State capital budget gap spurs Whidbey agencies to consider new options

The state legislature had until the end of its third special session on July 20 to pass a capital budget.

It’s now September and there’s still no budget plan. It’s absence has caused local taxing districts optimistic of scoring funding for proposed projects to start considering alternative funding sources, in case no budget is ever passed.

Two of those taxing districts are South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District and the Freeland Water and Sewer District.

“Until they approve the capital budget, we’re at a standstill with the campground project,” Parks Director Doug Coutts said in the August commissioners meeting.

“We’ve had an informal meeting with our campground committee to discuss our options if funding isn’t presented, such as grassroots and volunteer options,” Parks Commissioner Matt Simms said. “An alternative plan is to bridge the gap, meaning we do something with the available resources to get the site up and running, even if it’s only a limited amount of campsites.”

Although the state legislature passed an operational budget earlier this year to prevent a government shutdown, a two-year $4 billion capital budget is yet to be passed over a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature over rural water rights legislation. The capital budget funds an array of construction projects across the state; school, park and environmental work are common.

Gov. Jay Inslee has the power to call the state Legislature to reconvene for a fourth special session to pass a capital budget. However, if one isn’t passed before the end of the year, projects across the state that were set to score funding will have to wait two years for another chance.

For South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District, a lack of a capital budget throws a monkey wrench into its proposed Community Park campground project. The district applied for more than half a million dollars for the first of two construction phases to bring campsites to Community Park off Maxwelton Road. The district was confident of scoring the funds and still is, although officials say they have to draw up other options in case that funding doesn’t come.

“We will talk about those options in the September commissioners meeting to see what the board thinks the district should do in that scenario,” Simms said. “We understand a lot of the core elements of the plan would be impossible without the funding, like ADA approved sites, a bathroom and maintenance building. Those would need materials and funding.”

The Freeland Water and Sewer District was also set to receive nearly $1.5 million in state funding for the Phase 1A sewer project. The existing design for disposing of treated effluent is currently on hold due to cost concerns. Two new possibilities were recently proposed, however: an outfall at Robinson Beach Park in Mutiny Bay, and hooking up to Langley’s wastewater treatment plant.

The $1.5 million is just a portion of the needed funds for the $12.9 million sewer project.

“The $1.5 million won’t pay for the project, so it won’t cause the project not to happen, but it does put us $1.5 million in the hole,” Commissioner Lou Malzone said. “Until the capital budget is passed, we don’t have the funding and there’s no guarantee it’ll be there. We would have to continue looking for funding if it doesn’t come, but I don’t know where.”

A statement on Rep. Norma Smith’s, R-Clinton, website says both she and Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano, are “frustrated the Legislature adjourned this summer without passing a strong capital budget,” although both maintained the importance of passing rural water rights legislation.

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