We all know that great things are often accomplished as a result of teamwork, rather than ‘going it alone’ as they say. That is certainly true when it comes to local government and our ability to work together with our neighbors. That is why I am excited about a new effort to collaborate more with the four counties north of us in what we are referring to as the SWISS (Snohomish, Whatcom, Island, Skagit, San Juan) Counties workgroup.
We kicked off SWISS at our inaugural meeting on August 20th where elected officials from all 5 counties met to discuss ways to partner on the common issues we face. We had great discussions about how the group could function and bring value to each of our counties. We all agreed that consensus building and identifying our common challenges and goals will help us be successful in our efforts.
The five-county region already coordinates in some efforts. The North Sound Behavioral Health Associated Service Organization (NSBH-ASO) is a collaborative organization that contracts with the State of Washington to provide behavioral health and crisis intervention services to our residents. By partnering as a 5 county region, we are able to leverage more dollars efficiently to address the needs in our communities.
We also work together as a region as part of the Washington State Emergency Management Division. Our 5 counties coordinate our disaster preparedness plans and are ready to help support each other in case of catastrophic events.
The SWISS effort is intended to build on these existing relationships to expand our coordination on service delivery as well as advocacy to the legislature on issues that affect all of us. The thinking behind this is that we can be more successful at affecting policy at the state level and bringing funding back to our communities if we speak as one voice.
One example of this that affect North Snohomish County residents is rural broadband. All 5 of the SWISS counties have rural areas that are underserved by broadband. With the COVID-19 crisis and expansion of tele-commuting and remote education, it has become clearer than ever that we need expanded broadband service to our rural areas. By partnering as a region, we can potentially attract more attention to this issue and investment into the needed infrastructure to address this pressing need.
Transportation is another area where collaboration with our neighbors to the north can help us be more successful in our advocacy efforts. Many workers travel through multiple counties to get to and from work every day. Tourists make their way through all of our counties to enjoy the natural beauty and attractions we have. By working together to identify transportation projects and priorities that do not stop at county boundaries, we can work to create a more seamless transportation system in our region.
I am excited about the opportunities ahead working with the SWISS group. I appreciate the time and efforts of my fellow elected officials and look forward to working with them to produce better solutions for all of our residents.
Nate Nehring is a member of the Snohomish County Council and represents District 1 which includes Arlington, Darrington, Granite Falls, Marysville, Stanwood, and unincorporated north county. He can be reached by email at Nate.Nehring@snoco.org or by phone at 425-512-4810.