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City seeks say in county windfall

People who run the city of Oak Harbor want a hand in deciding how $400,000 in “rural designation” funding will be divied up.

Mayor Patty Cohen and city council members signed a letter, recently sent to the Island County commissioners, that urges them to “proceed with caution” and establish a process for giving out the money.

The letter apparently met with nods in the commissioners’ office. Commissioner Mike Shelton said they’re more than willing to consult with Oak Harbor and other officials before handing out the money.

In fact, Shelton said the new county-wide Council of Governments may be the appropriate place to “put together a plan” for dispersing the money. The council, which hasn’t officially been ratified, is made up of officials from the county, cities and port district.

Representatives from the county, Oak Harbor, the chambers of commerce and the Island County Economic Development Council lobbied the state Legislature for years to designate the county is “rural.” Counties designated as “rural” recoup .08 percent of sales taxes for economic infrastructure.

The Legislature passed the measure designating Island County this year. Shelton said the county started collecting the money, which should amount to over $400,000 a year, in July.

According to Shelton, the money is meant for building things like “roads, sewers or water lines to enable economic growth in areas designated in comp plans for commercial development.”

Shelton said the commissioners have already earmarked $32,000 of the funding for the EDC, but he said none of the money has actually been spent yet.

City council members have suggested that the money could be used to build sewer and water lines to the Goldie Road commercial area or put in infrastructure to the designated business area north of Oak Harbor.

Shelton said he wholeheartedly agrees that officials from Oak Harbor, as well as other local governments, should be involved in deciding how to use the money. He said the state statute indicated this should be done “in consultation with cities.”

“It is imperative that a process be established before any of these funds are dedicated or allocated to any project or organization...” the city’s letter to the commissioners states. “Not having a process in place could potentially open the doors for tangent projects or administrative costs that could dilute the value and benefit these funds could provide Island County to further our economic development endeavors.”

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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