Port Angeles needs to strike balance between cost, quality, city manager tells chamber audience

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles needs to strike a balance between the cost of environmental projects and the quality of life that such projects support, City Manager Dan McKeen told area business leaders Monday.

Already saddled by state cuts and the slow economy, the city could have to pony up between $57.5 million and $65.2 million over the next 20 years to pay for projects required by the state Department of Ecology.

“It's one of the major causes of increased utility bills this year,” McKeen told an audience about 50 at the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Port Angeles Red Lion Hotel.

McKeen sent a letter to Ecology last fall outlining the projects and their impact to citizens.

“It's pretty significant,” he said.

“This is kind of a difficult one. It's difficult because we know it's probably about the worst time to be looking at any increases to the cost of not only bringing a business into town, constructing something or even on your personal utility bills because of the economy.

“On the other side of it,” McKeen added, “the one thing that is unique to Port Angles that we all love, that every single one of us in this room really enjoys and probably loves, just like I do, is our environment.”

“So where is that balance?”

At $42 million, the city's ongoing combined sewer overflow project is the costliest public works venture in the history of the city.

Other needed environmental projects are the
$12 million to $20 million bluff stabilization at the Port Angeles landfill, a $2.2 million municipal stormwater permit, a $500,000 update to the Shoreline Master Program and the $1 million cleanup of Port Angeles Harbor.

“Even just putting those studies together is a very expensive proposition,” McKeen said of the latter.

In a follow-up interview, McKeen said the City Council will hold a workshop on the landfill bluff stabilization project today.

The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 521 E. Fifth St.

“The one thing we count on is a great environment, so we need to be good stewards of the environment,” McKeen told the chamber membership.

“But at the same time, where is that balance?”

He added that he emphasis of the letter “was to say we want to do the right thing, we just need some financial assistance.”

Ecology responded in a Jan. 2 letter assuring city officials that Port Angeles is in high priority status for receiving Ecology funding.

The agency included a $6.5 million request in the state's 2013-2015 biennium budget to help the city pay for the landfill bluff stabilization project.

McKeen spent the majority of his 38-minute talk addressing the city's three main goals.

They are:

■ Preserving and protecting city assets, including infrastructure and staff.

■ Strengthening community safety and welfare.

■ Planning and building for the future.

McKeen spent 12 years as Port Angeles fire chief until he was named interim city manager in April. The City Council unanimously selected him as permanent city manager in July.

McKeen replaced former Port Angeles City Manager Kent Myers, who took a similar job in Fredericksburg, Texas, in May.

Citing the city Fire Department's resource-sharing agreement with Clallam County Fire District No. 2, McKeen stressed the need for partnerships.

“I think to be really effective, we need to think beyond those geopolitical boundaries and start sharing resources, where appropriate, where both side benefit,” he said.

“It's another one of those things that I think the public really expects and really wants us to do.

“We can't give duplication of similar services next to where you can almost throw a rock at it. There are limited funds, and we just need to make the best use of those funds.”

Last summer, the city's revenue projections were on pace to be more than $500,000 less than budgeted because of shrinking sale tax revenue, higher criminal justice costs and other factors.

The city tightened its belt, shed eight positions and aligned expenses with revenue.

“Unfortunately, we may even have a challenge in 2013 with our budget, if you look at what's happening at the state level,” McKeen said.

“We anticipate, and I think both the county and the city anticipates, that there will be impacts to both of our organizations, both of our jurisdictions, because of decreases to state shared-revenue.”

The city is working on a long-range strategic financial plan to address shrinking state revenue.

Next week, the city will post a work plan explaining the rationale for its various projects on its website, www.cityofpa.us.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 28. 2013 6:36PM
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