Cathlamet town officials are looking for support from Wahkiakum County commissioners for a plan to assist temporary relocation of the Blanche Bradley Library and encourage connection to an unused sewer main.
The town wants to relocate the library temporarily later this year while the old Town Hall is remodeled. A library advisory committee has recommended renting spaces in the Cathlamet Food Mart building in Rosedale.
Septic sewer systems in that area, including that building's, have limitations, and town officials have proposed a plan to reduce connection fees as an incentive to get the building and others in the neighborhood to connect to the unused main.
Connection fees outside the city limits are set at $8,000 per unit, with $3,000 set to go to Wahkiakum County, which loaned the town $252,830 to construct the line seven years ago.
Town officials are considering a proposal to lower their portion of the connection fee to $100 as an incentive to get people to connect, and they met with county commissioners Tuesday to present the plan and ask if commissioners would also consider lowering their fee.
Commissioners Lisa Marsyla, Dan Cothren and Blair Brady expressed reservations about the proposal but said they would consider it at their April 17 meeting.
Town sewer rates
Earlier Tuesday, town officials said they are looking for ways to spread the cost of the town's sewer system over a larger population.
The town has started construction of a new $8.5 million waste water treatment plant, and even with grants and low interest loans, rates to the system will need to increase to cover cost of construction and future operations.
Council Member Dick Swart said the council's Public Utilities Committee (Swart and Council Member Bob Rendler) have studied rates and analysis from a consultant and will recommend adoption of an ordinance with a variety of changes at the council's meeting on Monday.
One proposal, Swart reported, will be to make connection fees a flat $100 across the board.
Another will be a schedule of increases that will raise rates in town from the current $45 to $80 by June, 2014, and for out of town customers from $58 to $93 to pay for the new plant.
The goal, said Swart and Wehrfritz, is to have more customers using the system and thus spread the finance cost across a larger base and keep it under $100 per customer unit.
The branch main was constructed for several purposes.
A developer proposed a housing project on land adjacent to Skyline Golf Course, and the development needed a municipal sewage system, not individual septic systems.
Septic systems in the area have long had trouble because the soil has lots of clay and doesn't drain well.
Commissioner Dan Cothren supported the project seven years ago, saying the poor drainage limits development up the hill. People have to have two lots, he said, one for their house and one for their septic system.
However, Wehrfritz and Swart said, because of the high connection cost, no one has yet connected. Also, the recession brought the housing industry to a halt.
The remodel of the town hall, which includes the library, will probably start in late summer, and library advisors have recommended moving the collection to a new place to keep the library open.
"In late 2011, the library board formed a committee to identify a temporary space," Librarian Connie Christopher wrote in a letter to the commissioners. "We brainstormed a long list and contacted owners. In our opinion, of all the possibilities, the spaces next to the Shell station on SR 4 would work best. This is based on square footage, parking, and access from the school."
Cheryl Nelson, secretary of the library foundation, wrote that the foundation has donated $55,000 to the library remodeling project and urged county support of the proposal.
Specifically, Wehrfritz wrote in a letter to the commissioners Tuesday, "the search committee is requesting that the Town and the County waive all sewer hook up fees for the mini mall . . . The owner of the facility, Jarnail Mann, is unable to afford connections."
The mini mall has five units, officials said, so the connection fee would be $35,000 or more. With the fee reduction, Mann could afford the connection through rental revenue from the town for the library space.
Commissioners weren't very supportive of the concept when they heard it on Tuesday.
"I have a slight problem," said Commissioner Blair Brady. "This is a loan you said you'd repay. We've never received a dime on the $252,000."
Commissioner Lisa Marsyla said she was taken aback to learn of the proposal on the meeting day and that she felt the town should have involved the commissioners much earlier in the process.
"I'm very supportive of the library, but you've muddied up the whole thing," she told Wehrfritz.
She added that she felt that by giving one customer a break, they would be setting a precedent for conditions that all others would want.
Commissioner Dan Cothren agreed that a precedent would "open a big can of worms."
"We need to be at the table," Cothren said.
Marsyla said there could be other ways to amortize the loan and handle connection fees, and she would want to work with the town on them.
She also wanted a summary from the county health department on reports on the current status of the building's septic system.
"We'll discuss this again next week," Cothren said.
More to come
Wehrfritz emphasized to commissioners that it is up to them to maintain or reduce their connection assessment. The town will reduce its fees to encourage connections.
"What do we have to do to get people to hook into the system?," he asked.