Tonasket Mayor, Council spar over comments

TONASKET – Should city residents comments count for more than those of non-residents that frequently use city facilities?

Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plumb and council member Jill Vugteveen differed sharply on that issue during the Tuesday, May 13, city council meeting as they verbally crossed swords over Plumb’s solicitation of Facebook comments regarding the possibility of Tonasket joining a county-wide mosquito district.

Plumb attempted to share some of the comments he received, but Vugteveen, and to a lesser extent Scott Olson, didn’t think Plumb’s approach was appropriate.

Plumb said he felt that while city residents’ comments needed to take priority, others needed to be considered as well, both because they use the city parks and because of the likelihood that efforts to rebuild the city swimming pool will depend on the ability to get the outlying communities to financially contribute to its construction and upkeep.

“The parks are not just for city residents,” Plumb said. “I’m depending on getting their money, their support for our pool. These are the types of comments (about mosquitos at the park) that I get. My Facebook is available for anyone to publicly peruse. MRSC says nothing that a mayor can’t do what I’ve done.”

“The pool is irrelevant,” Vugteveen said. “It has nothing to do with the mosquito district. You are bringing other issues in to prove a point and it’s wrong.”

“I guess I just value everyone’s opinion that interacts with the city,” Plumb said.

“Then value it, but don’t bring it to this forum where we have to make an educated decision for the taxpayers we represent,” Vugteveen said. “I’m not saying I don’t care about the opinions of the outlying area. I care about the people in the city limits that elected me to make a decision. (These comments) are irrelevant because they won’t pay if it’s voted in.”

“I understand why you’re doing it,” Olson said. “But I really am torn on the idea. Yes, the parks are a city service to the greater community. But we are proposing that the city residents keep those parks up and pay more to keep them mosquito free for the larger community. There is a point where we need to say, we’re running them, thanks for the idea, but how about chipping in some money?”

City Planner items

City Planner Kurt Danison reported on a number of items:

Danison submitted a grant application on behalf of the city to for approximately $70,000, requiring a $10,000 match by the city, that would deal with the city’s persistent problems with ADA access ramps downtown.

“The project would start late 2015 and be completed in 2016 (if it’s granted),” Danison said. “It would build ramps at Third, Fourth and Fifth on the west side of 97, and may replace one of the ramps that DOT put in without letting us know.”

He added that other ramps in the area were being replaced at the federal government’s expense, such as in Oroville and Okanogan, because federal dollars were previously used on road projects there.

“Federal ADA standards changed, so if there is federal money in the project and they so much as touched the curb it has to be brought up to standard,” Danison said. “Okanogan’s were built 2-3 years ago and they are all being replaced. It boggles the mind.”

He recommended the council pass a resolution aimed at examining the formation of an Okanogan Council of Governments.

“Mainly,” he said, “because it says you agree you’ll explore the formation, that you will form one. That’s an important distinction.”

County municipalities are examining that option after the North Central Regional Transportation Planning Organization recently broke up. The county, he said, is required to belong to an RTPO and joining a neighboring organzation (i.e. Stevens or Whatcom Counties) didn’t make much sense, so that other option was to form its own COG.

“There’s $28,000 a year that is our share of funds…” he said. “In order for those funds to come to the county, the discussion was, how do we do that? … If we form a council of governance – one seat for each city, and one for county – that would be an entity that would do the transportation planning.

“(However) I would suggest for $28,000, that’s not enough money to run a separate government organization. I’m in favor of something like it, but if you use the model of the other COGs they have a transportation function, land use function, and economic development function.”

The council unanimously approved the resolution to examine the OCOG option.

At Danison’s urging, the council’s water/sewer committee will meet with him and Linda Black’s Tonasket Water Ranch organization to discuss improvements needed at Chief Tonasket Park that were brought to light by the construction of the spray park.

“We need as a town to see what the water ranch needs to solve their issue, and what the town needs to add onto that to solve our own issues,” Danison said. “There are existing issues that are not their responsibility … we’re talking about what they need for their purposes, and what the cost to the city will be on top of that for things that we need to do anyway.”

Hope for park

Plumb mentioned that the Okanogan County Commissioners seemed to be willing to listen to possibilities regarding the creation of a south end entrance to Chief Tonasket Park. Access has been a major issue since the park’s creation.

“The commissioners made a proposal to public works,” Plumb said. “I think we may be closer to this because of the meeting we had with them last month … this is the furthest we’ve ever gotten in this conversation and I’m thankful that the commissioners are considering it.”

Other actions

The council also:

  • approved pay its annual $1,000 dues to the North Central Washington Narcotics Task Force (the City was also notified that those dues will double next year);
  • set June 10 as for a public hearing on a Community Development Block Grant application for Parry’s Acres’ sewer system;
  • approved appointment of Kurt Haskin to fill planning position that has been vacant since Dennis Brown resigned to join city council in 2012;
  • appointed Stacey Kester and James Moore to the Tonasket Library Board;
  • elected to put a one tenth of one percent hike in sales and use tax on the November ballot to offset rising criminal justice fees (that same tax narrowly failed in last fall’s election);
  • voted to accept an agreement with U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing Service grant for $15,200 for 50.28 percent funding for a new police car, along with a $12,700 USDA loan for the remainder of the cost;
  • and voted 3-1 (with Vugteveen opposed and council member Jean Ramsey absent) to approve a resolution that would include the City of Tonasket in the proposed Okanogan County Mosquito Control district, if the district as a whole is approved by voters.

The Tonasket City Council next meets on Tuesday, May 27 in the council chambers at 209 S. Whitcomb Ave.