Following a public hearing to get public comment, the Tonasket City Council voted its approval for the city to apply for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to partially fund the rehabilitation of the Parry’s Acres sanitary sewage collection system on Tuesday, June 10.
Though Parry’s Acres lies outside the city and was originally built and operated by Okanogan County more than 30 years ago, its sewage system was transferred to the city about 15 years ago.
Mark Varela, representing the city’s engineering firm Varela and Associates, estimated the cost of the project will be about $700,000.
He said that the chances of receiving the grant would be enhanced by the city’s ability to contribute its own funds (from the sewer reserve fund) to the project.
“When we apply, if we say we have $400,000 in the bank but ask for a 100 percent grant, we’re not going to get it,” Varela said. “If we say we have $400,000 and we’ll kick in $100,000, they’ll want to know what the other $300,000 is for….
“We need to show a pretty significant chunk of those reserves matching to do the Parry’s Acres improvements. When you do improvements in the city, Rural Development will make you spend it anyway. If you get the grant, you will have used the reserves to leverage the block grant.
“I’m not trying to push you, but the chances of getting the grant are nil unless you put in something decent. What is decent is up to you.”
Varela said that drawing the fund down had disadvantages, but that to get a grant that would cover about three quarters of the project cost the city would likely need to commit $200-225,000 of its own to the project.
“That would lead about $180,000 in reserves,” Varela said. “It’s a good chunk left, but I think we can explain why we need it there and it’s not so low that we’re all too scared.”
He added that if the city received the grant, but that something major happened with the city sewer system in the meantime that ate up the reserve fund, it wouldn’t have to accept the grant.
Varela said that it would also behoove the city to raise the sewer rates since the city is already seeing its reserves being drawn down slowly since rates haven’t kept up with rising costs.
City Clerk Alice Attwood said that the reserve fund hadn’t had to be used for much other than some interfund loans.
“If we don’t leverage this,” said Mayor Patrick Plumb, “we’ll just be forced to send it dollar for dollar instead of spending one dollar to get three. At this point the interest on those reserves is so small … right now it’s best to leverage it into something tangible.”
Asked council member Jean Ramsey, “Where else can you invest your money and get three times as much in return?”
“I feel that … we are to the point where we are attacking some big projects that are priorities of this council.”
The council approved 4-0 (Scott Olson was not in attendance) for Varela to apply for up to $750,000 in funding, while committing the city to up to $225,000 of reserve funds to match.
Varela added that the city needed to prioritize a list of future projects to justify holding onto the rest of the sewer reserve funds in preparation for questions that come up during the application process.
After a fair amount of discussion, the council decided to offer a one-time 50 percent forgiveness to three city water customers that received massive bills due to water leaks. The city currently has no fixed policy on how to deal with those kinds of bills other than leaks that occur on the consumer’s side of the water meter are their responsibility, while leaks on the street side of meters are the city’s problem.
Three customers appealed to the city to have their overage rates, which ranged from $500 to $4,200, including one for a customer who has since passed away.
“These three cases that have been here for quite awhile,” Attwod said. “I would really like some resolution to this.”
Council member Jill Vugteveen said that she had contacted other cities in the area and that most allowed customers to pay off overage fees over time, but that only Okanogan offered any kind of forgiveness.
Vugteveen had suggested a couple of options: one, to offer a one-time, 100 percent forgiveness to an account per 20-year period, or two, to offer a one-time, 50 percent forgiveness per 10-year period.
Council member Jean Ramsey moved to offer full forgiveness but wasn’t able to garner any support after Claire Jeffko rescinded her second.
“I reiterate, this is only for these three accounts,” Ramsey said. “Not anybody else. On of these the gentleman is deceased; another one is a single mom who is renting. I’m a bleeding heart, whatever. This is just these three accounts so Alice can clear it up. I’m more than open to 50 percent for a permanent policy.”
“We keep forgiving things that generate revenue for our city,” Vugteveen said. “To give 100 percent forgiveness, I don’t think we can continue to do that as a business. I’m not saying they deserve this, but to do it 100 percent, I’m afraid people will take advantage of that at some point.”
The council voted 3-1 to go with the 50 percent option for the three outstanding accounts, and that the portion of fees to be paid to the city could be done so over time. A permanent policy still needs to be established.
The council also:
- approved its six-year streets plan, which is reviewed and re-approved on an annual basis;
- was told by Police Chief Rob Burks that Officer Audra Fuller submitted her resignation, effective at the end of June;
- and approved the placement of a storage shed a the north end of the city library and painted to match the main building.
The Tonasket City Council next meets on Tuesday, June 24, at 7:00 p.m.