Despite the pandemic, Town of Coupeville staff members found ways to increase efficiency and customer service, but next year may see the first utility rate increase in two decades. according to Mayor Molly Hughes.
The mayor presented her annual “state of the town address” this past Tuesday during a teleconferenced Coupeville Chamber of Commerce meeting.
“This has been a year of all work and no play,” Hughes said. “No festivals, no fundraisers, no public meetings, no parties, no events. The rec hall’s been closed for nine months. We’ve all just had our noses to the grindstone.”
She acknowledged the accomplishments of the previous year and updated listeners on what’s next for the town in the new year.
Subtle changes that were made at the administrative level of the city have helped streamline certain processes.
Hughes said a company was hired to process utility bills and city staff no longer has to stuff 1,100 utility bills every billing period.
In addition, for the first time, public meetings and building permit applications went online and as a result, which turned out to be a more efficient way to handle business.
A consultant was hired at the end of the year to perform a formal utility rates study for all three utilities in Coupeville. Hughes said she expects utility rates will rise, something that hasn’t happened in nearly 20 years. Recommendations from the study will be presented at the end of February.
With the help of CARES funds, Coupeville was able to award a total of $124,000 to 27 small businesses.
Hughes shared that she was “surprised and happy” to report for the first three quarters of the year, sales tax revenue was down by only 7 percent.
She said she had planned for it to be down by 50 percent after the second quarter, but by then it was down by only 14 percent.
Construction projects that continued, as well as online ordering, helped bolster sales tax revenue for 2020.
She commended small businesses for being both creative and flexible in their business models.
“Coupeville has just been a shining star on the island,” she said, adding that residents have taken the “shop local” motto to heart.
Coupeville hired a new planning director in 2020 who, Hughes said, is appreciative of the town’s historic heritage and is familiar with its comprehensive and shoreline plans.
The department is receiving more building permits than ever before, for both new construction and renovations.
The Shoreline Master Plan is required to be updated this year. Ebey’s Reserve design guidelines will also need to be updated.
Hughes said about 15 small “housekeeping” changes will be made to update the town’s building code.
Last year, Hughes said, was all about the street work.
Coupeville received around $750,000 in grants from the Transportation Improvement Board.
The mayor explained that the town only had to match 5 percent of that total.
Overlay work was completed on all of South Main Street and many residential streets in town. An additional grant helped to finish off a sidewalk project at the intersection of Coveland and Alexander streets.
Hughes said the intersection had previously been a site for illegal parking. With the new sidewalk, the corner has been cleaned up and new pedestrian lights have been installed to help dispel any confusion about the intersection.
Floors were refinished in the town’s rec hall. Next up, the parking lot will be re-striped, depending on the weather.
A bright spot in the year, the community garden was reopened and was accessed by 40 gardeners, the most the town has ever had.
“With COVID, there were so many people working from home and children at home that we had several families rent a plot,” Hughes said, adding that kids have integrated gardening into their school curriculum.
There was even a wedding held in the community garden this summer.
Perhaps the biggest public works project, one Hughes is hopeful will finally begin in 2021, is the FEMA water line. The project received a $1.2 million grant, she explained, and consists of about one mile of line out by Fort Casey and the Coupeville ferry terminal. The town signed a contract with FEMA in December.
As the weather changes and more large storm events occur, there has been concern about the danger of overwhelming the town’s utility systems.
“This coming year is all about stormwater,” Hughes said, adding that residents have been having issues with culverts causing overflow, which will need to be addressed.
A big rainstorm in February 2020 sent “hundreds of gallons” of water rushing through the sewer plant. Hughes credited the utilities crew for preventing spillage into Penn Cove that night, because workers vacuumed up sewage with a truck from the lift stations around town that were being overwhelmed.
There was damage to the plant’s two pumps and headworks. The town applied for funds from FEMA to replace the pumps. The headworks, a hefty piece of equipment in the plant, still needs to be repaired.
The mayor shared that the wastewater treatment plant operators received an award from the Department of Ecology for outstanding performance.
In 2021, the utility crew will be conducting a stormwater quality study, focusing on the stormwater coming from the outfalls into Penn Cove. The study will result in recommendations to the town if any treatment needs to be added.
“We always want to do as much as we can to protect the Cove,” Hughes said.