Facing a Dec. 8 deadline to make its priorities known to the Klickitat County Economic Development Authority (EDA), the White Salmon City Council opted to make hiring a water systems engineer its top choice for 2007 grant funding.
Each year, a portion of the revenue from the county's regional landfill in Roosevelt is earmarked by the EDA to help communities around the county pay for economic and/or community development projects. The local City Council identifies its top one or two priorities about this time every year.
As its second priority "wish," the council agreed to ask for a grant to help pay for 10 self-contained breathing devices for the White Salmon Fire Department. Council members voted unanimously to put the engineer at the top of the list and the SCBAs second.
Each of the projects has a price tag of $30,000, meaning the council is requesting $60,000 of the landfill grant fund. For 2007, the county is expected to set aside $350,000 to help 17 different communities in the county with a variety of projects. That pencils out to an average of about $20,600 for each community.
Before the priorities were voted on, the council considered requesting a one-week extension from the county beyond the Dec. 8 deadline -- and then setting up a special meeting to discuss what the 2007 priorities would be.
However, some councilors thought that would be an unwise move.
"Will they grant the extension?" asked council member Richard Marx. "I wouldn't. We've known about this all year."
The City Council had not previously placed EDA projects on the agenda, nor had any discussion about landfill grant options taken place at the twice-monthly meetings.
Deborah Phillips, the city attorney, was among those who thought that missing the deadline might simply leave White Salmon without any EDA funds for 2007.
To avoid that outcome, White Salmon Fire Chief Bill Hunsaker said he had a proposal ready to go to the EDA board: He wanted to ask for $30,000 for 10 of the breathing units to provide local firefighters with modern safety equipment.
"My proposal is to ask for $30,000, with a $25,000 match from the Fire Department's budget, to buy 10 SCBAs," Hunsaker explained.
Rather than risk getting nothing, councilor Brad Roberts made a motion to let Hunsaker present his SCBA request to the EDA board.
However, council member Timi Keene said she wanted to discuss other priorities.
"Last year, the EDA money went to the Fire Department, and the city has other needs we should take a look at and consider," Keene said.
For 2006, the Fire Department was given $28,000 from the EDA to purchase an air compressor to fill the department's oxygen tanks.
Keene pointed out that there were several other projects worthy of consideration, and suggested asking for an extension.
But Phillips cautioned against waiting beyond the deadline.
"Is one in the hand better than two in the bush if they don't accept your extension?" Phillips asked. "They might consider only what's on time."
"They are looking for ways to weed it out," Roberts agreed.
"I just want to move forward. I don't want to give away $30,000," Hunsaker added.
White Salmon Police Chief Bruce Brending advised the council that he supported the SCBAs for the Fire Department, and was willing to pull his department's request -- for help buying a new patrol car -- in order to make sure the city met the deadline to apply for the EDA grant.
"The Police Department lends its support to the Fire Department," Brending said, adding that the EDA normally ranks public safety requests as priority projects.
"Bingen is also asking for SCBAs," Hunsaker pointed out. "By White Salmon signing on, we can operate together and we could have the exact same equipment. We would be operable with Bingen on every basis."
Keene said she had discussed a proposal with Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck.
"I have been asked to request by the Klickitat County Commissioners that we submit, for one of our projects, in the neighborhood of $30,000 for a water-related project," Keene explained. "The intent was to use the $25,000-$30,000 we hopefully will receive [from the EDA] to cover the costs of a special project engineer to work on the water concerns we have."
Keene explained that the county is considering providing the city with additional funding to help resolve White Salmon's ongoing water shortage and attempts to gain new water rights -- contingent upon the City Council members demonstrating they believed water issues were a top priority.
Marx was skeptical about Keene's request.
"Why would something that important not be put on the agenda? We have nothing in writing," Marx said.
"It's not official, but they want us to show a vested interest and have some type of water project," Keene explained.
As a way to meet the deadline, Keene requested that the council pull the Roberts motion to make the SCBAs the top priority and instead consider addressing the city's water troubles.
Keene then made a motion to set hiring an engineer to provide expert help on the city's water issues as the first priority, with the SCBAs second.
The council members voted 4-0 to support that plan.
After the meeting, council member John Mayo said he believed the engineer was a valuable priority.
"Our water system needs it," Mayo said. "It's a great start to get an engineer who can have ownership of these water issues. This person could oversee the water rights issue and have an engineer's stamp to offer us."