County dips into tax rebate fund for project

MONTESANO — The Grays Harbor County commissioners approved dipping into a special economic development fund to the tune of $116,611 for a proposed paving project in the Elma area and at Junction City.

The fund, which gets its money from a .09 percent sales tax rebate from the state’s share of sales tax generated in the area, is typically used for infrastructure projects, not road projects. County Commissioner Herb Welch said that the county was using the advice of Public Services Director Kevin Varness to tap into the fund, instead of its existing road fund.

The county recently received $743,173 in federal grant funds for the paving projects, but it requires 15 percent matching funds. Varness said that by using the economic development fund, the county will save Aberdeen and Elma from having to come up with matching funds.

The paving project is slated to “repair damage from truck hauling on county and city roads that serve the Sierra Pacific mill in Junction City at Sargent Boulevard and Hagara Street and the Murphy Mill at the Elma-McCleary Road and Highway 12 spur,” Varness wrote to the commissioners.

“The projects will support the retainage of jobs at both mills, are publicly owned streets and roads and are included in the county 6-year road plan,” Varness wrote.

Although the proposal was approved, Varness acknowledged using the fund for a road project isn’t commonly done since the county does have a dedicated fund for that purpose. However, he said the fund does have the money to do the work.

Most uses of the economic development fund would have to go through an advisory committee for approval before coming to the commissioners, but the county bypassed that process this time around. The resolution approved a decade ago instituted the advisory committee to review projects, but did leave a way for the commissioners to ignore that process if they chose. Commissioners Wes Cormier and Frank Gordon, newcomers to the board, said they didn’t know there was an advisory committee for the fund.

Varness said he didn’t think using the advisory committee was necessary since he was able to explain the need personally to the commissioners.

“This is a really good project that does support the existing jobs out there,” added Welch.

The paving project is the largest of the $2.2 million in federal funds from the state Department of Transportation, which had been flagged for Grays Harbor projects.

Designs will be done to help downtown Montesano, Elma and McCleary and paving work will be done in unincorporated Elma. Because of a change in federal rules that required all of the funds to be obligated by June 1 and be spent by September, the state Department of Transportation worked with the Grays Harbor Council of Governments to figure out the best projects that could completed quickly and for governments that could afford the required 15 percent match.

The city of Elma will also get $100,000 to design improvements on East Main Street to the city limits in Elma.

The city of McCleary gets $237,000 to design 3rd Street improvements. The city of Montesano gets $87,000 to do a bit more work when it does its Main Street renovations this summer. Montesano also gets $160,000 to start the design work for East Pioneer Avenue.

Meantime, Hoquiam also gets $250,000 for a downtown pedestrian safety project and there’s also $600,000 to do a planning study to figure out what to do about the conflicts between cars and trains at the railroad crossings in front of the Olympic Gateway Mall.