Advertisement for Gallery 505 Advertisement for Morgan Online Media

County Needs Growth Help

By Jake Morgan, staff writer

     CHEHALIS – Lewis County's largely rural and mountainous landscape poses unique challenges to urban growth planners.

     County planners want to develop urban areas around Centralia, Chehalis and Napavine, preserve rural agricultural areas for farming and protect the county's abundant natural resources. If city planners don't annex in new residential areas before they are developed, the county ends up managing urban areas just outside city limits. When these lot sizes are small, they often contain failing septic tanks and contaminated water wells.

     Rural land owners in Lewis County want to protect and profit from their property while having the freedom to develop it at the same time. Farmers who are looking for an additional income source from their land need to be able to know what activities are allowable, and the numerous layers of regulation and bureaucracy don't make it any easier.

     • Lewis County Community Development

     Decades of intense population growth in King County spilled over to its neighboring counties and many beautiful, rural communities were forever changed. Washington State adopted the Growth Management Act in 1990 to address widespread urban sprawl into rural areas near Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia.

     Uncontrolled, rapid growth creates traffic congestion and urban sprawl that eliminates open spaces, causes adverse effects on streams, wetlands and wildlife habitats, and leads to a loss of forests and farmland. Once lost, these habitats may never recover.

     Urban growth has been much slower in Lewis County by comparison, and rules meant to protect the remaining open spaces near urban areas are overly restrictive when applied to rural areas nowhere near an incorporated city.

     With this in mind, in 2017 the state legislature asked a public policy group called the William D. Ruckelshaus Center to create a "Road Map to Washington's Future" that will describe a desired future vision for Washington communities and identify necessary changes to the state's growth management laws, institutions and policies. The center held workshops throughout the state to collect as much input as possible. Here are three handouts from the recent workshops in Chehalis.

     • Growth Management Act

     • State Environmental Policy Act

     • Shoreline Management Act

     The Ruckelshaus Center has completed the project and their final report can be found here.

County Seeks Funding for Mandates

By Jake Morgan, staff writer

     CHEHALIS — State and federal requirements to provide health care to inmates at the Lewis County Jail and legal defense costs for the poor or indigent don’t include state or federal funding and the costs for these services are crippling the county budget. Unfunded mandates for Lewis County to provide indigent defense and medical costs to jail inmates is approaching $1.5 million a year and continues to rise.

     “We need help,” Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund told state representatives and state senators gathered for a legislative roundtable Oct. 6 at the county courthouse. The county is not being reimbursed for these costs and the budget is so tight that the county has no choice but to cut back programs like health and social services including disease prevention and senior care.

     Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza said 75 percent of the county’s annual budget is being absorbed by the legal system, with approximately $1 million going to pay the medical expenses of inmates. Snaza said medical expenses are consuming most of his department’s budget, forcing the sheriff’s office to operate at staffing levels below what they were in 1985.

     Health-care costs continue to rise nationwide and premiums can be so expensive that many low-income people just can’t afford health insurance and they are forced to put off necessary medical and dental care. Even if they do qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid will not cover the health-care costs of inmates while they're in jail or prison and state and local governments must foot the bill.

     “We’re strapped,” Snaza said. “Medicaid in our facility is killing us. Seventy-four percent of our inmate population receives Medicaid and we are paying for them.”

     There are a lot of reasons for declining revenues in Lewis County such as a loss of income from the bygone timber and mining industries, but rising health-care costs are consuming by far the greatest share of the county budget.

     According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, state prisons and county jails are constitutionally obligated to provide health care to inmates under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Medicaid doesn’t cover inmates while they're in jail, with one exception: health care delivered outside the institution, such as at a hospital or nursing home, when the person has been admitted for 24 hours or more.

     According to the Washington State Health Care Authority, “prior to July 2017, Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) was closed when a person receiving coverage became incarcerated. Following the passage of SSB 6430 Medicaid Suspension, the Health Care Authority was directed to suspend, not terminate Medicaid coverage for individuals in a correctional setting.”

     The Health Care Authority said “under current policy, an incarcerated individual can retain their Apple Health eligibility indefinitely, however, their scope of coverage will change. When an individual is incarcerated, the Health Care Authority suspends full scope coverage and limits it to inpatient hospitalization only. While incarcerated, the agency also suspends any payments to managed care organizations, behavioral health organizations, and any other Medicaid-related service authorizations.”

     Many members of this at-risk population will require continued medical care and substance-abuse counseling after being released from jail, and their successful rehabilitation into society could depend on their continued Medicaid coverage outside jail, according to Pew.

     District Court Judge R.W. Buzzard said the highest users of the court system are repeat offenders.

     “Once a person is determined to be indigent, they are indigent throughout the entire process, even if they get a job later on,” Buzzard said.

     The county is required to incur these legal costs without state reimbursement.

     “It’s wrong for the state to balance its budget on the backs of the counties,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama. “We need to find a way of actually funding these mandates.”

     Lewis County is also struggling to find affordable healthcare coverage for its own employees. Commissioner Bobby Jackson said the county is facing a 68 percent increase in insurance premiums due to the relatively high median age of county employees.

     “Lewis County is the prime example of the national health-care crisis,” said county human resources director Archie Smith. “We are an aging employer and finding affordable health care is a growing problem. We desperately need to find a good insurance provider.”


     Contact Jake Morgan at

Copyright © 2024 Lewis County Tribune. All rights reserved.

P.O. Box 550, Toledo, Washington 98591

Contact us or send a news tip to

Site designed and powered by Morgan Online Media LLC.