In the longest Town Council meeting in at least a couple of years, democracy was both patient and in action Sept. 25. Mayor Ramon Hayes laid out a firmer 2019 budget that included significant reductions in hotel-motel tax grants. The Town will use $40,000 from that fund to repair the Maple Hall elevator, estimated at $155,000. Funds are also budgeted for shoreline restoration at the waterfront park.
The La Conner Chamber of Commerce’s allocation was reduced to $43,000 from 2017’s $74,000. By the meeting’s end, $17,000 was restored.
Hayes acknowledged that paying for the elevator would “put pressure on other organizations requesting money, especially the Chamber of Commerce.”
Heather Carter, Chamber executive director, and Chamber executive board members Chis Jennings, Rebecca Strong and Jo Wolfe spoke forcefully to the benefits of Chamber promotion of tourism. But they had only guesses as to why retail sales, and thus sales tax revenues, were down.
Carter referenced high numbers for website analytics. Jane Schmidt, general manager of Channel Lodge and the Country Inn, told Council, “We rely on the Chamber” and warned that "limiting funding has an impact over years."
Councilmember Bill Stokes led in revising the budget. He suggested transferring $20,000 for a town-developed visitors guide, to the Chamber, delaying the guide.
Stokes moved those funds around, adding $500 to the Museum of Northwest Art, $1,500 to the summer concerts and $200 to the Skagit Community Band, among minor changes.
The 2019 nonprofits grants total $166,503, some $15,000 less than 2017.
This came after 90 minutes of presentations. First, Skagit County Public Health’s Mel Pedrosa and Margaret Kelly discussed the health hazards from vaping and the proposed smoking and vaping ordinance county commissioners will consider by the end of 2018.
Next, Chris Listfield, from Crown Castle, discussed their request for a 20 foot extension on the existing Pioneer Park cell tower. The company owes payment on its lease. Listfield said they would pay within 90 days. Council and the Mayor grilled him. James Park, a colleague, stood and asked if there was a project needing funding. After they left, someone asked if they had been offered a bribe. A meeting will be scheduled to discuss the financial benefits to the Town.
The longest presentation came from Avalon Community representatives on the fully contained community they want to locate in northeast Burlington,. They are seeking support for extensive changes in Skagit County's planning policies and codes because their community will increase the county's population by 8,500.
Earlier, John Doyle, retired Town administrator, asked for funding for a tidal gauge. He estimated the cost at under $5,000.
Weekly News publisher Ken Stern updated Council on the District 1 Freeholder candidates forum he is organizing for Oct. 18. The Town supports this non-partisan event and is making Maple Hall available at no cost.
Council also agreed to a water pipe agreement for the Jensen property on Channel Drive and to taking the City of Mount Vernon's yard waste for composting.
The Oct. 9 meeting was canceled because there would not be a quorum, with Mayor Hayes and Councilmember John Leaver recovering from open heart surgery.
At 8:24 p.m. Council went into executive session to discuss a personnel matter.