Tonasket City Council hears water woes

“We could not have anticipated our good well breaking down in the middle of summer.” Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plum

City Airport in need of repairs

TONASKET – The Tonasket City Council’s Nov. 10 meeting was advertised as the Final Budget Hearing for the 2016 Budget, but had just a few more loose ends to tie up before putting the final stamp of approval on it; including final decisions on how to distribute Hotel/Motel Tax funds.

The council approved raising the water rates five percent rather than two percent.

Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plumb
Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plumb

“We had two wells break down and spent much of our water reserve on taking care of this, so I need some money coming in to rebuild that reserve,” Mayor Patrick Plumb said. “We could not have anticipated our main, good well breaking in the middle of the summer. I am very cognizant this increase affects low income people, but I can’t propose not being smart with this money. We are playing on the edge of the knife with this. This was our second-newest well that broke, and our best producer. I don’t know if you want to play Russian Roulette on the infrastructure failing. We need to make this small, ongoing sacrifice rather than a huge sacrifice all at once.”

Plumb went on to say the well breaking down was an unanticipated disaster.

“As a municipal business, we are getting into danger land,” stated Plumb. “Other municipalities have waited for things to blow up, and and when they did their rates went up more than five percent. I apologize for the water rates having to go up, but as a municipality as a business, we are in danger.”

The final budget hearing was then closed.

“We made some good progress on the budget,” said Plumb afterward. “I’m glad they (council members) finally listened to me on a flat-rate increase for employees. It won’t cost the city any more, but it will re-distribute the wage increase to avoid catching up in the future.”

The council had been asked to consider either a one percent COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) for each employee or a flat increase of the same amount of the percent increase equally among employees.

Plumb was also happy to report the city’s health insurance contribution had “stayed flat for the first time in my history as mayor.”

Lee Orr of the Tonasket Airport Improvement Association approached the council to say he would like to see some more money budgeted towards the airport.

“We have a lot of needs that have been put off for quite a few years,” said Orr, adding they would soon be needing a new septic system as the one in place is at least 50 years old.

“It’s pretty important, because when pilots fly in, that is the first thing on their minds,” Orr said.

Council member Scott Olson pointed out that for visitors flying in, the airport provided the first impression of Tonasket, as it was the first thing they saw.

Orr said a ‘big draw’ of the Tonasket Airport was having a pilots lounge and courtesy car.

“Any time you see the courtesy car in town, someone is there spending money,” Orr said.

The next priority for the airport, Orr pointed out, was to repair the cracks in the runway.

Olson suggested other agencies using the airport could chip in on costs.

“MedStar is charging thousands and thousands of dollars to come in and get people, on the backs of the city. We also need to look at talking to the Forest Service; they need to come to the table too, as we are providing a service for them,” Olson said.

Orr said it would be good to have another designated helicopter pad or two, as “those heavy helicopters did sink into our asphalt. It would be good to have a concrete pad or tow. MedStar is a real asset when time is of the essence. They are much faster than an ambulance,” said Orr. “We would like to get some of the extra money that came to the city from the airport being used to fight the fires.” Council member and Forest Service Employee Jill Vugteveen pointed out the Forest Service paid for those services, and council member Claire Jeffko said the council had discussed using some of that money to meet some of the airport’s needs.

“I remember way back when all of us were picking rocks so the runway could go in,” said Jeffko. “The airport is a very important thing, and if we lose that we are going to lose the quality of life.”

“This council still strongly feels the airport is important,” said Plumb afterward. “We would like to see if we can get the County Commissioners to allow spending of some of the economic development money that has been set aside.”

Plumb was referring to money accumulating from one-tenth of one percent of sales taxes that would normally go to the State being allowed to be kept by economically depressed counties.

“The counties hold the money and determine a split,” said Plumb. “It’s hard to estimate the amount they collect yearly, other than to say somewhere between zero and one million dollars. In the past, Tonasket has been able to use it for the Third Street stormwater project, and to purchase the TVBRC (Tonasket Visitor and Business Resource Center). We could use that money to leverage other opportunities, for example an electric car charging station.”

City Planner Kurt Danison said he thought repairs to the runway hadn’t been made since 2010.

Plumb asked if the state would consider financing another 1,000 feet of runway.

“No, they are not going to buy roads or anything like it,” Danison said, adding that the airport was not eligible for any federal funds. “If we extend the runway, it extends the area that needs to be protected under land use laws, and there is a lot of opposition to it at the county commissioner level.”

Danison said he didn’t know if the county commissioners would release any of the sales tax funds yet.

“It has been two or three years since they have given any away. There is a bond being paid off; a three million dollar bond sold 15 years ago, and all that money was distributed,” said Danison. “They keep two years worth of bond payments and some other payments, but there is still a million dollars left after that.”

Danison was referring to Oroville’s Veranda Beach project.

The criteria for scoring projects submitted to the Economic Alliance “looks at what you have in hand; if you have matching funds,” said Danison.

In other city council news, Plumb said he continues going to Okanogan County Council of Governments (OCOG) meetings and to Okanogan County Transportation Authority meetings (TranGo) to represent the interests of Tonasket. Plumb said TranGo was planning to house some of the buses in Tonasket in order to provide better service to North County residents. Plumb said one plan was to run a bus up Highway 7, and down Highway 97.

“Brent Timm is the Operations Manager, and I am really pleased with his work ethics. He will just jump in and sub for drivers, so I see him as a working manager,” said Plumb.

The contract for Moreno and Nelson as contractors on the Pedestrian Bridge Project near the U.S. Armed Forces Legacy Park was approved. Work is expected to begin in the early spring.