Federal ‘rescue’ funds still to be allocated
At its meeting last week the Twisp Council approved a 2022 budget projecting general fund expenditure of $1,497,788, about 9% higher than the 2021 budget of $1,367,022. The general fund includes most town services – police, fire and EMS; administration and finance; planning and building; parks and pool; municipal court, airport and library.
One of the largest increases in 2022 expenditures is $183,534 in American Rescue Plan Assistance (ARPA) funds that were introduced in mid-2021 and are specifically earmarked for response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 budget included $81,475 in ARPA spending.
These one-time federal stimulus funds, provided to state, local and tribal governments, will continue to be expended through 2026, if not fully expended in 2022, Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said.
“These funds have, and will continue to, provide some relief for some of the financial burdens resulting from identified needs in response to the pandemic,” she said.
Despite the ongoing pandemic and economic uncertainty, revenues for Twisp are expected to remain relatively stable, Ing-Moody said. The town’s two major sources of revenue “do not appear to have been poorly impacted through the past two years of the COVID pandemic,” she said.
“Sales tax has modestly increased, with a notable rise in marijuana and liquor sales; while property tax is anticipated to also modestly increase as new home construction is expected to continue. Ample opportunity remains for additional housing and business development to continue within Twisp or those with the means to do so,” Ing-Moody said.
The town has had to absorb some costs beyond its control, including increases in health care benefits and property and liability insurance, particularly for law enforcement, which saw an “unprecedented” increase of 29.04%, Ing-Moody said.
Denham to stay on
Ing-Moody announced that Public Works Director Andrew Denham has decided not to step down as he had planned. Denham said in an email after the meeting that “lack of qualified applicants for my replacement” was a factor in his decision to stay. He also determined that he will be able to care for a sick family member while continuing to work for Twisp.
The mayor congratulated Denham and the Public Works staff for winning an “Outstanding Achievement” award from the state Department of Ecology for the fifth consecutive year. The award recognizes perfect compliance with federal environmental regulations for wastewater treatment facilities.
Denham informed the council that new soccer fields at the town’s recently completed sports complex near the municipal airport were damaged when someone drove a vehicle onto them. Newly planted grass and in-ground irrigation systems were damaged, and estimated repairs will cost about $12,500 Denham said in an email.
“After seven years of planning, funding, design and construction at a cost of $700,000 for the sports complex, it is inconceivable that a person would intentionally cause damage to this valuable asset,” Denham said in the email.
“When the perpetrator is identified, we will prosecute to the maximum extent possible, including charges for damages,” he said.
In response to several letters urging the council to address a “housing crisis” in Twisp and the Methow Valley, the council discussed possible actions. Some proposals suggested by letter writers, like banning nightly rentals or taxing second home owners, may not makes sense for the town, said council member Aaron Studen.
Council members discussed whether to direct the town’s Planning Commission to make affordable housing a priority. Hans Smith said the council could issue a formal declaration regarding a housing crisis, which “might increase the pace at which we can approach those questions.”
Mayor Ing-Moody noted that numerous groups in the Methow Valley, which include representatives of the town, are exploring ways to increase development of affordable housing, including encouraging public/private partnerships.
Ing-Moody recommended bringing the housing issue back to the council “for a potentially larger conversation … when we have more time in the new year to think about directions … and consider a proclamation.”
With Twisp Council meetings continuing to be held online rather than in person due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the council considered how to provide the public a way to speak during meetings. The council has been taking written comments from the public to review at the online meetings.
Council members reviewed policies used by other communities for public comments during virtual meetings, and said they supported creating guidelines to provide the public opportunity to speak during council’s remote meetings.
The council favored requiring people to sign up in advance to speak during a public comment period at meetings, and limiting comment to three minutes. A policy for public comment will be brought back to the council at a future meeting for approval, Ing-Moody said.
The council appointed Clayton Chase to one of two vacant positions on the Twisp Airport Advisory Board. At the request of advisory board member Dick Pattison, the council also agreed to look into the possibility of a fuel depot at the airport operated by the town or by a private entity, or under a cooperative agreement.
Pattison asked the council to rescind a recently approved annual rate of $900 for new hangar leases at the airport, in order to gather more information on airport finances and a rate structure for leases. Ing-Moody said that because the new rate increase has been implemented, any change would need to be reviewed by a council committee before the council would consider it.
On a request from The Merc Playhouse, the council approved locking the Second Avenue access to the public restroom in The Merc Playhouse building at 3:30 p.m., a half-hour earlier than the current schedule, to allow student actors to use the restroom to change into costumes.
The Merc is staging a new children’s theater production beginning in January, and to comply with COVID safety guidelines the children need adequate space to change into costumes. The restroom, which is used by theater patrons through an entrance at the back of the theater, is needed to provide a changing area and The Merc requested the public entrance be locked while student actors are in the building.
Under the current agreement with The Merc, town police officers lock the restroom door on Second Avenue at about 4 p.m. The change to 3:30 p.m. will begin on Jan. 9 and continue through March while the children’s theater production is underway. Council members noted that public restrooms at the Methow Valley Community Center and at TwispWorks will be available after The Merc facility is closed.