The Cowlitz County commissioners increased landowners’ weed assessment during their Tuesday meeting, but members and supporters of the Noxious Weed Control Board said it isn’t enough to cover the medical costs of a 2015 staff injury they’re still paying for.
The weed board’s chairman, Joe Godinho, asked the commissioners to raise the assessment to $5.32 for non-forested parcels in 2018, a dollar raise from the 2017 assessment. However, commissioner Joe Gardner suggested the assessment should be raised 50 cents next year, with the possibility of another 50-cent raise for 2019.
This disagreement resulted in a 30-minute heated discussion between members of the weed board, the two present commissioners (Dennis Weber was absent) and a Castle Rock woman who said she supported the dollar parcel hike that the weed board requested.
The Castle Rock woman remarked that an annual $5.32 non-forested parcel assessment was less than what she would tip a server at a restaurant and not too far-off from the price of a cup of coffee.
“I think $5.32 is minimal,” she said at the Tuesday meeting. “I would gladly pay ten times that a year. I think that’s fantastic for everything (Noxious Weeds) provides.”
Despite the passionate pleas, the commissioners went with Gardner’s idea and set the 2018 assessment at $4.82 for non-forested parcels and 48 cents for forested parcels, a raise from $4.32 and 43 cents, respectively. All landowners in the county will pay the assessment.
In May 2015, Noxious Weed Program Coordinator Angelica Velazquez hopped a fence while on the job looking for invasive plants. She shattered both of her heels on the landing and has had to undergo multiple surgeries and rounds of physical therapy.
Godinho said after the meeting that Velazquez’s bills are over $100,000 “and still counting.”
Financial Management Director Claire Hauge said the county is self-insured for worker’s compensation, and the county always pays up-front for employee injuries. Then, the department pays the county back the medical expenses. According to Hauge, Noxious Weeds will pay back the county for Velazquez’s medical bills at a rate of $46,000 annually for three years, starting this year.
The Noxious Weed Control Board fights invasive plant species that affect natural resources throughout the county.
Godinho pointed out that a county error in 2015 delayed a dollar raise in the assessment until 2017, and he’s sick of going to the commissioners and “asking for money every year.”
“I don’t want to do this again,” he said. “I’ve done it three years in a row, and they dropped the ball two years ago. Nobody wants to see an increase every year.”
Despite his frustration, Godinho said he wouldn’t make too much of a fuss about the commissioners’ choice.
“I stand by this agreement. Am I happy about it? No. But I do accept the (decision).”