Anacortes will spend $147 million on capital projects in nine city departments between 2021 and 2026, including replacement of aging water mains, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, road and sidewalk improvements, and completion of fiber installation for the city’s broadband utility.
The $147 million is included in the city’s six-year Capital Facilities Plan and is funded — depending on department — by taxes, impact fees, user fees and grants.
After some fine-tuning Monday, the City Council reached a consensus on the plan and on the city’s $75.4 million budget for 2021. The council will vote to approve the plan and budget on Dec. 28, the final council meeting of the year.
The projects comprise more than half of the proposed spending in the Capital Facilities Plan. Over six years, the city will invest $41.8 million on wastewater treatment plant upgrades, $37.1 million on road and sidewalk improvements, and $12.1 million on completion of the broadband fiber installation.
The fourth-largest investment will be replacement of the Tommy Thompson trestle and causeway, $11.3 million. The city Parks Department is seeking grant funding as it plans to spend $350,000 in 2021, $1 million in 2024 and $10 million in 2025.
City officials say the project will improve water flow and water quality in the bay.
"The City of Anacortes is joining in partnership with the Samish Indian Nation and Washington state Department of Natural Resources on the restoration of Fidalgo Bay," Parks Director Jonn Lunsford wrote to the American.
"A major part of this project is replacing the Thompson Trail Trestle and removing hundreds of creosote pilings and thousands of cubic yards of rock rip rap from the bay. To do this work and build a replacement trestle will take years of grant funding and permitting from state and federal agencies. The partnership has successfully applied for a planning grant through Washington state that will depend on legislative approval in the next state budget biennium."
Other projects residents would see include construction of a community youth recreation center; creosote pile removal and replacement at the city-owned travel lift float and dock; construction of a fire station on March Point and improvements at parks, forestlands and the cemetery.
The parks plan includes stream restoration and an educational trail on H Avenue, a new pocket park with green space on south Commercial Avenue, and a new neighborhood park at West Sixth Street and Minnesota Avenue.
“I think we have a budget that really takes care of the community,” Mayor Laurie Gere said Monday.
The council went to lengths to make sure funding was available in 2021 for road improvements, particularly overlays — the resurfacing of cracked and failing street surfaces – to keep the improvements on schedule and to fulfill a promise made to voters in 2018. That year, voters approved a sales tax increase from 8.5% to 8.7%, with the difference funding road improvements.
Transportation improvements amounting to $37.1 million are planned for 2021, including overlays, chip sealing and sidewalks. Proposed improvements to the intersection at Commercial Avenue and 12th Street are also included, with costs shared by the state.
The city had planned about $1.85 million next year in overlays, which are partially funded by real estate excise tax revenue, but revenue projections fell $300,000 short. City Finance Director Steve Hoglund recommended approving the budget as is and amending it next year if revenues warrant it.
“I’m a little bit hesitant because so much of this relies on revenue projections,” he said.
While the real estate market has stayed strong, he had concerns about unemployment.
“It’s still nearly 7%. We still don’t have another stimulus (package) worked out. We’re starting to see the effects on the economy of the second COVID wave,” Hoglund said.
Council members Ryan Walters, Matt Miller and Carolyn Moulton supported transferring money from the real estate excise tax reserves to make up the difference.
“I would advocate taking that $300,000 from the real estate excise tax and putting it into the overlay fund,” Moulton said. “Our pavement is in such poor condition because the city neglected it for so long, and we’ve been playing catch up ever since.
“I understand the frugality and wanting to save, but the reason we have reserves is for times like this. We need our pavement to be upgraded and fixed, so I’m advocating for that.”
Council members Anthony Young, Christine Cleland-McGrath and Bruce McDougall agreed with Hoglund.
“In this case, I think caution is to our advantage,” Young said. “It doesn’t preclude us from coming back and revisiting this later. I think the state of where we are in the economy, there’s still too much in the air for me.” He said $1.5 million budgeted for overlays in 2021 “is a good indication of our intent.”
Cleland-McGrath, a real estate agent, added that the strength in the market is that demand and prices are up, but not sales.
“If we’re not having transactions occur, the city is not going to reap the income from real estate excise tax,” she said. “That, combined with the general unknowns, make me inclined to stick with the conservative number.”
Walters suggested a compromise that received no objections: Fully fund overlays and let the mayor direct the spending according to revenues.
The overlay budget was fully funded.