Council pares, passes ARPA funding list

The city allocated about $3.8 million of ARPA funds during Tuesday’s meeting.

A pathway connecting Pioneer Way and Bayshore Drive, a temporary economic development coordinator and supplanting funding for an “enterprise resource funding initiative” were casualties of disagreements among the Oak Harbor City Council about the spending of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The federal government awarded the city $6.6 million in recovery funds last year, of which $1.7 million have already been allocated. A committee and the council have repeatedly discussed additional ways to spend the money in order to boost the economy and finally made a decision at the Tuesday night meeting.

In the end, about $3.8 million was allocated.

That included $1.5 million to replace deteriorating steel and asbestos water lines, $880,000 to replace old and brittle sewer lines, $325,000 for sewer slip line replacements, $300,000 for a water reclamation irrigation system at Windjammer Park, $250,000 to replace asbestos cement water lines on Northeast Regatta Drive, $150,000 to fund half the study of dredging the marina, $150,000 for generators for city hall and the senior center, $139,000 for citywide air duct cleaning and replacement of senior center HVAC system, $75,000 to augment the higher-than-anticipated cost of replacing the senior center roof and $20,000 for a police VR system.

Councilmembers Eric Marshall and Dan Evans raised concerns some concerns.

“The one thing I’m having a hard time with is fully funding Serendipity Lane, $200,000 for Serendipity Lane,” Marshall said, “especially since we’re only giving the marina half of what they need and we own the marina.”

Serendipity Lane is a proposal that’s been on the books for years. It’s a walkable corridor that’s meant to draw people back to the area and improve pedestrian circulation. The Main Street Association requested ARPA funds for the project.

Marshall said he would support giving the Main Street Association $100,000 that they could use to leverage grants or fund raise the remaining amount. He suggested that the $100,000 the city saved could be used to install the Portland loos — prefabricated bathrooms — the city already purchased for Flintstone Park.

Evans said that $200,000 was a lot of money and he would rather see it spent on infrastructure improvements. He pointed out that spending ARPA funds on infrastructure instead of enterprise funds — from ratepayers — will mean lower rates.

Marshall and Evans, who were both past presidents of the Main Street Association, emphasized that they supported the organization.

Evans also questioned the creation of a limited-term economic development coordinator position. The proposal would fund $65,000 for the remainder of this year.

“We have a lot of work to do in the city before we are going to be able to start attracting people to our city,” he said, again saying that infrastructure is struggling and needs to be a priority.

In addition, Evans questioned the wisdom of hiring an 18-month position as part of an enterprise resource planning initiative to replace the city’s sunsetting financial, payroll and human resource computer system.

Councilmember Bryan Stucky previously raised concerns about some of the items on the list, questioning whether they were truly economic development projects. This week, he urged council members to vote on each item individually, but they didn’t heed his advice.

Councilmember Jim Woessner spoke passionately about the city’s need for an economic development position, pointing out that it’s been something city leaders have been wanting for at least five years. He said other communities have similar positions and Oak Harbor needs someone in order to compete in today’s competitive economy.

In the end, however, the council members unanimously accepted a friendly amendment from Evans that removed Serendipity Lane, the economic development position and the enterprise resource funding initiative from the funding list. The rest of the projects were unanimously approved. Mayor Pro Tem Beth Munns was absent from the meeting.