The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Michele Smith
The Times 

Status of Community Projects Discussed at Annual CEDS Meeting

 

January 3, 2019



DAYTON—At the annual Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy update meeting on Dec. 19, community leaders discussed some of the projects in the Dayton area in the works, and progress that is expected in the next year.

Dayton Development Task Force and Dayton Chamber of Commerce

Dayton Chamber of Commerce Director Melissa Bryan said the Main Street Approach framework used by the Dayton Development Task Force is working, as people can see in improvements to the building facades, the refreshed Broughton Land Company mural, and flower baskets in the summer.

The B&O tax credit incentive program is one way to support local business. In 2018, Dayton received $85,000 from B&O tax credit contributions through the Main Street Program, said Bryan.

Bryan said shopping locally is another way to support local business. “We can take small, incremental steps,” she said.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Update

John Wells, from Anderson/Perry & Associates, gave an update on the progress of Dayton’s new wastewater treatment plant. A Dept. of Ecology mandate is requiring the city to stop discharging treated wastewater into the Touchet River.

Wells said the city has received funding for engineering and land acquisition, and talks are underway with local landowners to locate and purchase 250 acres of “somewhat flat” farmland to be used for the plant, storage ponds and for irrigation, with buffers to support future growth.

The ideal site will be within five or six miles from the city’s central corridor, said Wells.

The $8 million to $10 million facility should be operational in 2021. It will be paid for through low interest loans, grants and by ratepayers, said Wells.

School Facilities Plan/Bond/Levies

Dayton School Superintendent Doug Johnson said the district’s facilities are in need of significant repair, and the District isn’t getting much help from the state.

“The state formulas are antiquated,” he said.

Johnson said the state’s formula takes into consideration the numbers of “unhoused” students when determining monetary support. So districts in the rapidly-growing Tri Cities area can build one new school every year.

During the last 12 years, the Dayton School District has seen the numbers of students decline from around 650, to between 375 and 425 students.

Johnson said he is grateful to voters for approving the last two out of three capital project levies.

Because of that support, work has been done to fix the asphalt on the elementary playground and at the bus loading zone. The aging and failing heating and communication systems have been addressed, and the flat part of the high school roof has been fixed.

Students in the elementary school are safer now because local dollars have made it possible to renovate the main office entryway so there is now only one single point of entry into the building.

Plans are in the works to repair the sloped portion of the high school roof, replace the roofs on the shop and bus garage, replace exterior doors, add security cameras, and install an irrigation system for the grounds and athletic fields.

“When we improve facilities, we improve things for kids,” said Johnson.

Affordable/Senior/Assisted Living Housing

The Port’s Economic Development Coordinator, Kathryn Witherington, spoke about affordable housing and assisted living for seniors.

Witherington said 27% of homeowners in Columbia County are experiencing insecure housing, and 64% of renters are in insecure housing situations, as defined by spending 30% or more of disposable income on housing and utilities.

She said there are currently 34 homes listed for sale in Columbia County, but only eight are deemed affordable.

There are creative ways to address the current lack of incentive on the part of developers to build new houses, and Witherington said the Port is looking into that.

She said assisted living options for seniors are being explored by officials with the Columbia County Hospital District.

Economic Indicators

Witherington said top employers in the county are Columbia County Health System, with 183 employees; Bluewood Ski Area, with total seasonal and non-seasonal employees numbering 164; the Dayton School District with 106 employees; and Columbia County with 90 employees.

Top property tax payers in the county are the wind power industries, Broughton Land Company and Northwest Grain Growers.

“The wind industries are the biggest piece of the pie,” said Witherington. They employ 40 people in the county and are keeping tax rates from going up, she said. The property tax rate fell $2.17 per $1,000 in the first phase of wind farm construction, she said.

The unemployment rate in Columbia County has fallen from a historic high of 12-16% to 4.5% in October 2018, which is the lowest it has been in many years, said Witherington.

Witherington said these are all very good indicators, but the lack of adequate housing and services may be responsible for the numbers of people who work in the county, but don’t live here.

The median hourly wage in the county is $19.89. Utility workers and construction workers are receiving the highest wages, but health care workers don’t fare as well, she said.

29% of workers are age 55 and older, which indicates the need for younger people to attain skills and move into the job market as older workers retire, Witherington added.

Top three projects for 2019

Thirty-six stakeholders attended the Dec. 19 meeting, and 30 of them cast votes for next year’s top three priorities.

The top vote getters were housing/assisted living/workforce/condos, wastewater treatment plant, and school facilities improvements.

School facilities improvements tied with pool/community center/fitness center, at number three on the list of priorities.

“We take it very seriously at the Port and try to work on what people voted for,” said Port Manager Jennie Dickinson. Having a priority list is important when going after grants for funding, she said.

 

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