City of Washougal leaders are optimistic that they can achieve most or all of their primary objectives in 2022 as they continue to embrace “the new normal” created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel really good about where we are, given everything (that’s happened),” Washougal City Manager David Scott said. “Our prudent and conservative reaction to the uncertainty of the pandemic was wise, but in hindsight some of the negative economic impacts that we were looking at didn’t manifest to the extent that we had thought. There was a little bit (of impact), but nothing of the scope that we had thought. So as we enter 2022, we’re bullish on our projects and activities and looking forward to serving the community for another year.”
City council members have asked Scott to focus his efforts in 2022 to help the city make gains in the following areas:
Fire/emergency medical services
The nearly decade-long partnership between Camas and Washougal that formed the Camas-Washougal Fire Department (CWFD) in 2013 “has too many gaps to represent a sustainable model moving forward,” consultants told city officials during a virtual meeting on Thursday, Nov. 18.
Under the 10-year agreement that merged the two fire departments in 2013, Camas agreed to be the fire department’s main funding agency and pay roughly 60 percent of the department’s costs. Officials in both cities began to question the merger in 2018 after Camas city councilors agreed to add four new firefighter positions into the city’s 2019-20 budget.
Washougal councilors agreed the fire department was short-staffed and the positions were needed, but said their city could not afford to pay for 40 percent of the new hires. The issue came up again in 2020 after Camas leaders again said they were considering adding another four firefighters in the 2021-22 budget.
“For Washougal, it’s pretty telling,” Merina consultant Rob Moody told city officials on Nov. 18. “Based on what we believe the city of Washougal could raise in property taxes given the current rates … (paying the city’s share of the CWFD partnership in 2023 through 2028) is not sustainable for the city of Washougal. In order to come up with money for contributions to Camas, (Washougal) would have to increase tax rates or come up with another source of revenue.”
The consultants are now working on evaluating three primary alternatives: forming a regional fire authority; creating a fire district (with the possibility of combining with the East County Fire and Rescue district); and finding an alternative interlocal agreement that could include forming a governmental nonprofit organization to oversee the fire department.
“I would say everything is still equally on the table,” Scott said. “However, the consulting firm has determined that the current model probably isn’t sustainable, and something else is going to be necessary for us to successfully move forward together. That’s where these various alternatives are going to be evaluated through the filter of the criteria, and we’re all anxiously awaiting with much positive anticipation that there will be an alternative or two that will pop out of that analysis that makes the most sense. Most likely we’d have to talk to voters about (that).”
The Washougal Police Department will receive accreditation through the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs at some point in early 2022, according to Scott.
“(Being accredited) is a real sign of quality for a police organization,” Scott said. “We’re excited for that and proud of that group. Wendi’s doing a great job and the team does a great job. This accreditation will just be a confirmation of the good work that they do and the organization that they have. There were some vacancies and those are getting filled. We’ve been able to bring in some new officers, some who are lateral who have experience and others at entry level starting their careers for us. I feel very good about what’s happening (at the police department).”
The Schmid Ballfields enhancement project is under way and should be completed at some point early next year, “definitely in time for next baseball season,” according to Scott.
City leaders also hope to make some progress with their plans to construct a railroad underpass at 32nd Street. The estimated $50 million project “is one component of a significant multi-component economic development and safety project providing improved access to the Port of Camas-Washougal and the growing Washougal Town Center, a much needed grade-separated railroad crossing at 32nd Street, new connector streets in the Town Center and road improvements within the Port’s industrial park,” according to the city’s website.
“We have a few remaining funds that were appropriated by the state for some preliminary design, and we continue to pursue federal funding for the ability to get a complete design,” Scott said. “We’re hopeful that the infrastructure package that passed Congress recently and was signed by the president has significantly enhanced funding in the area of transportation, including rail crossing safety, and that it will provide a better opportunity for us to get some funding assistance, because a project like that is really beyond the ability of a community like Washougal to afford on its own. We’re really hopeful that we’ll be able to get that project moving beyond preliminary design over the next couple of years.”
The city will introduce an “enhanced” code compliance program in 2022, bolstered by the hiring of an additional compliance officer.
“(We want to help) folks that might have properties that are falling short of the community’s expectations in terms of their upkeep,” Scott said. “By enhancing our staff there, we’ll be able to in a targeted way where we can add the most value to the community, work with property owners to help them meet the community’s standards around aesthetics.”
The city will begin the process of updating its strategic plan in 2022.
“Our strategic plan was finalized in 2013, the culmination of months and months of work. It’s a 10-year plan through 2023, so the idea would be to initiate the update to that plan in 2022 and potentially sometime in 2023 adopt the next 10-year plan,” Scott said. “That’s a big deal, and we’re excited about that. We will be pulling together (requests-for-proposals) for that and trying to get that out on the street in the first quarter (of 2022) so that we can solicit responses and proposals and hopefully get someone on board to help us with that process. The council has earmarked some funding to do that.”
Scott told city council members during their Nov. 15 virtual workshop session that the city is planning to request funds from the Washington state legislature to help it pay for a construction project that would provide parking for Washougal’s new library.
“(The project) will involve improving our parking here at the civic center campus so there’s added parking for the library to the south, because it’s going to be a bigger library that needs more parking,” Scott said. “In addition to that, we hope to include some sort of small plaza-like feature around our community center — nothing big like the town square, but something small, an outdoor amenity in proximity to our community and senior center. Then also (we’d like) some kind of green amenity which hasn’t been determined yet. It could possibly be a small dog park. It could possibly be another community garden. It could possibly be some other green space amenity or some combination of things.
“We’re really excited about the library project moving forward and the role that we can play as a partner to help it by providing parking on our site. I think we’ll have a great story to share with our friends in the legislature about a great community asset that they could partner with us on.”