ILWACO The city councils meeting chambers were full last week as Ilwaco Mayor Mike Cassinelli delivered his State of the City address, which shed light on the citys financial situation, projects for 2011, plans to revive Black Lake, and water quality and rate structures.
Right now the city and county are recovering from several economically painful years, Cassinelli said. With Pacific County unemployment rates improving from 12.2 percent in 2009 to 10.3 percent in 2010, we are still far from the 2008 rate of 7.3 percent. Although economists say the worst of the recession is behind us, the forecast is for a modest recovery over the next few years. The council and I are committed to keeping the city on track through these challenging times.
When I was elected mayor last year, my top priority was to implement strategies for city-wide fiscal responsibility by stopping the drain on city reserves and starting to rebuild them. Today, my commitment to our financial health remains my number one focus.
Cassinelli explained that the city has been controlling spending by reducing city staff, while the remaining staff have picked up the slack and forgone raises.
Another way the council implemented this strategy was to conclude the outstanding issues on the fire hall insurance reimbursement by participating in mediation, he added. By settling this insurance claim, the city was able to pay down debt and avoid future litigation and interest charges.
FEMA and street grants
On a more positive note, the city also received a FEMA grant for the fire department to purchase new fire hoses and appliances. Based on our Citizen Satisfaction Survey, you were most satisfied with how the city responds to fire and emergency incidents and rated it most important. In 2011, council members (Gini) Chin and (David) Jensen will continue to pursue additional fire prevention and safety grants to fund training, safety and more.
The mayor said obtaining grant funding for road projects has been and will continue to be a priority for the city, as citizen surveys also revealed that road and sidewalk maintenance is important to Ilwaco residents.
In 2010, the city received two state Transportation Improvement Board grants one for over $600,000 to rebuild School Street and the other for a $99,000 overlay project on Brumbach. While these grants will help, the council is aware that many other roads and sidewalks need improving, including those in Vandalia and Baker Bay, and the Lake Street sidewalks.
Cassinelli said that during 2010, the Black Lake Steering Committee utilized a $21,500 grant from the Department of Ecologym (DOE) to develop a Black Lake Integrated Aquatic Vegetation Management Plan. This project helped educate the public to prevent further spread of invasive aquatic species that have diminished the lakes recreational and irrigation use. An additional $125,000 grant has also been granted by DOE to eradicate the invasive species, which dominates 70 percent of the lake, impacts cranberry farms economically, and hampers recreational use for fishing, kayaking, swimming and boating. A newly formed Parks Commission, which will be appointed in 2011, will assist staff with managing this grant, along with other parks and recreation projects.
Cassinelli said the tourist generated occupancy tax revenue has decreased due to the sluggish economy. A decline in lodging tax collections resulted in less funding available for the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau and the Ilwaco Merchants Association in 2011.
Water and sewer
The mayor also addressed water and sewer service and rates, which he felt was a critical issue last year.
As I am sure you are aware, the issue of water quality has been a major concern to both the citizens and staff. One issue the city has struggled with in the past is deferred maintenance. In an effort to keep rates low for a number of years, infrastructure and maintenance have suffered. In 2010, the council made some tough, but necessary decisions regarding utility funding.
Cassinelli said the city is working with the Department of Health to replace filters, pumps and other equipment at the water plant to address these issues. While I cant promise you the city wont continue to have issues with water quality this year, I can promise you that this is one of my top priorities in 2011, he said.
In his final statements, Cassinelli urged members of the public to attend city council meetings regularly, as well as utilize the citys website (www.ilwaco-wa.gov) and Facebook page.