Town council tackles budget, thorny issues


December 9, 2021

It wasn't easy, but the Cathlamet Town Council ploughed through a variety of business Monday evening, ranging from Butler Street parking lot redesign to initial approval of the 2021 town budgets.

Council members received a report from John Hinton of Gray and Osborne Engineers outlining potential areas for sewer system expansion. They include:

--The vicinity of the intersection of SR 4 and the Elochoman Valley Road,

--Greenwood Hill,

--Up North Jacobson Road,

--Olive Drive off of Columbia Street,

--The Rosedale Height area up Boege Road, and

--Fern Hill.

The next steps, Hinton said, are to really nail down the cost benefit for property holders and to survey them to see what interest they might have in converting from a septic sewer system to the municipal sewer system.

"The benefit needs to exceed the cost to make the project worthwhile," Hinton said.

Hinton said the firm would proceed with the analysis and report again at a future meeting.

By a 3-2 vote, the council approved a final design for development of the Butler Street parking lot.

At their November meeting, the council asked designer Audrey West to increase the number of parking spaces in the lot from the nine shown in the preliminary design.

The unimproved lot now holds approximately 20 vehicles; the preliminary design had cut that down to nine as improvements including an informational kiosk, electric vehicle (EV) charging station, handicapped parking space and bioswale were added.

Adding more spaces proved to be impossible, West said.

"We looked at all patterns, and this is the best we can do," she said.

The key factor, she said, was the buffer zone requirement around the location of the EV station; the required slope for the ADA compliant parking space was also a limitation.

The town has received a grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation to help fund the EV station, and the town is contractually obligated to begin installation this month.

Council Members Bill Wainwright and Robert Stowe were unhappy with project design and the reduction in the number of parking spaces along Main Street.

"I think we're a little tone deaf going forward with this," Wainwright said. "I've been against this since day one; I'm of the opinion that we should leave the lot as is."

"This is an expensive rabbit hole," Stowe said. "Parking is the number one concern and we're taking parking away."

Council Members Cecilia Raglin, David Olson and Laurel Waller supported the design.

Olson reviewed the history of the project going back to 2019 and the need to approve the design so that the EV charging station installation could begin.

"We're in a binding agreement with WSDOT to implement the contract," he said. "This is a very significant grant . . . for the only high power EV station in this area."

Waller said she had concerns about parking that need to be addressed, but she wanted to move forward with development of the lot for short term parking and amenities for visitors.

Wainwright and Stowe expressed displeasure with the process that led to the design.

"I hope that in the future we make sure we don't sign contracts before we've all the elements addressed," Wainwright said.

"You are highjacking our council; it's not okay," Stowe said to Olson.

Raglin, Olson and Waller voted to approve the design; Wainwright and Stowe voted against approval.

By a 4-1 vote, the council approved acceptance of a $20,000 grant from the Washington State Historical Society for improvements to the Pioneer Cemetery. The town will contribute $60,000 to the project, which may come in in-kind contribution instead of money.

The grant will help finance replacement of the existing chain link fence with decorative wrought iron fencing, new signs, repairs to headstones, and design and installation of a Chinookan memorial in partnership with the Chinook Indian Nation.

The cemetery, located adjacent to Thomas Middle School, contains graves of early Cathlamet residents, including Chief Wahkiakum and James Birnie and his family.

Wainwright was an early supporter of the project but now opposes it.

"What started as a simple gesture to help the cemetery district to do some general clean up . . . and now we're legally and financially hooked up," he said. "We went from helping the cemetery district to a huge involvement in something we don't even own.

"We should not accept the grant and [instead] put together a couple work parties . . . without these contract obligations and costs."

"I personally like it that we got the grant, and I'm delighted that we can do in-kind," Waller said. "The people in the cemetery lived in Cathlamet."

Stowe, Olson, Raglin and Waller voted to accept the grant; Wainwright opposed.

The council voted 3-2 for 2022 budgets in their first reading of the 2022 budget ordinance (the ordinance to adopt the budget must be on the agenda at two separate meetings; it will be addressed again at the Dec. 20 meeting).

Stowe and Wainwright had objections and voted against adoption.

Both objected to an appropriation to the Wahkiakum County Historical Society that had been requested by Olson, who is a member of the society board of directors.

The council already contributed to the society in 2021, Stowe said, which he understood that to be a one-time request, and he doubted the 2022 request to support personnel would be the last.

Wainwright agreed, adding that he worried that the funding wasn't for a specific use.


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