City of Sequim leaders hope to emphasize three priorities for the 2021 legislative session to local legislators next month: final funding for the US Highway 101 East Corridor Improvement Project, starting a federal funding exchange program for rural cities, and an increase in broadband accessibility.
City councilors are scheduled to meet on Nov. 9 in a work session with Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) and Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend), each of whom face re-election races the week prior.
Washington state’s Legislature reconvenes in January for 105 days.
City of Sequim-contracted lobbyist Davor Gjurasic told city councilors on Sept. 28 that much remains unknown about the session because of COVID-19 related revenue losses.
A recent budget forecast had higher-than-expected revenue, he said, but it’s “clear these numbers are very volatile.”
Gjurasic said the top issues for legislators will likely focus on dealing with the effects of the pandemic, how to stimulate the economy, police reform and a new transportation budget package.
Broadband expansion was one priority he said could be included in that due to the increased need during the pandemic.
For now the session appears to be virtual with a limited number of bills coming through and hearings held per day, Gjurasic said.
“(It’ll take) three weeks to conduct something that takes two to two-and-a-half days,” he said.
“Based on the uncertainty of the legislative session, (we need to) focus on our priorities and know what we really want to go after.”
• US Highway 101 East Sequim Corridor Project: Gjurasic said the city has good support from its legislators and community partners Clallam County and Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to complete the U.S. Highway 101 Simdars interchange and reroute Happy Valley Road and Palo Alto Road to East Brownfield Road.
City officials seek $26 million for the project and to time it with the Johnson Creek culvert repair project to save in state funds. Last year, the Department of Transportation received $1.3 million from the legislature for the project.
• Federal Funding Exchange Program: City staff said this effort would establish a federal funding exchange program to swap federal Surface Transportation Block Grant funds for state funds so rural counties can do more projects, like chip sealing roads.
Gjurasic said federal funds have specific guidelines for projects but if distributed to the state, state officials could distribute the funds instead and rural cities could follow state guidelines instead of federal mandates and more quickly complete projects.
“For a small amount of funds, that is of great benefit to rural communities,” he said.
• Broadband expansion: City staff said COVID-19 has shown a divide in accessibility for residents seeking internet access with a gap in availability.
“The broadband we have (here) is not the same as downtown Seattle or downtown Tacoma,” Gjurasic said. “There’s a huge push to rectify that and to help communities such as ours to solve our broadband problem.”
He said they’re considering ways to best build a coalition to go forward as an advocate for that.
City Manager Charlie Bush said a local broadband action team has sought options for decreasing broadband gaps here, but they’ve been unable to meet consistently because of poor internet connectivity.
Race resolution update
City officials are closer to facilitating a broad community discussion about race and equity, said City Manager Charlie Bush.
He told city councilors at their regular Sept. 28 meeting that a steering committee has made some progress on determining how much time will be needed to address the community on the proposal.
Bush said a committee of city staff and community members called The Equity and Inclusion Community Conversation Design Team will meet two more times before sending a proposal to the steering committee.
From there, a recommendation comes to city councilors, Bush said.
“We’d love for it to be after (virtual meetings are moved to in-person meetings) but it’s hard to know when virtual ends,” he said.
“If it turns out not to be virtual, we’d all be delighted.”
Efforts for a community discussion began after councilor Brandon Janisse brought the resolution forward in June at the request of Sequim resident Shenna Younger. She and others previously proposed a resolution in March and then started an online petition asking the council to condemn systemic racism.
The resolution was approved by councilors but they agreed in July to wait on updating anti-racism and discrimination practices until they’ve received more feedback from the community.
Bush said they’ve reached out to a variety of other government organizations about opportunities to collaborate, i.e. Peninsula College partnering to bring in speakers about the issues.
“We got strong support from agencies working together,” he said.
Barbara Hanna, Sequim’s marketing and communications director, said the Equity and Inclusion team is working on developing a system to best engage and support residents through the discussions. She said they’re considering non-city staff because it’s likely they may not want to engage with government employees.
Previously, Bush said the community conversations may result in city policies and procedures being reviewed and changed to remove anything with institutional racism and/or inequity.