Council asked for public transport input

TONASKET – Officials from throughout the county were scheduled to gather Tuesday, July 31, in Omak to determine whether or not to put a sales tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund a more robust public transportation system throughout Okanogan County.
Tonasket City Planner Kurt Danison of Highland Associates said at the Tuesday, July 24, Tonasket City Council meeting that a Public Transportation Benefit Area Board – that had been inactive for around 15 years – met earlier that day to attempt to make that determination, but that not enough people had attended to make a decision.
“They commissioned a survey through Washington State University of 200 Okanogan County residents,” Danison said. “(According to the survey) well over 60 percent support a public transportation system.
“They also recommended the PTBA get back together and put on the ballot this fall for a (0.4 percent) sales tax.”
Danison went through a trio of tax options that the PTBA will choose from.
“One of the reasons for this, right now we have Okanogan County Transportation and Nutrition, which is 100 percent grant-funded,” he said. “The DOT has decided, and implementing over time, that the only transportation they will give grant dollars to will be those that are also supported, or part of a PTBA with local tax dollars going into it.”
That means that the current local transportation system is in jeopardy of being eliminated entirely.
“They need to determine if it going to be on the ballot, if so, how much will they ask for, and what will it say?” Danison said.
“My concern is, where are the numbers?” said Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plumb. “We can’t be doing this for 20 people.”
“The problem is that most people don’t know that it’s available,” Danison said. “(Schedule-wise) it’s not convenient for people who want to commute, and from year to year the schedule hasn’t been stable enough to develop a ridership.”
“I’ve got big misgivings,” Plumb said. “They’ve never been very forthcoming with the data that I’ve asked for…. I want data. We’re going to ask people for (at least) a three-tenths tax increase, and we’ve got two others on the agenda tonight.
“There’s a lot more need for criminal justice services than for this current bus for grandma to call up. And to be totally blunt and honest, they use those buses to do Democratic campaigning in these cities. That’s asinine, using public money to do that… We sent them $1,000 a year from here, and what are we paying for? There should be rules for saying no to that kind of crap.”
Danison encouraged Plumb to take his questions to the July 31 meeting.
“I’m concerned; there’s a lot of tax on this agenda,” Plumb said. “That only hurts our businesses.”
Danison pointed out that, as a sales tax, nearly 40 percent of that money comes from people outside the area.
“All we’re doing is putting it up for the voters,” he said. “This is not a vote for the tax itself. Also, when companies are looking for a place to locate, one of the things they look for is if there is public transportation.”
“If they were funded by this,” said council member Scott Olson, “they would get a stable fund that would serve these people, not just serving the places the grant comes from. I see advantages of that. I like the idea of the people getting more public transportation.”
Council member Selena Hines talked about her son’s frustration in trying to use the current system.
“His classes (at Wenatchee Valley Community College in Omak) didn’t start until 1:00 p.m.,” she said.
“He had to take the 8 a.m. bus, and wait in town, because the afternoon bus would make him late for class. He had no other transportation; I was at work and we have one vehicle.
“I think there’s a need.”
“The numbers thing hurts me,” Plumb said, and Olson agreed that the numbers were a concern.
“But I’m wondering if that has to do with the times that they’re riding,” Hines said.

Pool/Splash Park

The council also discussed both the status of the swimming pool and the separate, but related, splash park projects.
It was the third straight council meeting that the pool was on the agenda, but Plumb said he wanted to keep it there until a pool committee forms.
“We’re going on the consensus that the city doesn’t want to be the lead on this,” he said. “But if a recreational district forms, we could vote to be part of it.”
The council discussed with city attorney Mick Howe what would be involved with forming a recreational district to administer the construction and maintenance of a new pool.
Danison pointed out that at one time Brewster had a recreational district, but that it had dissolved, in part because it had never been able to pass a levy to fund its projects.
“You can never expect a pool to make money,” Danison said. “If it would, private industry would be building them all over the place. The committee needs to form first. A district is a big commitment. It’s a big undertaking to get it passed; it’s an even bigger undertaking to be able to pass levies and keep the thing operational.”
“Like I’ve said publicly before, even if someone dropped a new pool into the ground, perfectly running, there are still maintenance and operations costs, and depreciation … and insurance.”
City attorney Mick Howe said a new pool in Manson that had been funded by the Chelan PUD may not be able to stay open due to operations costs.
“They have a beautiful facility,” Howe said. “It was given to them, and they cannot afford to keep it open.”
“That’s why I’ve been advocating finding some angels out there and establishing an endowment fund,” Danison said. “If you’ve got that sewed up, that makes it easier to get it built.”
“We may have to take lead on calling the first, informational meeting,” Plumb said. “And if we’re (as a council) not completely signing it over, we need to be at the table.”
Olson mentioned that the splash park, with Linda Black spearheading the effort, had received a $25,000 donation to get the fundraising started.
“One of the options is to put it (on top of) the (existing) pool (in History Park),” Olson said. “You just save a lot of money by not having to dig a new hole. You don’t use the plumbing from the old pool. You don’t have to put in all the ADH stuff. You just have a spot to put a splash park, and it makes the whole process a lot easier.”
Attwood mentioned that what is under the pool isn’t known.
“That’s certainly an alternative,” Danison said. “The site’s already there with a flat deck, the fence and all those improvements…. The pool has been declared obsolete.
“The other spot we looked at is where the playground is.”
Plumb and Olson agreed they were excited about the splash park plans.
“If that happens, being where it is, with the kids’ stuff, that would be the ultimate right there, just having six and four-year-olds like I do,” Plumb said.

Airport Zoning

Danison also reported that meetings to determine airport zoning throughout the county have been continuing, involving the county commissioners and representatives from the various county airports.
Zoning restrictions around each airport are being tailored to their topography. A moratorium had been placed on building in certai
n areas around the airports, but that has since been lifted.
“The ‘zoning overlay’ map is based on state regulations,” Danison said, “but it’s customized by airport.”
Danison said he was pleased with the Tonasket zoning overlay map, noting that both the state and area pilots were motivated by the safety of people and structures on the ground.

Other items

Finally, the council approved Saturday, Sept. 22, as Fall Clean-up Day, when residents can drop off garbage or recycling in the parking lot near the recycling bins at Chief Tonasket Park.
Also, the council voted to put on the Nov. 6 ballot a resolution to increase the city sales and use tax by 0.1% (from 7.7% to 7.8%), with at least one-third of that dedicated for use for criminal justice or fire protection purposes.
The Tonasket City Council next meets on Tuesday, Aug. 14.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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