Bowerman opens the address by honoring CCSO Deputy Drew Kennison
For Clark County Today
County Council Chair Karen Dill Bowerman delivered her State of the County address virtually on Tuesday (April 4). She opened her address by honoring Clark County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) Deputy Drew Kennison, who was in a vehicle collision during a snowstorm in February that caused him to lose part of his left leg. Deputy Kennison was on his way back from SWAT training when a tree fell on top of his patrol car, which trapped him inside. Thankfully, other SWAT members were nearby and able to apply tourniquets until he was able to be pulled from the vehicle and transported to a hospital. Councilwoman Bowerman thanked everyone who was involved in the rescue of Deputy Kennison and shared a link for those who wish to donate to his recovery.
Bowerman welcomed the three new councilors who joined in January following the November 2022 election: Glen Yung representing District 1, Michelle Belkot representing District 2, and Sue Marshall representing District 5, who was actually sworn in sooner than the other two, replacing councilor-at-the-time Dick Rylander. Changes to the charter amendments now see the chair and vice chair of the council elected within the Council, rather than the public voting on those seats. The County Council chose Councilor Bowerman as the chair, and Councilor Gary Medvigy of District 4 as the vice chair. The mission of the Council, according to Bowerman, “is to enhance the quality of life in our diverse community by providing services with integrity, openness, and accountability.”
It’s been more than three years since the first case of COVID-19 made its way into Clark County. Bowerman thanked public health for the slowing of transmission into the community. She said that the Department of Public Health is conducting a “comprehensive review of its COVID-19 response activities to identify strategies that were successful and opportunities for improvement.” She continued, “This information will be used to develop a plan to improve public health preparedness and response.” A five-year community health improvement plan will be conducted in 2024, which, Bowerman said, will “enable public health and their valued partners to identify health and health-related priorities of Clark County residents and develop collaborative strategies to improve community well-being.”
Homelessness was discussed next. Bowerman said that the County Council actively works to address the homelessness crisis the county is facing. Bowerman shared that the Council increased spending on homelessness by $4 million, bringing the total up to approximately $14 million per year, thanks to federal funds allotted during the pandemic. The money was used to increase “homeless outreach,” “program performance,” “sustaining rehousing and permanent support,” and indoor emergency bed availability, which increased by 100. Seniors 62 years and up saw a major increase in those who were sheltered, rising 157 percent. This was, Bowerman said, “a result of prioritizing shelters for that population.”
Veteran homelessness decreased 40 percent compared to before the pandemic, she said, and “unsheltered veteran homelessness decreased 27 percent.” She also mentioned that families who were homeless increased “only by two percent” compared to 2010. Rent and utility assistance was provided by state and federal funds to low-income households during the pandemic, totaling over $55 million to over 6,700 households. “There is still much left to do,” Bowerman said.
She indicated that the County Council is working with cities within the county to fight homelessness via the Ending Community Homelessness Organization, or ECHO. The group meets on a monthly basis working with community stakeholders, including, as Clark County Today previously reported, newly elected Sheriff John Horch, who will be joining ECHO. Bowerman continued with the homelessness topic, saying “people of color experience homelessness at a higher rate than the rest of the population.” She said that “people of color” make up 14 percent of Clark County’s population, but 27 percent of “persons experiencing homelessness in our county.” The last survey of homelessness was done January 30, 2023, and it found that the number of homeless people increased 31 percent over 2021. “All funds spent must be evaluated in terms of results achieved,” Bowerman said.
Next Bowerman discussed the Department of Jail Services, where the Council voted unanimously against public opposition, including the two candidates at the time for Clark County Sheriff as well as the sheriff at the time, to pull the jail from the purview of the Sheriff and into its own entity under the County Manager. “This transition will allow additional resources to be allocated to the jail,” Bowerman said, “such as mental and behavioral health support and substance abuse. It also allows the sheriff to focus specifically on law enforcement in the community.”
Bowerman thanked Clark County voters for approving a “public safety sales tax” that she said will support body-worn and dash cameras for CCSO. These cameras are expected to be implemented later this year, she said, “due to the approved sales tax.” She said this tax will also allow for the increase of deputies and corrections officers. However, previous data shows that funding was available for staffing these two entities during the pandemic, and there was a lack of candidates wanting to fill those roles rather than a lack of funding.
The County’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan is currently in the process of being updated, as required by the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA). The plan is required to be submitted to the state by June 20, 2025. Its purpose is to “guide long-range policies” such as affordable housing and jobs which are based on growth and development in the county, including a 20-year population projection. Outreach efforts and public hearings will be announced in order to receive public input, and residents can sign up for updates on this topic.
“The County saw unprecedented increase in sales tax revenue,” Bowerman said when addressing the county budget. “The county continues to benefit from one-time federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.” ARPA funds, increased sales tax, and resident purchases, she said, have had “a positive impact on the county’s general fund.” ARPA funds were also useful, she said, in implementing broadband expansion for north county residents, a new north county EMS facility, community grants for nonprofits negatively impacted by Covid, and property tax financial assistance, enhanced cleaning services, etc. She indicated that the county is developing a multi-year capital plan that is the first of its kind. It includes, she said, “identifying capital needs, estimating costs, potential revenue sources, and prioritization.” She said that the county’s funds are currently in a “strong position” through “prudent financial decision making.”
Bowerman encouraged Clark County residents to visit the county’s website to get involved in what’s going on in the county. She said the Council wants to hear from community members on decisions that are to be made on their behalf. She also encouraged people to support the local businesses in Clark County, “from trailblazing black entrepreneurs to women-owned businesses.”
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