Movin' on up

As population increases and Medical Lake moves out of small city status, public works funding may face challenges

 

Last updated 9/21/2017 at 9:38am



By PAUL DELANEY

Staff Reporter

Recently at a Medical Lake City Council meeting, City Administrator Doug Ross informed the members that in all likelihood they were about to jump into the big fish pond.

As the city approached, and actually surpassed the 5,000 plateau in population, it was also going to be forced to move out the “Small Cities” category for what is known as Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) street funds.

“Right now we’re in the small cities account,” Ross said, meaning they compete with other municipalities that are under 5,000 in population for grant dollars for street repairs.

“There’s a lot of those, I think there’s far less in 5,000 and above, but I don’t have the breakdown,” Ross said. The size of the projects, however, are in scale with the size of the community, he added.

Outside of public works it does not mean a lot, Ross said.

TIB has been extremely generous, and Medical Lake has been fortunate to receive quite a few grants. The monies cover complete reconstruction projects or lately, street repair projects, Ross said.

TIB grants operate off of a 95-5 percent formula where the city puts up 5 percent match and receives 95 percent funding. The grants, like so many other street and highway dollars, come from gas tax revenues.

Every TIB grant requires supporting application paperwork — a fuel tax agreement — to outline where funds will be spent.

“What that agreement says is this project is funded by fuel tax and the city will only spend the grant money on the project they had applied for,” Ross said. “We actually have to sign an agreement that we won’t put in a swimming pool.”


Medical Lake had been hovering around the edges of that 5,000 benchmark, and actually exceeded it this year, Ross said.

Except he was able to make arguments that the estimate from the Washington Office of Financial Management used to arrive at the benchmark should be lower.

“We’re sitting right at 4,990 right now,” Ross said.

Every year OFM sends cities the equivalent of a workbook, Ross said. The city has to enter information on all the new structures that were built or removed. And, “If you have institutions within your population, what the institutional population is,” which must be factored.

That data is combined with other statistics and is compared with vacancy rates from the post office and real estate. “OFM has some formula that then determines your population,” Ross explained.

These occur on off-census years with official population counts conducted every 10 years. The next is in 2020 when actual population numbers will be used.

For public works projects in 2016-17 the TIB grants have been a significant factor in completing projects, Ross said. “We got almost $250,000,” which funded a handful of projects. TIB monies annually cover all the costs of Medical Lake street projects.


But it could become a little more difficult now that the club includes Seattle, Spokane and many others.

“They don’t just submit one, they submit multiple projects,” Ross said. A typical project in the larger city pool might include street, sidewalks and storm drains and could cost $750,000. “That doesn’t make the money go very far,” he added.

Not having been involved in that level before, “Maybe I’m being an alarmist, maybe I’m being worried about nothing, maybe it will be a piece of cake,” Ross said.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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