Greater Grays Harbor Inc. axed from 2019-20 Hoquiam budget

The Hoquiam City Council voted Tuesday to remove $10,000 in funding for Greater Grays Harbor Inc. from the city’s 2019-20 biennial budget, instead directing the money to the newly formed Hoquiam Beautification Committee, which plans to dress up the downtown core.

Ward 2 Councilman Steven Puvogel, new to the council, made the motion to move the money. The beautification group of volunteers plans to do work in Hoquiam similar to that being done in Aberdeen by volunteers with the Aberdeen Bloom Team, which plants and maintains the hanging flower baskets in Aberdeen’s downtown corridor.

“I feel the funds would be better suited to the beautification committee,” said Puvogel. He said he is confident the city would get more benefit from the volunteer effort than it has from Greater Grays Harbor Inc. in recent years.

Greater Grays Harbor Inc., which calls itself the regional chamber of commerce, economic development council and visitor information center, gave its annual pitch to the council at the Oct. 22 meeting, requesting the city fund Greater Grays Harbor for the upcoming biennium. However, as city administrator Brian Shay pointed out, the city is not obligated in any way to fund Greater Grays Harbor.

Greater Grays Harbor is a non-profit funded by local government agencies and private businesses.

Mary Stinchfield represented the Hoquiam Beautification Committee at the Nov. 13 council meeting. She said her group would plant flowers and maintain planters purchased by the city that would complement the existing hanging flower baskets. The group also pledged to weed the beds around the trees in the downtown area and maintain the hanging flower baskets throughout the summer.

Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff expressed great interest in the committee at that meeting, which was Puvogel’s first. “I’m excited to get that started here,” said Dickhoff.

The committee asked the council for $5,000 to purchase permanent concrete planters, plants, dirt and related tools. In a letter to the council, the committee said it would also seek donations from private citizens, businesses and foundations to support their ongoing beautification efforts. The council’s decision Tuesday means the committee will receive $5,000 annually over the next two years.

“We realize that we will need to start small, but feel that once the momentum of this group is felt by the community, the movement to beautify the city will expand and we will be able to make a significant difference,” the committee wrote in a letter to the council. In her remarks, Stinchfield said “anyone is welcome to participate” in the committee’s efforts.

City finance director Corri Schmid pointed out the city funded Greater Grays Harbor at a lower amount in the 2017-18 budget than requested. “I believe it was $4,000 total for the two years,” said Shay. “Around March of 2018, (Greater Grays Harbor) gave a presentation to the council and the council agreed to pay the full amount requested in 2018 of $5,500.”

When called for a voice vote, there were eight yes votes to one no vote, cast by Ward 4 Councilman Ben Winkelman. Three members of the council were absent for the vote.

Dru Garson, Greater Grays Harbor Inc. CEO, said he was “disappointed” with the council’s decision, noting in particular a new program the city could qualify for called the “opportunity zone program.”

Opportunity zones, according to the IRS, were added to the tax code by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Dec. 22, 2017. Opportunity zones are defined as economically distressed communities where new investments, “under certain conditions,” are eligible for preferential tax treatment. For instance, it gives people the right to defer some capital gains taxes to invest in the economic development of a opportunity zone.

“We were prepared to work with the city to attract additional investments in those areas,” said Garson. “Without a services agreement it’s a little more difficult to move on. The city will have to navigate the complexities and nuances of the program to go after that type of investment.”

Garson continued, “I would love to continue to work with the City of Hoquiam,” adding he believes the services agreement fee requested from the city provided good value for what Greater Grays Harbor had to offer the economic vitality of Hoquiam.

Olympic Stadium

Council president Paul McMillan made a motion to move another line item in the budget, $25,000 earmarked to hire an additional police officer, to maintenance at Olympic Stadium.

“That way the stadium can have minor repairs,” including the replacement of wood planks, said McMillan. He also said moving the money would not severely impact the eventual hiring of a new police officer.

Shay explained, “(McMillan) is suggesting that we delay filling the new position. We budgeted for that position for the full 24 months of the budget. Any delays to filling that position or the new police clerk would be diverted into the stadium.” Shay continued, “The deputy chief is also retiring early next year, so we will have plenty of opportunities to divert $25,000 from the police salaries into the stadium funding without impacting service.”

During the discussion, Ward 6 Councilman Dave Hinchen recommended the city “keep its eyes open for possible grants” to upgrade the historic stadium. “The first order of business, a sprinkler system. We all saw what happened to the Montesano stadium.” The old wooden Montesano football stadium burned to the ground in September 2012.

Shay told the council he has been in contact with 24th Legislative District Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) and 24th Legislative District Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), and both have said they would support a capital budget request in the upcoming legislative session for repairs to the stadium.

The council approved the transfer unanimously.

Biennial budget

With those two changes approved by the council, the 2019-20 city biennial budget was passed unanimously by the council. Schmid was praised by the council for her work in getting a balanced biennial budget of just more than $54.5 million prepared and adequately explained to have it pass on time. The budget contains funds for new city positions to improve service, and water, sewer and stormwater repair, along with a portable Lifepak heart monitor with external defibrillators for the Hoquiam Fire Department.