City of Waitsburg plans for the new year
A chat with the mayor and city administrator.
December 23, 2021
WAITSBURG—A worldwide pandemic, heavy flooding, staff shortages, supply chain issues, and a shortage of funds made for a difficult past two years for the City of Waitsburg. Mayor Marty Dunn and City administrator Randy Hinchliffe sat down with The Times to reflect on the last two years and plans for the next.
This year began with public meetings restricted to Zoom or other virtual matters, something that Mayor Marty Dunn said was a learning experience. He said the city council handled everything well and adjusted to the situation as it changed.
This year, Dunn said the council navigated through the heated discussions concerning the potential surplus of the Main Street property housing the Weller Public Library. In the beginning of the surplus discussions, Hinchliffe stated that the building needed more repairs than the city could afford, given its current financial status after experiencing major flooding in 2020. American Disability Act requirements, including widening doors, adding accessible entryways, and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms were just a couple of the many updates the aging building needed.
The community reacted strongly against a surplus of the library property. The city council’s public meetings on the surplus and meetings held by the Friends of the Library and the Weller Public Library Board concerning the library’s status were well attended.
As the city council explored the potential surplus, they were presented with conflicting information about which duties the Library Board and the city have concerning the building.
After the council and mayor decided not to put the surplus to vote, Dunn asked the Library Board of Trustees to become more active and report to the council regularly. Communication between the city and the library board has improved greatly, said Dunn.
Hinchliffe said that when the City of Waitsburg initially looked at doing ADA-compliant updates at the library, he planned for a rear entrance space that was wheelchair accessible, similar to what the current Board of Trustees has started. He commended the board, and all the volunteers, for their planning and work so far.
The Library Board of Trustees has elected new members and renewed efforts to provide leadership. The library has received a much-needed deep cleaning, and volunteers poured a large cement pad in preparation for an ADA-compliant wheelchair lift, which should arrive in January 2022.
This year, the city completed the Millrace Grade project, which wrapped up nearly a decade of improvement projects along the Main Street corridor. The Millrace grade is located just north of the town and is a well-used route for large harvest and agricultural trucks. A sharp corner, paired with poor visibility and a steep embankment, created issues when two vehicles met each other along the road. The project also leveled out the railroad crossing and created an ideal spot for the Touchet Valley Trail to end, should the project go through.
“It took a long time,” Hinchliffe said. “We were approved for funding a couple of years ago, but it took so long to get through DOT’s paperwork process.”
Hinchliffe said he’d initially thought the project qualified for railroad safety funding, however, that section of railway is not active enough for those funds. Eventually, Hinchliffe was able to secure funds through the Department of Transportation (DOT). Hinchliffe said the DOT funding required many right-of-way, environmental, and unexpected approvals.
The improved stretch of road provides a detour route in an emergency or should the Preston Avenue bridge be closed for replacement.
Flood protection measures were on nearly every city council meeting agenda as the city continues to recover after 2020.
“We did a bunch of flood control work, but I really don’t want to have to test it,” Hinchliffe said, worried about the upcoming winter conditions and remaining damage to the Touchet River levee. “Hopefully, it’s a nice, mild winter.”
The City of Waitsburg saw an opportunity to relocate City Hall. Using FEMA reimbursement money, the council voted to purchase the former LimaGrain building at 106 Main. The city had determined the former City Hall building needed more improvements than it could fund. According to Dunn and Hinchliffe, the building was built as a bank which made its layout difficult for the city’s day-to-day operation. The steep steps, shared apartment access, and hard-to-reach storage areas contributed to the decision to move the city’s operations.
This year's purchase of the 106 Main St. building was discussed and approved by the council in special and executive meetings, which did not include public disclosure or comment. After the sale was completed, the disposition of the former building was discussed in public meetings, and the council voted at the last council meeting to surplus the property.
The city made the official move to the new building in November, and City Hall is open for business in the new space. The new location includes an office for Hinchliffe and a reception area where Deputy Clerk Brittany Zuger can conduct business. There is an office space for Public Works Director Jim Lynch and an employee break room.
The building has ample storage space in the back to house the city’s lawnmowers, small tractors, street sweepers, and other light equipment. Hinchliffe said that they are unsure if the building will be used for council meetings at this time.
“2021, with the COVID-19 stuff, was a bit of a tough deal,” said Dunn. “I have to commend Randy (Hinchliffe) and the city crew for being able to get through what we got through, and everything they handled, even though they were down one man on the crew. They stepped up and did what they needed to do and kept going. I’m really proud of them.”
The Public Works department contended with employee shortages throughout the year, as it maintained the parks, cemeteries, fairgrounds, and city infrastructure.
The new year looks busy as the city prepares to start further improvement and infrastructure projects.
The sewer lines are one of many infrastructure items to be addressed. This summer, a large portion of the lines near W 7th will be relined, and manholes will be installed at each turn along the system. Sewer lines running through residents’ yards will create some obstacles, Hinchliffe anticipates.
Aging manholes need to be sealed, as well, Hinchliffe said. Since the flooding in February 2020, the water tables have shifted, and there have been new leaks at manhole points that were not impacted before.
Chip sealing throughout Waitsburg is also on the to-do list, Hinchliffe said. Most of the work will be done on the west side of town, with a few streets east of Coppei Avenue scheduled to be sealed.
Construction for the splash pad at Preston Park will begin this spring. The sprinklers, jets, and other components have been purchased, and the project will break ground in time to be open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. The splash pad will provide Waitsburg’s children a safe area to cool off during the summer months.
Both Hinchliffe and Mayor Dunn are looking forward to a year full of improvements and change, including the revival of the downtown corridor with at least two new restaurants and a bar opening, and the Royal Block and Ten Ton Coffee thriving.