Washougal 2016 budget is approved

Parks and street projects are included

The Washougal City Council has approved a $48.24 million budget for 2016.

The unanimous approval last night includes funding to hire an additional police officer ($100,000 for salary, benefits, supplies and equipment), as well as the purchase of two utility vehicles for the Washougal Police Department ($45,000 each) and a patrol passenger car ($28,000).

The budget includes $600,000 to purchase the former site of George Schmid & Sons, Inc., at 1407 32nd St. The city is expected to develop the 17.88-acre property as a park.

The budget has $500,000 for the city’s pavement management program. Utility capital projects include the design of a reservoir ($1.5 million), wastewater treatment plant improvements ($5 million), waterline replacements ($1 million) and 39th Street drainage improvements ($750,000).

Additions to the Hartwood playground ($179,000) are planned, with $79,000 of that being grant funding. A pump track at Hamllik Park is projected to cost $32,000, with $5,000 coming from the Parks Foundation of Clark County. The addition of sidewalks on the west side of 34th Street, from Evergreen to “J” Street, and on Evergreen Way, from 34th to 36th streets, are among the transportation projects.

The 2016 budget includes cost of living adjustment increases of 1.3 percent for city directors, managers, supervisors and the assistant to the mayor and city administrator.

Negotiations are continuing with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 307W regarding the salaries of other city employees.

Washougal police officers will receive a 2.5 percent increase in pay in 2016.

Proposed budget amendments rejected

There are several items that City Councilman Dave Shoemaker proposed be removed from the 2016 budget during the Nov. 9 council meeting. None of his amendments were approved.

They included the proposed withdrawal of $7,500 for the Children’s Home Society.

Shoemaker did not favor the “cash subsidy,” since the city is already paying for elevator maintenance, janitorial support, and water, sewer and electric services for the building at 1702 “C” St.

“The charitable enterprise should be done on the county level, not the city,” he said. “The city does not have the tax base for it.”

Councilman Paul Greenlee said one of the stipulations of the city receiving Community Development Block Grant funding for renovations and additions in 2007 is that the East County Family Resource Center building continue to be used for the community’s benefit for 20 years or the city would have to repay the CDBG funding.

Greenlee said more than 30 agencies operate from the East County Family Resource Center, and more than 40 people work there.

“Providing $7,500 for the Children’s Home Society to keep the building open 40 hours a week and managing it is a great deal that I support,” Greenlee said.

“Others could step up, if the Children’s Home Society left,” Shoemaker said.

Councilwoman Connie Jo Freeman said the operation of the resource center could be put out to bid, or the city could contact non-profits in the county.

“Be open to other options,” she said.

Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay said the Children’s Home Society is vital.

“If it’s not broken, why fix it?” she asked. “It is a good resource, and I support it.”

Freeman repeated her concern from 2013 about the Children’s Home Society sending women who think they might be pregnant to organizations that could refer them to places that provide abortions, rather than referring them to “family-friendly organizations.”

“The Children’s Home Society has a wonderful purpose,” Freeman said. “It provides family counseling. Some very good things are going on there.”

The $7,500 from the city goes to providing the salary and benefits for the East County Family Resource Center coordinator.

Shoemaker’s proposal to delete city funding for the Children’s Home Society was defeated 2 to 3, with Freeman providing the second “yes” vote.

Councilors Brent Boger and Jennifer McDaniel had excused absences from the meeting.

Shoemaker also proposed the deletion of $5,000 that would continue a spay and neuter program for feral cats conducted by volunteers from the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society.

That amendment failed 2 to 3, with Freeman providing the second “yes” vote.

Shoemaker also wanted to close a utility assistance account that helps pay water bills.

“The city is not in the business of charity,” he said.

Lindsay said funding for the assistance account comes from utility late fees, not taxes.

“It is not an abused program,” she said.

Freeman was concerned that area residents have not contributed to the utility assistance account.

“There are non-profits in place to help,” she said. “It is not a city project.”

Greenlee said the city’s finance committee reviews applications, and the maximum amount of assistance is $250 per year, per address.

Lindsay said water is used to flush toilets, bathe and wash dishes.

“This [utility assistance account] helps people stay in homes,” she said. “It makes a difference.”

Shoemaker said the money in the account could instead be used to reduce water rates.

The vote to eliminate the utility assistance account failed 2 to 3, with Freeman providing the second “yes” vote.

Shoemaker’s final amendment would have involved Washougal withdrawing from its inter-local agreement with the Port of Camas-Washougal and the city of Washougal, to fund the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association.

Each year, the port pays $100,000, and Camas and Washougal pay $50,000 each, for the services of CWEDA President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Dennis.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten our money’s worth,” Shoemaker said. “$50,000 could go to pave streets.”

Greenlee said CWEDA advertises the community and brings businesses to the area.

Councilwoman Michelle Wagner said Washougal could evaluate the CWEDA agreement in a year or two.

Freeman said an agency could be hired to provide the services that CWEDA offers.

Lindsay said she was initially skeptical about the formation of CWEDA, but then she met with Dennis.

“He is intelligent and capable, and the community is getting exposure,” she said.

The amendment to delete Washougal’s funding of CWEDA failed, with Shoemaker voting in favor of it.