Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler recently discussed her campaign for a third term with The North Coast News and The Daily World.
Asked to name the main challenges Ocean Shores faces, she immediately responded, “We need additional health care.” And on the challenge of maintaining adequate Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for a growing population, she said firmly, “I will do whatever it takes.”
A $1.4 million SAFER Grant increased firefighter/EMS staffing from 12 to 19, a 58% increase, in 2016. But an independent ambulance utility study published the next year put the desired staffing level at 32. Reaching that level would mean adding 13 more positions, a 68% increase over the current staffing.
Late in 2017, the City Council approved an increase in the ambulance utility fee so the additional positions hired in 2016 would remain and staffing would continue at 19.
Dingler said council members at the time said that “they were never going to let us get in that situation again where we had to bring on so many people at once and it’s such a kind of shock to the system.
“I bring that up to them frequently, because I think that we should be bringing on three, one for every shift, every couple of years until we’re comfortable that we have the right numbers.” She added, “I think 32 is really ambitious.” However, she noted Ocean Shores’ older population and rapid growth and said, “I work in the fire station,” (several city offices are in that building) “I see how busy those guys are, how often the tones go off and how often they’re all out on call.”
Asked if it came down to it, would she actively support increasing the ambulance utility or dipping into the city’s general fund, she said, “I will do whatever it takes for us to have an adequate number of people,” and doing it incrementally in sets of three “is the way to go.”
All of the dozen candidates for city office have at least mentioned looking for ways to ease the burden on EMS, with a walk-in/urgent care clinic being widely desired. Dingler said an increase in the Medicare and Medicaid rates that Grays Harbor Community Hospital can collect makes something like that out here possible.
Another possibility, she said, is, “Would the Quinault (Indian Nation) be interested in opening up a clinic here, because they get an even higher amount and that would make it more viable. There are Quinaults living in this area and they could have a clinic that serves both members of the tribe and others.” She said the idea came from State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, who she said is very pleased with the native clinic he uses. She said her role as mayor is to facilitate efforts and that if there would be some cost to the city, that would be a council decision.
On the topic of growth, again, all candidates have spoken in favor of “managed growth.” Dingler noted that some key components, like the Shoreline Master Plan, have been put in place in recent years, and others, like the city’s updated Comprehensive Plan that the Planning Commission is working on, are coming soon.
“Then we can sit down as a council and mayor and really do some planning, have public meetings and work with folks on how we want to see things go,” she said.
She noted public concern for green spaces, lot clearing and related code enforcement and said even though the city is less than half built out, “so we have lots of habitat for animals, which most people want … they’re concerned we’re cutting way too many trees. She said often, “that’s what happens” when land is developed, and “what we can do best is to zone well and perhaps … encourage businesses that fit in our community,” but, ultimately, “as long as people build within code they have the right to do what they want.”
Dingler said a new position created in response to the huge uptick in lot clearing and building applications is the senior city planner, who starts Nov. 1. “He will be in charge of that arena and he will make recommendations to us based upon his experience of what we should do or what’s doable or not.
“If he thinks that yes, indeed, we should be doing more of that then we’ll have to see how we can do more,” which would end up before council.
Elected first in 2011, a year after being appointed to a vacancy on the Ocean Shores City Council, Dingler took office when the city had less than $100,000 in available funds and had its borrowing power cut back to nothing with a massive property devaluation, one of the effects of the recession. She said she was pleased to be part of bringing the city back to a tenable financial status. She also noted that her administration has recently launched an economic development department. She also said 2020’s Ocean Shores 50th anniversary celebration that is currently in the planning stages is expected to offer a lot of events and activities that should bring visitors and showcase what the community has to offer.
She spoke in favor of the proposed ferry between Ocean Shores and Westport, noting that the Quinault tribe just recently put the old marina at the south end of the Ocean Shores peninsula up for sale. She said a planning meeting will take place this winter and grant funding would be needed to make the ferry float.
On other topics, she is opposed to increasing the 90-day camping limit, doesn’t think tiny houses are appropriate for the community and is against expanding overnight rentals in residential zones.
“One the things I think is really important is sort of the core of what we did during the recession to keep the water flowing, to keep the sewer working, to keep those core things going. So, infrastructure is really important and … we’re still playing catch-up on things we didn’t do and there’s just a whole variety of things, so I think those are important things that we will continue to do the infrastructure things.”
Dingler listed several things that should draw the city’s attention, including improvement to parks, the ferry project, a dog park, public restrooms, “lots of things to do, lots of infrastructure things, lots of other things that make it nicer for people who are paying the taxes … and of course, health care is a primary thing.”