Klickitat County officials are considering limiting who can request money from the county's landfill fund, and some communities are being excluded from the proposed list.
In a special meeting Jan. 10 in Lyle, representatives from communities around the county gathered, at the county's request, to discuss the issue.
Dana Peck, resource development director for Klickitat County, called for the meeting in a letter faxed and e-mailed to community representatives and others on Jan. 7.
"An issue related to community projects has come up, which needs to be addressed prior to the Jan. 23 presentations," Peck wrote. "I would like to get your comments on the proposed solution."
It was not immediately clear what issue Peck was referring to, nor how it came up. Peck did not return telephone calls requesting comment.
Each year since 1997, the county's Economic Development Authority Board has reviewed projects submitted by the various city councils, community councils, and fire districts around the county. After prioritizing the projects, the EDA recommends how to distribute revenue gained from the Regional Landfill at Roosevelt.
This year, the county has set aside $350,000 to distribute to communities around the county.
The Klickitat County Board of Commissioners makes the final decisions on which projects get funded.
In his letter, Peck pointed out that the Klickitat County Public Economic Development Authority community development program began in 1997 with 14 communities. The original communities were: Bingen, White Salmon, Goldendale, Trout Lake, Husum/BZ Corner, Glenwood, Roosevelt, Klickitat, Lyle, Dallesport, Wishram, Centerville, Bickleton, and Alderdale.
According to Peck, these original communities were identified based on "a reason to stop: school, gas, food, lodging, major employer, etc."
"There is an accelerating trend toward local groups and organizations which don't meet the original definition of a `community' making project proposals to the EDA Board," Peck wrote. "This is leading to dilution of available funds and jeopardizing the ability to underwrite viable projects."
Fred Heaney, president of the newly-formed Lower Burdoin Community Council, said the county was taking a narrow approach.
"Their thinking is inward and self-focused," Heaney said. "The competition for funds may be greater (with more applications), but so be it. The fund itself is not diminished by this."
Some observers believe the issue arose because two communities that had not asked for funding before asked for money this year. The two "new" communities were Georgeville (a community north of Goldendale that is on Yakama Indian Nation reservation), and Lower Burdoin Mountain, which recently formed its own council.
Georgeville is asking for funds to upgrade a public park-playground area, while Lower Burdoin Mountain seeks $10,000 to help build a new fire hall to provide better fire protection for the rural area.
"The county is going to deny that we exist," said Heaney.
In addition, at least one community that has previously received landfill money -- Snowden -- is not on the county's list. Community leaders there are concerned that the area may no longer be considered eligible to participate in the landfill fund program.
"The Snowden Council has been previously recognized by the county as eligible to receive community project funding, and we want to continue being recognized along with other established, locally-elected community councils that hold regular public meetings," read a statement from the council.
Sherry Penney, vice chair of the Snowden Community Council, pointed out that the EDA Board has always had the authority to prioritize requests, and she sees no reason to restrict who can apply.
"The concern expressed by Dana Peck is that if there is a proliferation of neighborhoods asking for funds, the money will get diluted. But the job of the Economic Development Authority is to decide if a project is worthwhile or not. Just tell some of us no, rather than limit who can ask," Penney said.
"I believe that people who have a good idea who live in this county ought to be able to throw their ideas on the board. Those that are good enough stick and get selected," Heaney said. "If somebody has a better proposal, let them submit it. That is in the best interest of the county and the community. Let us not be afraid of competition, ever."
This year, Snowden's top request was for $18,000 for the Fire Department. The money would go toward purchase of a defibrillator, which is used to regulate a weak or ineffectual heartbeat after a heart attack or other severe trauma; a hose-washer to help maintain the Fire District's hoses; and asphalt for the entrance area and parking at the Cherry Lane Fire Station.
Council members pointed out that if the county takes Snowden out of the running at this late stage, the community will have no opportunity to get funding elsewhere this year.
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel, who is a member of the EDA Board, said he was surprised to hear that Snowden was not being considered on the proposed list of eligible communities.
"One of the original criteria put forth by the county was that projects had to be approved by a local community council," Prigel explained. "To cut them out at this point would not be a good thing."
Peck proposes getting a county resolution in place to limit the maximum number of participants for EDA community development funding to the original 14 communities as well as adding two fire districts -- Appleton and High Prairie -- that are not otherwise represented.
Mayor Prigel agreed that the EDA Board is beginning to be swamped with requests for funding.
"We're starting to get groups such as school districts and chambers of commerce asking for funds. We need to put guidelines in or it could spin out of control," explained Prigel.
"The principal issue is, more groups are looking to get a chance to dip into the pot," said another EDA Board member, White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen. "It was originally set up as 14 entities, with all requests going through city councils or community councils. If we get neighborhoods and crossroads asking for funds, it ultimately becomes ridiculous. Do you expand this so far that pretty soon you'll be taking requests from individuals?"
Peck suggested that a resolution be passed before Jan. 23, when communities from all over the county are expected to present their ideas before the EDA Board in a Goldendale meeting.
Heaney blasted that idea.
"So we're going to change the game plan after the team went through all the steps to get down to the 1-yard line? That would say to heck with your time, we're going to change the game. That's what they're doing," Heaney said. "We submitted our request under the standards we were told to follow by the county."
At the annual EDA Board hearing in January, board members have traditionally weighed each proposal presented, then subsequently determine priorities for funding. Each city, community council, or fire district has been allowed to request up to two projects per year.
Several projects receive no funding or partial funding, as there is usually not enough money to cover all the requests.
Terry Mills, chair of the Lyle Community Council, said the Lyle meeting provided a good discussion of differing viewpoints.
"There were a lot of good points all the way around," Mills said. "I don't know what the county is going to do. It's been going pretty good so far, but they do need to decide what the rules are so it's pretty clear-cut for everyone."
The final decision on who will be included will be made by the EDA board and the Klickitat County Commissioners. The decision is expected this week.