Continuing their effort to help local businesses, Sequim city councilors unanimously agreed on Nov. 8 to allocate as much as $250,000 in grants through the city’s Small Business Rapid Relief program.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the councilors agreed to disburse $500,000 to struggling local restaurants and bars.
Sue Hagener, Sequim’s administrative services director, said in a telephone interview that 58 businesses in city limits received the funds, with some receiving two separate grants in different application sessions.
Funding comes from the city’s Rainy Day Fund, she said, with about $174,000 reimbursed by CARES Act funding.
Hagener told councilors at their Nov. 8 meeting there is $435,000 budgeted to go back into the Rainy Day fund and that October (from receipts in August) saw the city’s highest sales tax-related month ever.
“Our restaurant population is making it through this,” she said.
Mayor William Armacost said the high sales tax figure was excellent news and that city staff should consider reaching out to an economic development agency to see if they can partner with the city to help determine grant recipients.
He added that the fourth quarter is an important time to retailers and “another opportunity we can reach out and give them this hand up.”
Armacost encouraged the council to consider adding non-restaurant/bar businesses to those eligible to apply.
Councilor Keith Larkin said that many restaurant owners he’s spoken with are not getting days off, are working long hours and could use some support.
Hagener said it’s unknown when staff can re-engage the program and begin accepting applications as staff reach out to economic development agencies for assistance.
“We have no idea of the capacity to support this,” she said.
Previously, applicants went through the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce’s website and the city had representatives involved in the application vetting process and check disbursal.
City attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross said former executive director Anji Scalf with the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce was “a critical component of distributing the funds” so they’d likely need to reach out to another agency.
The chamber didn’t charge a processing fee for the first set of funding, and had a 10 percent administrative fee, or about $10,000, for the second round, Hagener said.
“We need some time to see what we’re going to do and see who we’re going to work with,” Hagener said in a telephone interview.
City staff said to check the city’s website for potential updates at sequimwa.gov.
City councilors will consider approving Sequim’s proposed $31.7 million budget at their Nov. 22 meeting, with a public hearing scheduled.
One proposed change scales back capital projects to about $4 million, including $500,000 for Washington Street pavement rehabilitation from River Road to Simdars Road; $400,000 for adding sidewalks on the west side of Sequim Avenue from Old Olympic Highway’s roundabout to Hendrickson Road; and $50,000 for new toddler playground equipment at both Margaret Kirner Park and Carrie Blake Community Park.
Other proposed funds include about $10.4 million for 89.21 full-time equivalent staffers’ salaries and benefits, $91,000 to contract with the Visitor Information Center, $75,000 for health and human service contracts, and $710,000 to pay down debt for the Sequim Civic Center.
Councilors previously approved no utility rate increases in 2022 for water and sewer users, and at their Nov. 8 meeting they opted to not increase, or “bank” for future consideration, their allowable amount by state law 1 percent property tax levy increase.
Councilors voted 4-3, with Rachel Anderson, Brandon Janisse and Tom Ferrell wanting to keep the proposed increase.
Larkin said he was inclined to hold off on the increase with additional revenue coming in from construction and to “pass on a little savings to city residents.”
City staff estimated that a property owner with a home’s assessed value of $250,000 would have seen an approximate $3 raise in taxes at 1 percent.
Councilors also voted 6-1 on Nov. 8 to rescind a March 22 ordinance allowing future pay increases for all city councilors.
Currently, the mayor receives $410 per month, the deputy mayor $330 and the other five councilors $250.
The now rescinded increase would have raised salaries in 2022 for council seats 3-5, and the remainder of seats in 2024 with the mayor receiving $565 per month, $450 for deputy mayor and $350 for the other councilors.
Larkin said he was reluctant at the time to vote for the increase, and with what’s going on with the pandemic he felt it sends the wrong message to impose these increases on city residents as they’ve asked staff to tighten budgets, too.
“It’s the wrong time (and) it’s not a good example for our community,” he said.
Ferrell, who proposed the original motion and voted against rescinding it, said he didn’t want to just cater to retirees with pensions, and “short change people who work and have children” while serving on council.
Armacost said he considers the money a stipend and not a salary, and that to be good stewards of the city’s money it’s not a bad idea to put on hold and “see what the future holds.”