House Oks Nov. Vote On Skykomish County -- Drive For Secession Still Faces Senate Test; Time Runs Out For 2 Similar Bills

Within the next two years, the proposed Skykomish County could take control of millions of dollars worth of public assets now owned by Snohomish County, including the Evergreen State Fairgrounds.

The state House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill calling for a November public vote on creating Skykomish County, which would have a population of nearly 40,000 and would include everything east of the city of Snohomish in the southern part of Snohomish County.

Skykomish County's biggest city would be Monroe, home of the fairgrounds, as well as Sultan, Index and Gold Bar. King County's stretch of the Highway 2 corridor, including the town of Skykomish, also would be part of the new county.

If the state Senate concurs without major changes, only residents of the proposed county would be eligible to vote.

"We think we can win the election," said Arnie Hansen, a new-county leader. "We feel that when the citizens of Skykomish County go into the voting booth and think about how they've been treated by Snohomish County, they will realize they're better off with local control and local representation."

Two House bills that would have required votes on creating Freedom County from Snohomish County's northern half and Pioneer County from northwestern Whatcom County apparently are dead.

To stay alive, bills had to pass either the House or Senate by 5 p.m. Wednesday. The Skykomish bill made it, on a 53-45 vote, but then time ran out.

It apparently was just luck of the draw that the Skykomish bill came up first, said state Rep. John Koster, R-Arlington, author of all three bills. "I have some people who are really upset," he said.

Thom Satterlee of Arlington, a leader of the Freedom County movement, yesterday called it "appalling" his county wasn't considered first. Freedom County submitted its new-county petitions to the state in April 1995, nearly a year before Skykomish County petitions were turned in.

Meanwhile, the drive to carve Cedar County out of the eastern two-thirds of King County is making its way through the state Supreme Court. On May 6, a panel of justices is to hear arguments related to the movement's contention that counties should automatically be created when enough people sign petitions.

State Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, tried unsuccessfully to amend the House bill Wednesday to allow all Snohomish County residents to vote on the Skykomish issue.

"I think it's such a significant wealth transfer that those people who could be losing millions and millions of dollars have a right to decide whether they'll give it away or not," Dunshee said.

That's ridiculous, Hansen said.

"That's kind of like asking King George to approve the secession for the colonies," he said.

If a majority of voters within the proposed Skykomish County approved, then three county commissioners would be elected through a February primary and April election next year.

The three would guide the new county through its interim stages, while Snohomish County's assets and debts were divided. Skykomish County would officially be created Jan. 1, 1999.

Dunshee said he plans to fight the bill in the state Senate by talking to individual senators and testifying if a hearing is held. "Reading the bill, there are some real problems."

For instance, he said, road-maintenance equipment would be divided proportionally to the number of miles of roads in each county, not by the number of residents or how many people use the roads.

"A 10-mile road in Lynnwood that 100,000 people use a day will count the same as 10 miles of road which nobody use," Dunshee said. "I am not opposed to allowing people to vote on whether they want to be in a new county. I just think it should be fair to everybody."

But the bill is fair, Hansen said.

"People are trying to cast us as extremists," he said. "We're all just mainstream people that are wanting to have self-determination and responsiveness out of our government. What's wrong with wanting to control your own destiny?"