Darrin Raines has worked for the city of Cosmopolis for 25 years, working his way from a maintenance worker to the Public Works director, a position he’s held since 1993. Raines also became the city’s community development director as a way to save money for the city.
Raines, 46, lives in the Wishkah Valley with his wife Kimberlee. They’ve been married 24 years and have a 10-year-old son named Beau.
The city has undergone quite a few cuts in recent years. But with new revenue, what programs or services have been restored or plan to be restored in the upcoming budget year?
First off, it was very difficult making some unpopular cuts with the loss of the pulp mill for five years as well as the economy in general. I’m very honored to be part of a team of department heads and administrators that realized from day one of the notice that Weyerhaeuser was going to close the mill that we needed to make the necessary cuts for our city to survive. It’s a saying we have around here, “We need to try and help ourselves by making tough cuts before we can ask for more out of the citizens.” A combination of this attitude and the reserves built up over the years allowed us to survive and keep the minimum core services available. There were two positions lost in our Police Department, and two positions lost in Public Works. Thankfully, this has been through attrition. Our team of dedicated staff in all departments has made it work with additional work being done by everyone.
One of the first programs we had several requests to bring back was the Community Compost Program. We were able to do this on a limited basis in 2012. For 2013, this program will be back to full operation where residents of Cosmopolis can bring their lawn clippings and brush to the City Shop on Wednesdays and weekends from March through October free of charge. This has been a popular program that has helped reduce Code Enforcement needs and to keep our community clean.
There are no other real program changes expected for 2013. Our first priority is to start placing funds back into reserves. It is our belief that it is our duty to be fiscally responsible and build back the reserves that were left for us. If prior administrations and councils had not provided us the reserves we had while the mill was closed, we would not have survived. We have to do the same for the future of Cosmopolis and its citizens.
However, maintenance levels will pick up in the parks and cemetery. These departments were hard hit the last several years and by looking at our parks you can sure see it. We plan on getting our parks cleaned up and back to the standard we expect and our citizens deserve. It will take time but by the end of 2013 we will see a difference in the appearance of our parks and cemetery.
How is the work on Mill Creek Park and its related dam going? The governor’s budget proposed $2.25 million for the dam. Is the plan to rebuild it or let things lie? And how does all of this impact the wild salmon that have returned to the park in the wake of the dam’s breach?
This has been an extremely challenging issue to get resolved. We seemed to be running up against roadblock after roadblock with funding opportunities from the very beginning. No funding agency was looking to help repair or build a new dam. There were, however, opportunities to get either low-interest loans or partial grants to remove the dam. The City of Cosmopolis is simply not in a financial position to spend upward of $300,000 to $500,000 on a local match for a grant or to pay back a low-interest loan. We also thought with the current economy and residents already being strapped financially, it was not the right time to go ask for a bond issue to be passed for the dam.
In 2010, we started looking at the option of removing the dam because of the lack of opportunities to fund a new dam. This option also presented other challenges as we knew we would lose the flood control aspect of the dam as well as the recreational aspect. Before we could make the decision to remove the dam, we needed engineering data to show what effects dam removal would have on the rest of Mill Creek downstream. We have six large culverts running under streets in Cosmopolis where Mill Creek passes through that would need to be evaluated for capacity and condition.
We hired the Engineering Consulting Group HDR Engineering of Olympia to help gather and process data that was accumulated since the dam was breached on Nov. 12, 2008. HDR Engineering developed a Multi-Objective Plan for Mill Creek. This plan has helped set a course to be able to be placed on the Governor’s Capital Budget in the amount of $2.25 million. This would not have been possible without the hard work of our mayor as well as many others that we have had tour the site. We have had Congressman Dicks on site, state Rep. Brian Blake, the Army Corps of Engineers, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Department of Ecology, Chehalis Basin Flood Authority and many others.
If the $2.25 million is approved in the next legislative session, we will be able to start the planning and engineering part of the project in July or August of 2013. The planning and engineering process will make the final determination which direction we go. At this time, we are thinking a new dam because of the dual purpose of flood control and recreation. It sure would be nice to create a dam that would incorporate flood control, recreation with the return of the 14-and-under fishing program and fish passage for salmon.
As one of your many duties, you’re in charge of the city’s parks. What’s the state of the city’s parks these days and how is the Friends of Makarenko Park working out?
When we lost over 60 percent of our revenue from the loss of the Weyerhaeuser Pulp Mill, our general fund took the brunt of that loss. Parks and Cemetery are part of that fund with Police and Fire Services. All of these departments were severely cut and are finally slowly on the rebound.
The Parks budget was cut 61 percent over a five-year period as the reserves were being depleted. Parks maintenance was down to mowing some parks once a month and repairs done on an emergency basis only. Thankfully during this time we had many volunteer hours from organized volunteer work parties, church groups, youth groups, and community service workers. Without this help our parks would be in even worse condition than they are now. In 2012, we started to gain ground on deferred maintenance of the parks. We still have some capital improvements that need to be made during 2013 to get caught up as well as general cleanup of the parks. One of the important projects for 2013 is the rebuilding of the gazebo in Mill Creek Park. It has rotting posts that have jeopardized the safety of the facility so it has been closed and blocked off from public entry until it is repaired. We will start work on this project around April.
The general cleanup of the parks will start soon after the first of the year. It is a priority to get the parks looking like they used to prior to the mill closure. This is a standard we expect and our citizens deserve.
The Friends of Makarenko Park have been a huge help to us. Makarenko Park is funded by a separate budget than the other parks. Its funding comes from the annual interest earned from the endowment that was given to the City of Cosmopolis with the donation of land for the park. The endowment states that only interest earned on the endowment fund can be used for park maintenance, no principle can be used. So, as you know, interest rates have been very low the last few years and this has cut the revenue for Makarenko Park. Without the help of the Friends of Makarenko Park, the condition of the park would be much worse.
Last month, during the heavy rains, a culvert that ran under C Street in Cosmopolis collapsed, then a hole opened in the road above it when a woman drove over it. Luckily, the woman and her two children were inside the car unharmed. What’s happened since the hole developed, who paid for it and do we know why the culvert ended up failing?
That was a scary scene that day. I’m just thankful everyone was fine and no one was hurt! The culverts have been replaced by Rognlin’s Inc., the road has be repaved by Lakeside and the road has been reopened. Rognlin’s started work on the project the day after the failure occurred, worked through the Thanksgiving weekend, and had everything done within two weeks. Everything came together real well and I would like to thank WDFW for helping us so quickly, and Rognlin’s and Lakeside for the great jobs they did.
The City of Cosmopolis is paying the bill on this one. There was not enough damage statewide that would cause FEMA to get involved, nor does our insurance cover it. The total cost is around $67,000. We believe the culvert failed from a combination of the excess flows going through it since the dam breached in 2008, and the pipes separating. The day the culvert failed, the lower area of Mill Creek Park was under two feet of water, so there was a lot of pressure on those pipes.
Since the latest downtown sidewalk and corridor improvements were finished, are there any other big projects being discussed or worked about? Are there any more phases to extend the sidewalks in the works? How did all of that work out?
The Downtown Corridor Project was almost 20 years in the making. This project was the idea of former council members Tom Grenfell and Fritz Bramstedt. When we started the initial planning and design, I never dreamed it would take as long as it did to get the project complete. There were multiple funding issues over the years with either grant funding or the lack of local match funding. We stuck with it, and the final phase of the project was completed in 2011.
This project was a real team effort. We had help from the Grays Harbor Council of Government staff in helping us wade through the funding problems, and from WSDOT Aberdeen Project Engineers Office with help on engineering and design. We could not have accomplished what we did without either of these agencies’ help and it is much appreciated!
There may be extensions of the sidewalks on either end of the current improvements in the future. If this is done, there would not be as much detail to the improvements as what you see in the recently completed section. The primary reason for this is the cost, however things change and you never know what opportunities may arise.
We are in the planning process of developing a theme for our newly zoned Waterfront Use Zone. This new zone extends on the Chehalis River side of US 101 from F Street to the north city limits. This zone was created by the Planning Commission and our City Council to try and take advantage of our waterfront business opportunities. With strategic planning, we feel the combination of the Downtown Corridor Project and the Waterfront Use Zone will bring opportunities for new business in Cosmopolis.
Quirky question: How often do people think you’re related to Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines and how tired do you get correcting people that she’s your sister-in- law?
That comes up fairly often, not as much as it used to. I’ve been here 25 years and she has been on the City Council as a council member or as mayor for more than 10 years so most people know us by now and know our relationship.
It doesn’t really bother me much anymore. At first I was a little apprehensive about how it would work out, but not anymore. She has done a lot of good things for our city and has been a big help to me with some of the Community Development issues we have had over the last few years. She is a hard worker that at times seems like another staff member working with us to resolve issues. This is a big help, and at times we get spread pretty thin with our duties, so she helps get things done.
Any other information the City of Cosmopolis has going on that may be of interest?
At our recent City Council meeting, the City Council passed a new Water & Sewer Utility Tax that is being used to pay for the Ambulance Availability Fee we pay the City of Aberdeen. This new tax is replacing the Property Tax Levy that is due to expire at the end of 2012 that was used to pay the Ambulance Availability Fee.
For single-person homes or residents who do not use a lot of water or sewer, their new tax will actually be less than what they paid in property taxes for the same purpose. Residents who use more water and sewer will pay more. We feel this is a more equitable way to pay for the Ambulance Availability Fee. This will be monitored throughout 2013 to make sure it is working as planned.