Walla Walla infrastructure plan to go to vote

A revamped, renamed plan to deal with city streets and water and sewer pipes heads to the City Council on Wednesday.


WALLA WALLA -- After more than three months of additional study and numerous information meetings, including four town hall-style meetings, city officials will ask the City Council on Wednesday night to approve their Infrastructure Sustainability Plan, but this time with a new name and some new funding sources.

City Manager Nabiel Shawa explained the name was changed to the Infrastructure Repair and Replacement Plan after numerous residents complained they didn't understand what sustainability meant.

The IRRP is a proposal to replace all city underground water and sewer lines over the next 90 years, as well as repave all city streets, establish a seven-year cycle for chip sealing maintenance, and create moratoriums and bans on certain types of road construction that would damage the integrity of the city's new roads.

But the cost for the decades of replacement work and stepped-up road maintenance could be as high as a 50 percent increase to water and sewer rates by 2015.

Surprisingly, Shawa said there was not much opposition to the rate increases at various information meetings he headed. "We have done 14 of these meetings, and I cannot recollect at any of those meetings where somebody stood up and said 'do not raise our rates.' And the comment I heard most was that you are not going far enough fast enough."

At Wednesday's Meeting, Shawa will introduce several new facets of the IRRP. Among them will be the establishment of a review committee to verify that the scope of work is what residents want, and yearly audits to ensure that allocated funds are used only for IRRP work, Shawa said.

During the last three months of public meetings, city officials reviewed several alternative funding options, including raising property and sales taxes, establishing a $20 auto license tab fee, using municipal bonds, and raising funds through a real estate sale tax, which was the least favored option by meeting-goers, Shawa said.

The most favored, he added, was the $20 auto license tab fee. "I think it is because in their mind a $20 once-a-year fee probably doesn't financially impact them that much. And they see that if I am driving a car and wearing out the street, it is an actual nexus," he added.

Other financial aspects of the IRRP that Shawa will ask the Council to approve include the sale of more than $8 million in municipal bonds to be paid off over five years. The money would be use to boost the IRRP work schedule to begin work on 1.5 miles of infrastructure this year, rather than waiting for utility rates to increase enough to begin the work.

Shawa also will ask the Council to dedicate any increase in utility PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds resulting from higher rates specifically to the IRRP. Under the current system, any excess in PILT funds created by the rate increase would be lumped into the general fund.

Shawa will ask the Council to establish a transportation district, which is a necessary step to being able to implement a $20 auto license tab fee.

Since the infrastructure plan was first introduce eight months ago, a small number of advocates for low-income families have gone public with their opposition to the proposal. They include representatives of Blue Mountain Action Council and St. Vincent de Paul.

The new proposal has lowered the utility rate increase for the first two years to have less of an impact on families and businesses. But it has also extended the replacement cycle from 70 years to just over 90 years, and established the five-year municipal bond sale.

"You do have to be careful of how a rate increase will affect those of low income and businesses. And we know there are some businesses that are financially fragile right now," Shawa said.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

Where and when

  • Wednesday night's Walla Walla City Council meeting will start at 7 p.m. at 15 N. Third Ave at the second floor City Council chamber.


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