorb increases in costs because they can’t be reflected in what they’re being paid for products. They can only charge what the market will bear. 

The council vote on March 26, to remove agricultural building permit exemptions was made with a reliance on staff reports and recommendations. It’s an issue because staff made no public outreach to stakeholders, no presentations from CCCU’s membership, the hearty equestrian community, robust 4-H clubs, avid gardeners, Clark-Cowlitz Farm Bureau and landowners.  Consequently, agency staff were not able to account for stakeholder comments in any analysis and recommendation. Therefore, no one was able to offer ways to help mitigate harmful impacts from staff’s proposal.

You can bet this proposal didn’t come from rural folks. It’s noteworthy, these stakeholders are taxpaying constituents and aren’t being represented by the elected Clark County councilors. It’s unfortunate, the enthusiasm local folks have for supporting local produce, gardening, equestrian activities and 4-H youth isn’t reflected in the actions of county staff when creating agricultural policies. There is a big disconnection here. What a shame.

CCCU’s membership is seeing how elected officials are continually relying on county agencies and staff to provide a full and complete analysis that supports staff’s recommendations. Those recommendations highly influence policies. But, what if the agency charged to do the work has faulty, incomplete work that suffers from bias? In this situation, staff failed miserably to provide an adequate report, let alone an analysis that considered the consequences of added costs to a cost-burdened industry. This impacts entire rural communities, yet there was no analysis. Staff simply created a statement in support of an unspecified and costly ag permitting process.  Council voted anyway.

The council is dangerously making uneducated decisions that negatively impact the lives and livelihoods of their rural tax-paying citizens. Staff’s process was woefully one sided and disregarded those most likely to be impacted by their proposed permitting changes. Local farmers, gardeners, equestrians, 4-H Youth and rural landowners all deserve better from county agencies. If the process doesn’t change soon, folks will be wondering what happened to all the family farms that they relied on to provide fresh produce. Where are the 4-H exhibitors at the county fair? CCCU asks the councilors to provide leadership and manage the process that’s being misused by county staff to drive unreasonable regulations.


Susan Rasmussen

President, Clark County Citizens United, Inc.