News

Some big decisions are due in 2005

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

The next 12 months aren't shaping up to offer anything too flashy for Enumclaw residents - face it, there's just nothing sexy about sewage - but it's still being viewed as an important year in municipal circles.

The city isn't planning anything that will create a big splash, like 2003's million-dollar downtown Streetscape project. But some of the decisions made will impact local residents for years to come, particularly in the pocketbook.

Speaking of money, it's expected the largest public works project in Enumclaw history will get rolling in earnest during 2005. Expansion of, and improvements to, the city's sewage treatment plant have been talked about for years, and design work has been done. There are still details to be ironed out, but City Administrator Mark Bauer figures construction could start as early as spring. The construction window could extend as long as two years, he said, meaning the upgraded plant wouldn't be up and running until the spring of 2007.

Sewage plant improvements will shape Enumclaw developments in the years to come, as the city now exists under a building moratorium. Only limited growth is allowed until the city cleans up the plant output, which is pumped directly into the White River. Particularly because the river is home to salmon, the state is very picky about what goes into the water.

Upgrading the treatment plant is an ambitious project, and that can be translated to mean "expensive." The project, once pegged at $16 million, has grown by at least $10 million in recent years, and some in city circles are wondering if it will eventually reach the $30 million mark.

The only certainty is city ratepayers will foot most of the bill. About $1 million is available in cash reserves, and the rest will come from loans which will need to be repaid. A rate study is in the works, Bauer said, adding it's likely the council will have to address a rate increase in 2005.

Some have wondered why rates haven't been bumped up gradually, to avoid severe sticker shock when a major rate increase comes through.

City voters will go to the polls Feb. 8 to determine if they want to upgrade their fire protection. The local fire department had asked - as part of its 2005 budget request - that two permanent, full-time firefighters be added to the force; also, as part of the request, it was asked that a half-time dispatch position be increased to full-time status.

Instead of increasing property taxes to pay for the additional staffing, which they could legally have done, council members opted to place the decision in the hands of the voting public.

The February ballot measure will ask that property taxes be increased by 9.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The additional tax bite would be $18.60 annually on the owner of property assessed at $200,000.

If the measure passes, additional tax collections wouldn't begin until January 2006, Bauer said. But, he added, the city would likely not wait to make the staff additions; there would have to be some tinkering with the budget, he said, to make money available in 2005 for the added personnel.

Other items getting city attention during the year to come are ongoing efforts to lure tourists to Enumclaw and the continuing desire to see a Welcome Center built in town.

The city spent $40,000 this year on a professional study of what Enumclaw has to offer and what needs to be done to attract tourists - or, more specifically, to get tourists to spend money in town.

Bauer said final recommendations from the consultant should be coming during the first quarter of the year. He said the city might be able to act on some simpler (less costly) suggestions during 2005.

A Welcome Center has been actively talked about for years, but without a source of funding it continues to be just a dream. Boosters know what they want (a multi-agency center that would promote the region's many amenities) and where they want it (on the east side of town, on the south side of state Route 410), but they simply don't know how to pay for it.

Funding sources are drying up, Bauer said, noting an additional $5 million is needed to turn hopes into reality.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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