City of Washington Sign

The Washington sales tax committee had no issue backing several potential projects, but other proposals need more discussion.  

Tuesday afternoon the Washington’s sales tax committee began selecting projects it would like to see completed if voters approve an eight-year extension of the tax. The commission ran through the list of proposed projects and offered a quick thumbs up or a request for additional debate.

The sales tax committee has been tasked with narrowing down the list of 33 proposed projects. The projects carry an estimated $18.3 million price tag and City Administrator Darren Lamb said the goal is to have the total project costs come in at between $16 and $16.5 million based on revenue projections.

Supported Projects

After the first pass through the list, 15 projects got full support from the commission and 17 received requests for further discussion. Only one project, electric car charging stations for Downtown Washington ($20,000), was eliminated.

The 15 commission-backed projects were storm siren replacement ($280,000); a new fire station for the eastern portion of the town ($2.1 million); a new pumper truck for the fire department ($525,000); breathing equipment for firefighters ($250,000); fire department technology upgrades ($125,000); public safety communications upgrades ($824,600); infrastructure for a new industrial park ($1 million); parks roof repairs ($75,000); Lions Lake pavilion upgrades ($200,000); Ronsick Field improvements ($350,000); city network computer upgrades ($500,000); public works and parks storage facilities ($750,000); fairgrounds main stage roof ($400,000); fairgrounds fencing ($100,000); and phase two of the skate park ($150,000).

The approval of the skate park project at first was not viewed as a priority by committee members. When the city staff ranked projects, phase two of the park was one of the lowest-ranked projects and placed on the low priority list.

Committee member Diane Jones initially argued against funding the project, but she and others were swayed by park board member Tessie Steffens and Police Chief Ed Menefee.

The project would include fixing cracking concrete and a new surface to make things safer. Steffens said the park has been requested by parents in the community since the 1980s and was only half finished.

Menefee said since the park’s creation, property damage reports have dropped dramatically. He said having a skate park gives kids that want to skate a place to do it safely and legally that doesn’t bother anyone else in the community.

Menefee said if the park were to go away, skaters would go back into other areas to skate where they’re not welcomed.

After Menefee spoke, the committee unanimously supported the park renovations.

The 15 supported projects would cost an estimated $7,629,600.

Further Discussion

Of the 17 projects tabled for later debate, those most talked about Tuesday dealt with water.

A new water tower and the city pool were discussed at length by the committee.

Member Dan Cassette said he saw the need for a new water tower ($1 million) and sewer slip lining ($750,000), but wasn’t sure if the sales tax was the right place to fund them.

Cassette said it had been years since water rates had been raised and questioned if those two projects could be paid for by adjusting the rates.

Lamb said the city has no plans in place to adjust the rates, but did say it would be something to consider. Water rates were last adjusted in 2010.

Before he retired last year, former City Administrator Jim Briggs told the board of public works it would need to raise water rates by 2020 based on revenue projections.

By 2020, Briggs projected the water fund to end the year with a deficit of $116,200.

No action was taken on the water tower or the slip lining. The committee also took no action on a pool project, even though there seemed to be a consensus that it is a need.

Board member Kurt Voss and Jones said the board needed to reach an agreement on what type of pool they’d be attempting to sell to voters.

Jones, since the formation of the committee, has been pushing for an indoor facility that would get more use than the current pool and could be used by competitive teams. Voss said voters would just want to know what they could get if they approve the tax.

Jones also requested a study and a promise that a committee would be formed to ensure the new pool would be built properly.

Other tabled items dealt with city parks and requests from Downtown Washington Inc. Committee member Chris Eckelkamp suggested just lumping similar projects together and picking a dollar amount.

For example, six Downtown Washington projects could be combined and the committee could set a number for what it would be comfortable allocating to the projects.

Eckelkamp said the committee could then tell voters a certain number would be allocated for downtown improvements.

One tabled project, a request for funds to upgrade the city’s airport, actually prompted the commission adding money.

The city had originally requested $500,000 for airport upgrades, but that number has been trimmed to $150,000.

The commission seemingly agreed to back that project, but wasn’t sure if more money was needed. Eckelkamp said if the new industrial park was needed to lure in new businesses, the airport should likely be upgraded as well. The committee agreed to look at raising the number allocated to that project.

The 17 tabled projects carry an estimated $10,655,000 price tag. Combined with the money allocated to approved projects and factoring in the $20,000 cut from the list, the committee still needs to cut about $1.8 million to get under revenue estimates.

That number may be fairly easy to obtain. A request by the Fair Board to build a $1.6 million multipurpose building ranked last on the city’s priority list and didn’t appear to have much support at Tuesday’s meeting.

Next Meeting

With several projects still left on the table, the committee agreed to keep meeting and paring down the list.

The committee agreed to meet Wednesday, Jan. 17, at noon in the city council chambers to resume the discussion.