State of the Cities
Water reuse, park facilities upgrades focus for city in 2021
Last updated 12/24/2020 at 12:05pm
Addressing infrastructure needs
CHENEY — While it’s been a difficult year, the overall state of the city is good, Mayor Chris Grover told participants at last Wednesday’s virtual “State of the Cities” event sponsored by the West Plains Chamber of Commerce and Multicare.
The city has felt its share of the economic impacts from COVID-19 protocols imposed by the state, particularly small businesses, Grover said, but has managed to escape some of the more devastating fallout. Most local small businesses have stayed open to degrees while keeping customers and staff safe, he added.
Grover said they were also surprised an anticipated reduction in sales tax revenue didn’t materialize to the extent predicted when the pandemic broke out and restrictions on businesses were put into place in late March/early April. But while that was a bonus helping with budgeting for 2021 — along with work over the past several years to increase the city’s reserve funds — officials were still wary of the funding outlook for next year.
“We thought it was going to be a little bit lower than what we actually got,” Grover said. “We’re pleased about that, but we’re also cautiously optimistic about going into 2021.”
Looking ahead, Grover said the city has no large capital projects currently planned for 2021. Cheney’s tax coffers have benefited recently from projects such as the remodel and renovation of school district facilities and projects at Eastern Washington University such as the Pence Union Building remodel and the new Interdisciplinary Science Center that is wrapping up and scheduled for opening next year.
As such, Grover said they will be providing support for EWU’s request for $45 million to fund the first phase of an estimated $100 million renovation of its 1960s-era Science Building. It’s a project that could be a hard sell to a Legislature that will be facing addressing economic impacts of the pandemic in its upcoming 105-day session beginning in January.
Cheney is also working with residential developers on possible infill projects, such as a proposed single-family development between the Care Center facility and Simpson Parkway. But the main focus in 2021 will be developing another resource — one that needs protection and is located underneath residents’ feet — the city’s aquifer.
“Our number one priority is moving forward with our water reuse and conservation program,” Grover said.
A city-hired consultant has developed plans to modify the city’s wastewater treatment plant so that it can produce drinking-water standard filtrated effluent that would then be used for irrigation, thus further easing strains not only on the aquifer but the city’s water production system. Cheney has procured several large grants to help with design of the facility, and is seeking a $19 million loan for construction of the estimated $23 million upgrade.
“It’s an aggressive plan to reuse up to a million gallons of water from our wastewater treatment plant to serve the city’s irrigation demands from June to September the playfields, the parks, the school district green space as well as other big water uses like Eastern and some of our big apartment complexes,” Grover said.
Grover also said the city plans to focus in 2021 on fixing its aging parks system, which has been neglected while other challenges have been addressed the past several years. The focus includes upgrading and replacing playground equipment, repairing and modernizing restroom facilities and fixing up the city’s municipal pool.
The city will also continue its efforts started earlier this year to improve local internet access and reliability. The city partnered with one internet provider, Pterra, on service earlier in the year and reached an agreement with Avista to be the pilot for another service.
Finally, while providing some assistance through federal funding, Grover said they were going to continue efforts to help residents and small businesses financially impacted by COVID-19. He echoed the sentiments of Multicare CEO Dr. David O’Brien, who asked participants in the meeting at its beginning to practice coronavirus health protocols.
“People, take care of each other,” Cheney City Administrator Mark Schuller added in agreement. “Care about your neighbor. Wear your mask. We’ll get through this. Just commit to doing this the right way.”
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s ahead for Medical Lake, Airway Heights in 2021
By DREW LAWSON
CHENEY — Water and population growth were among the chief topics presented by mayor Shirley Maike and city administrator Doug Ross of Medical Lake and deputy mayor Sonny Weathers of Airway Heights to the West Plains Chamber of Commerce at its annual “State of the Cities” event Dec. 16.
Maike began the Medical Lake presentation by touting the city’s community and citizens during an unsurprisingly trying year. She also complimented the city’s staff for their work during distanced and remote circumstances.
“We have multiple organizations and individuals stepping up to the plate and encouraging us to shop local,” Maike said.
Ross said city staff is as “busy as ever,” despite the doors to city hall being closed. He said he hopes that the pandemic has caused more people to realize the advantages of paying bills online, which he said helps ease the process.
City revenues didn’t drop as far as city staff expected, Ross added. Sales tax revenue will likely be the second highest it has ever been. Gas tax revenue and recreation fee income did drop.
“Every time (Gov. Jay Inslee) announces some kind of rollback, our sales tax revenue increases,” Ross said. “Sometimes, I feel kind of guilty, because as a city we’re doing okay when I know so many of our residents are struggling.”
He noted that the city received $225,225 in CARES Act funding allocation. $132,000 went to small business relief grants. $93,000 was split between utility relief grants and nonprofits. Medical Lake Outreach received $35,000, while the food bank got $23,000.
Ross also shared the near completion of the Spokane Intertie water project, which will provide an emergency backup water source to the city. It was a necessary project, as water is a big issue on the West Plains, he said.
“It’s one of the biggest issues we have,” Ross said. “It gives us peace of mind that if something happens with the aquifer…we actually have a backup.”
Weathers told the Chamber that 2020 was a challenging year, but the population growth in the city continues to enhance its desirability.
“Airway Heights surpassed the 10,000 population mark for the first time in our history,” Weathers said.
He added that the city put in 200 housing units in 2019 and over 600 units either preliminarily platted or currently in development in 2020.
“We’re discussing an urban growth area boundary amendment to provide an additional 180 acres of residential development that is much needed in the area,” Weathers said.
Weathers also shared that the city obligated 100% of the $430,000 in CARES Act money the city received. It was partially used to support roughly 30 businesses with a combined $205,000 in grant funding in partnership with the Chamber.
The city also received funding for the 6th/10th/12th corridor project, Weathers noted.
Water is also a major issue in Airway Heights, he noted, as is the lack of schools in the city.
“We still are working on resolving the (2017) PFOS contamination issue from Fairchild Air Force Base,” Weathers said. “We are now the only municipality in Spokane County to not have a complete K-12 school system inside our city, with just a single K-5 school for a growing student population.”
COVID-19 brought the city a nearly 25% revenue shortcoming.
Weathers concluded by touting the partnerships the city has with Fairchild Air Force Base and Cheney Public Schools, while noting the city hopes to open its recreation and aquatic center as soon as COVID-19 rollbacks allow.
Drew Lawson can be reached at email@example.com.