Sewer, water system charges remain in place
The Winthrop Town Council has agreed to waive a substantial portion of the town’s construction-related fees for the new public library.
At its meeting last week, the council again discussed a request by Friends of the Winthrop Public Library (FOWL) – the nonprofit organization formed to build the library and then turn it over to the town – to waive building permit and water and sewer system development fees associated with the library project. The council had considered the request at two previous meetings without reaching a decision.
After more discussion over the advisability of forgoing the fees for a building the town will own, the council agreed to waive about $36,000 in building permit, plan review, and utility system development fees. Left for FOWL to pay were about $18,000 in water and sewer system development fees, and $4,000 in other expenses.
FOWL is raising private funds to build the new library. A $2 million state grant has also been allocated for the project. The library will be built on a .81-acre parcel property purchased by the Town of Winthrop at the intersection of White Avenue and Norfolk Road. FOWL subsequently acquired private funds to purchase an adjacent .92-acre parcel. The 7,300-square-foot completed building will be turned over to the town of Winthrop. It will include community space that will be maintained by the town. Groundbreaking for the new library is expected in early summer 2020, with opening scheduled for early 2022. The building is being designed by Johnston Associates and PBW Architects, and will replace the existing, cramped facility in Winthrop.
At last week’s meeting – conducted remotely via Zoom, an online streaming service – FOWL Executive Director Jill Sheley said that “we are down to the wire on fundraising and groundbreaking,” and said the waiver “makes a difference … it’s a big deal for us and I know it’s a big deal for you.” She said FOWL is still about $475,000 short of its fundraising goal.
FOWL chair Shannon Polson cited “precedent and common sense” to support waiving the fees, and noted that the library will have positive economic effects during construction and as a long-term asset to the community. “It’s an incredible opportunity to employ local folks with well-paying jobs,” she said.
Impel Construction, which has offices in Stanwood and Twisp, is the general contractor for the library. Its local construction team members live and work in the valley from Carlton to Mazama, according to the company.
Following up on the council’s earlier request, Town Clerk Michelle Gaines prepared a list of estimated staff hours that would be required to process the library’s construction, including building, utility, and construction reviews. The total came to 78 hours.
Councilmember William Kilby, who had asked for more detailed information about staff involvement, noted that the town had previously waived some fees related to construction of the Winthrop Rink, which the town owns. He suggested considering a code change that would allow the council to approve fee waivers for town buildings. Kilby said he would supporting waiving all building fees while FOWL paid the $,4000 in other expenses
Councilmember Joseph O’Donnell suggested a compromise solution: waiving half of the fees. Councilmember Bill McAdow offered another compromise: FOWL could pay the $4,000 in miscellaneous fees, as well as the water and sewer system development fees totaling a little over $18,000.
Councilmember Ben Nelson, who has supported waiving the fees, said “it seems arbitrary to cut it in half … it feels like we’re punishing them [FOWL] for asking.”
Councilmember Kirsten Vanderhalf said she’s concerned that the town’s tourism-dependent economy would not quickly recover from the coronavirus pandemic. “As a town, we need to recoup some of the fees,” she said. As for waiving the fees for the skating rink, she said, “times are different, the council is different.”
Kilby said it would be “shortsighted” to require FOWL to pay all the fees. “I would sure hate to see this project grind to a halt,” he said. He again urged the council to consider a code change to allow more flexibility with future town-owned buildings, and the council agreed to take that up in the near future.
Kilby moved to waive all fees except the $4,000 in miscellaneous expenses, and the water and sewer system development fees. That motion passed without dissent.
“I’m grateful for the council’s considered and ultimately unanimous decision to continue their support of our work to build a new library in any way they can,” Polson said in an email after the meeting, “understanding the critical importance of our public infrastructure and especially our library as an asset that brings us together with equitable access to information.”
In other business, Mayor Sally Ranzau said she has imposed a freeze on some town expenditures including staff training and travel, and any capital projects not already in progress.
Ranzau said that under the governor’s current guidelines, it’s not likely that Phase II of the state’s plan to gradually reopen the economy will occur before the end of May, and even then the town would take some time to recover. “We’re hoping for part of a summer at least,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ranzau said, the town’s budget is in a relatively good position and some tax revenues are still coming in.