When one city in the county does well, the others benefit. That was a common theme as seven of the county’s mayors or their representatives spoke at the Greater Grays Harbor Inc. Lunch with the Mayors event at the Rotary Log Pavilion Tuesday.
“When one city wins it doesn’t mean another loses,” said Montesano Mayor Vini Samuel. “It is critical for us to coexist and support each other.”
Tony Enzler, acting president of Greater Grays Harbor Inc., emceed the event. Below are some of the comments from each participating city in the order delivered.
“Grays Harbor and Aberdeen are on the rise, and I hope we continue to achieve great things over the next couple of years,” said Mayor Erik Larson. He talked about completed street projects in 2018, referencing Oak Street as an example, and is hopeful voters in February will approve a raise in the transportation benefit sales tax from 13 to 18 cents per $100 of taxable goods to take on more and bigger projects.
Larson talked about the city’s decision to purchase the river camp property on the Chehalis River. He said since the property was purchased, the homeless population has been halved from its original 107. He said the city will continue to work with the remaining population to “find help for those who are seeking it” while relocating those that aren’t.
City Councilman Carl Sperring filled in for Mayor Frank Chestnut who was unable to attend.
The city’s police department is currently housed in a temporary trailer and there isn’t adequate space for the city’s court. A survey was sent to residents in November to guage their thoughts on a new municipal building, and Sperring said the city is prepared to go ahead with getting some initial designs for such a building to see what options might work for the city.
Sperring said the city issued 14 new building permits and “had a lot of residents upgrading their homes with their hard-earned cash” in 2018. Already in 2019, three new building permits have been issued. He said the city is looking to increase its footprint by annexing properties on its south side to square up the southern border.
The city has instituted a marketing campaign to attract businesses, developers and tourists alike. The city is now working on a billboard to be placed on either Highway 12 or State Route 107.
Improvements to Fleet Park and the streets and sidewalks in downtown in 2018 will be followed this year with another $11 million in upgrades, said Mayor Vini Samuel. She also said the city is looking at increasing its size by 18 percent through annexation, and the city is still working on getting a medical clinic in town to improve access to health care.
City Councilman Jon Martin stood in for Mayor Crystal Dingler and said the city has paid down $34 million in debt since 2012 and “has not taken on any more significant debt” during that time. The recent switch to a biennial budget further makes the budgeting process more efficient, he said.
The Ocean Shores Library now has its own building fund and can start to work on expansion, said Martin. Needed jetty and street improvements are also possible due to better financial planning, said Martin.
Mayor Rob Bearden said the city has finally found an adequate supply of clean water to drive its seafood processing and tourism activities and keep residents in fresh water. It’s 540 feet down and the city is looking to fund two 12-inch wells to access the water to take the burden off the two large water tanks that currently feed the city.
Bearden said the proposed ferry between Westport and Ocean Shores “would benefit both sides.” He said Grays Harbor Transit is talking about providing bus service to the ferry on both sides so passengers could “get off the ferry and get right to where they want to go.”
Westport is also working with legislators to bring a cut of the state’s fish landing tax. The state gets a cut of every pound of seafood that crosses through Westport, said Bearden. He said he was meeting with state Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, to draft a Senate bill to go along with House Bill 1096 to give seafood ports a cut of that tax money, which now goes straight into the state’s general fund.
“We don’t see a dime of that money” and the trucks hauling it away from the port are “tearing up our roads and infrastructure,” said Bearden. “I think we deserve a share of it.”
Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff said city staff continues to work with BHP and the Port of Grays Harbor for a proposed potash storage and shipping facility on Port property in Hoquiam. A public hearing on the project scheduled for late last year was postponed, and Dickhoff said she believes it will be rescheduled for March. She believes BHP will make a site selection between Hoquiam and another location in Canada some time in June.
Dickhoff said she was grateful the city was able to invest in the history of the city with $1 million in improvements to the Hoquiam Timberland Library, making the historic Carnegie building “structurally sound for another 100 years.”
Hoquiam continues to work with the Low Income Housing Institute in Seattle to bring a new affordable housing complex to the city. The building under discussion would be on property across the street from city hall and include four stories, the bottom level storefronts and the others 40 units of affordable housing.
“Elma is doing freaking amazing,” said Mayor Jim Sorensen. The grand opening of the new Summit Pacific Wellness Center is a big boon to the city. In the downtown core, vacancies are down, and a new pizza shop and a beauty shop have recently opened. To the east, a kidney dialysis clinic is planned, said Sorensen.
Sorensen said with the soon-to-open wellness center at Summit Pacific there is a need for providers to have homes available in the $300,000 range, but the need for more moderately priced housing is also on the rise.
“Homelessness is coming into our town,” he said. “We have jobs here, but we don’t have places for them to live. We need more people investing in housing.”
Sorensen talked about Fire District 5 moving into the Elma Fire station, “finally.” He said that will shave 7 minutes off response time, literally a lifetime if you’re having a heart attack or your home or business is on fire.