The Clallam County Finance Committee has reviewed proposals to fund the Carlsborg sewer and Sequim’s shuttered pool and sent them on to the county’s commissioners without a formal recommendation.
Decisions to award a construction contract for the long-planned sewer and a grant to reopen the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center (SARC) are now in the hands of the three commissioners.
“The ball on these is entirely in your court,” Selinda Barkhuis, Clallam County treasurer and Finance Committee chairwoman, told commissioners Thursday.
The Clallam County Finance Committee discussed the state of various county funds in light of proposed Opportunity Fund spending in a nearly two-hour meeting Thursday.
Commissioners have said they would not award the sewer bid or consider a $731,705 grant for SARC improvements if the finance committee objected.
Last year, Barkhuis rejected warrants — or checks — for $1.3 million in Opportunity Fund grants to port and city governments on procedural grounds.
She claimed that last year’s board violated state law and county policy by awarding the money without a public hearing or written contracts while displaying a general lack of transparency.
“I still have serious concerns about whether the whole process last year was legal or not,” Barkhuis said.
Citing health issues, Barkhuis released the warrants after a four-month stalemate with the board.
“I’m just not willing to go there again, and I will state that clearly,” Barkhuis said.
Won’t reject warrants
“I’m not going to be rejecting any warrants, because ultimately I think the responsibility and accountability is entirely within the commissioners’ office,” Barkhuis said. “I’m not willing to put myself in the middle again.”
Commissioners are responsible and accountable to supervise budget staff, to manage county funds and to make appropriate spending decisions, Barkhuis said.
The second-term treasurer advised commissioners, all of whom were present Thursday, to ensure that SARC and other projects are funded according to state law and county code and policy.
“In my opinion, all of these I’s and all of these T’s have to be dotted and crossed,” Barkhuis said. “That’s just my opinion. That’s just my advice.”
Other voting members of the finance committee are Auditor Shoona Riggs and Commissioner Mike Chapman.
No formal vote was taken on the SARC grant or Carlsborg sewer funding.
Others at the table were Commissioners Bill Peach and Mark Ozias, Chief Accountant Stan Creasey, Public Works Administrative Director Bob Martin, County Administrator Jim Jones, Budget Director Debi Cook and Senior Accountant Kay Stevens.
Public hearing Tuesday
Commissioners will hold a public hearing Tuesday, March 29, on the proposed Opportunity Fund grant that would pay for a new air handler and other improvements for SARC to reopen under a partnership with the Olympic Peninsula YMCA.
The hearing will begin shortly after 10:30 a.m. in the commissioners’ meeting room (160) at the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles.
The sales tax-supported Opportunity Fund can be used for infrastructure improvements in rural counties.
Clallam County budgeted $1 million this year for undesignated Opportunity Fund projects, Jones said.
Only four of 27 Opportunity Fund projects since 1998 were specifically designated, Jones added.
Carlsborg sewer project
Most of Thursday’s discussion was centered on the Carlsborg sewer project.
Commissioners last month opened seven bids for construction of the sewer system, which consists of a pump station along Carlsborg Road and pipes that will transport waste to the treatment plant in Sequim.
Commissioners hope to award a bid in the next two weeks and break ground in mid-April.
Pacific Civil & Infrastructure’s low bid of $9.03 million was about $2 million under the engineer’s estimate.
Clallam County secured a $10 million loan from the state Public Works Trust Fund to pay for the sewer. The loan has a remaining balance of about $9.46 million, Martin told the finance committee.
The county has $1.67 million in a Carlsborg sewer fund, leaving $11.13 million available for the project.
“The total of what we think we are going to need to spend on this project going forward is $9,654,000,” Martin said.
The 30-year loan will be repaid from the Opportunity Fund at 0.25 percent interest. The interest rate will double if the system is not operational by April 1, 2017.
Members of the finance committee brainstormed strategies for repaying the loan.
“There’s plenty of time for the finance committee to begin to advise the board on a long-term payment plan,” Chapman said.
“In fact, that time frame could be well into next year before a final decision needs to be made.”
“We’ll let the finance committee do their job to advise the board,” Chapman added.
Carlsborg residents are not required to connect to the sewer immediately.
Those who do will receive a discount, as the $500 connection fee jumps to $1,500 after the pipes are installed and the roads are repaired.
Although commissioners have not yet adopted a rate ordinance, a consultant has estimated that Carlsborg sewer customers will pay about $70 per month.
“Of that, approximately $26 of it will be the base rate and the rest will be based on their gallon usage,” Martin said.
Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terry Ward, publisher of Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum, serves on the YMCA board of directors.