By Don Nelson
The “saga of the sign” continues in Winthrop, with more uncertainty about Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) plans to install a permanent electronic reader board at the town’s western border.
WSDOT had earlier sought and received the Town Council’s go-ahead to install the electronic sign atop the wood-frame sign that bids visitors goodbye on Highway 20 near the ball field. The WSDOT sign would be used to alert motorists to closures or other road conditions on Highway 20, or to issue messages such as Amber Alerts.
But the town’s Westernization Architectural Committee (WAC) objected that the proposed WSDOT sign would violate Winthrop’s westernization ordinance, and asked the council to reconsider.
And downtown business owners indicated in a petition presented to the council at its meeting last week that they don’t approve of the sign either — at least not where it was proposed.
The proposal to mount the electronic sign on the town’s existing wooden sign is now a moot point, Mayor Sue Langdalen told the council last week, because WSDOT determined that its 14-by-5-foot sign is too big.
That didn’t altogether resolve the question of where such a sign might go.
Brian Sweet, co-owner of Cascades Outdoor Store on Riverside Avenue, presented petition signatures from other downtown business owners asking that the WSDOT sign be moved outside of town limits. “Everyone I could get to signed it,” Sweet said. “It was not done grudgingly.”
Sweet, other business owners, Langdalen, WSDOT representatives and other town officials had attended an informal meeting the previous week to discuss the issue. That’s where they learned that WSDOT won’t install its sign on the town’s sign — but will try to find a spot in the right-of-way on Highway 20. It’s possible that could be outside of town limits.
That’s where things stood after last week’s meeting, where the consensus was to wait and see what WSDOT proposes next.
Council member Rick Northcott said he was “not so sure that it [the proposed sign] detracts from the wonderful thing we have … I don’t see it as alienating people.”
At the same time, Northcott said, “my hope is that WSDOT wants to put it [the sign] outside of town … We have to listen to the business people.”
Council member Mike Strulic, who has said in the past that he doesn’t want to see the town become too cluttered with signage, said he’s concerned that the WSDOT sign will be too big no matter where it is. “I’m not in favor of a 14-foot sign,” he said. “That’s huge to me.”
In other business, the council reviewed the draft of the town’s proposed 2015 budget in preparation for a public hearing on Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. in the Hen House meeting room at the Winthrop Barn. Copies of the budget can be reviewed at Town Hall.
The proposed budget reflects the 1 percent increase in property taxes allowed under state law.
About 30 percent of the revenue raised through property taxes would be used for the town’s operating expenses, while about 69 percent would be used to fund the street department. Another 1 percent would go into a fund dedicated for the improvement of parking in the town.
There are no increases proposed in sewer or water system fees.
As proposed, the budget reflects total revenues from all sources at about $7.47 million, and total expenditures in all categories at about $6.58 million.