Council works on budget, parking
November 10, 2022
Members of the Cathlamet Town Council on Monday did some fine tuning to their preliminary 2023 budgets, worked on parking ordinances, and acted on several other items of business.
In opening remarks at the start of the meeting, Mayor David Olson announced he had contacted Governor Jay Inslee's office about potential conflicts of interest on the board that ranks applications for state recreational funding grants.
Two years ago, Olson said, the town applied to the state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) for a grant to fund the proposed Waterfront Park. The application was ranked 28th out of approximately 50 applications, he said, and the top 24 were funded.
Town staff polished the grant proposal and applied again this year, and the RCO rankings committee ranked the improved application in the 30's, Olson said.
Surprised and disappointed, Olson looked into the ranking process and discovered that seven of the 11 ranking committee members had also submitted grant applications, which received high ranking.
"I was thunderstruck," Olson commented.
Olson said he raised the issue with RCO staff and had no response. Next, he contacted the governor's office and had a meeting scheduled with them this week.
"It's not right for small, rural places like ours to be shut out of the process," he said.
The three council members present--Jeanne Hendrickson, Laurel Waller and Kermit Chamberlain--tackled a variety of budget issues and approved a 1% increase in the town's property tax levy.
The 1% increase is the maximum allowed under state law without calling for an election. The increase will be $830.53; the total property tax levy will be $83,883.52.
Other budget issues included:
Clerk/Treasurer Sarah Clark said she had withdrawn a request for additional clerical staff. "We can't afford it right now," she said.
The council members agreed to include a complete water meter replacement project in the budget, feeling the one-time project by a contractor would be less expensive in the long run than having the town water crew do the work over several years.
The council also agreed to include funding for improvements to paths in Queen Sally's Park and for the path leading from the Pioneer Community Center up the hill to Angle Street.
Staff and council members said it would be difficult to find funds for painting the library building and resurfacing its parking lot.
Council Members Waller and Hendrickson said they opposed Mayor Olson's request for a $30,000 appropriation to contract for an engineer's evaluation of the Columbia Saloon building.
Olson and others fear the building, which has been unused for many years, is a structural hazard; they say the engineering study would provide an expert's evaluation of the structure and help guide the town's approach to determining its future.
Waller commented she wouldn't want to have someone coming into her building to do such an evaluation. Hendrickson said she couldn't see that a concrete result would come from the expenditure.
During the public comment period, former Council Member Bill Wainwright warned against the expenditure. Previous inspections showed that the building is structurally solid, and the owner has made progress in other areas.
"I don't know why we would spend taxpayers' money to find out something we already know," he said.
Olson and Town Attorney Fred Johnson responded that the proposed evaluation would come from an engineer specializing in structural analysis who could provide expert testimony in court, if needed.
After much discussion, the council agreed to a suggestion from the Wahkiakum County Board of Commissioners to match their $3,000 appropriation to the Wahkiakum County Historical Society.
Mayor Olson said the appropriation should be given on condition that the society provide a budget showing how the money would be used and that the society add council and county commission members to its board of directors.
While the three-member council that was present could vote on some issues, Attorney Johnson said at least three votes, a majority of the five-member council, are needed to approve ordinances.
Consequently, approval of some ordinances was delayed Monday on split votes. Ordinances must be approved in three readings at different meetings; however, the second and third reading can be combined at a single meeting.
A proposed ordinance to allow town residents to have chicken and poultry was approved for the first reading, using Council Member Chamberlain's suggestion to require a minimum of 5 square feet of space for each animal.
The council also approved changes to the town ordinance regarding possession of firearms for first reading. Town Attorney Fred Johnson explained that state law preempts local firearms regulations, and the changes would make the town ordinance comply with state law.
Action on parking ordinances, however, was delayed because it became evident during discussion that they wouldn't receive the necessary three votes.
The council intends to restore parking regulations for Main and intersecting streets. Main Street parking would be limited to three hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
A second ordinance would regulate parking in the library parking lot, limiting it to library staff and patrons and to people using the Pioneer Community Center. Library staff would be authorized to monitor parking and issue citations.
Penalties would be $30 for the first violation, $50 for the second, $75 for the third, and $100 for the fourth and subsequent infractions in a calendar quarter, Johnson said.
Council Member Waller said she would vote against the ordinances.
"Cathlamet has a parking problem," she said. "I don't know how we'll solve it. This isn't a solution to our parking problem, and I think it's disruptive.