Port Townsend acts on pool, traffic, utility fees
PORT TOWNSEND — The future of the Mountain View Pool, utility shutoffs and traffic circles were all on the agenda of the Port Townsend City Council’s in-person meeting.
In a unanimous vote Monday night, the council extended the city’s moratorium on utility bill late fees, penalties and shutoffs through Dec. 31 due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“As of July 31, there were 74 customers over 90 days past due,” said city Finance Manager Tony Hillman, who called in to the meeting via Zoom.
The utility’s past-due balance total is $35,238.
The extension is aimed at providing more time to direct utility customers to local agencies providing financial aid. They include the Olympic Community Action Programs
(OlyCAP) and St. Vincent de Paul.
The city of Port Townsend also has a utility assistance fund to which anyone can donate; Hillman said about $1,100 has been distributed, leaving $7,000 still in the fund. For those who want to donate or apply for aid, forms can be found on the city’s website, cityofpt.us, by clicking on “How Do I,” then “Pay Your Utility Bill” and then scrolling down to COVID-19 Utility Bill Relief and Donations.
Another contribution is slated to go to the city for two “traffic calming islands,” as Public Works Director Steve King called them.
A Washington Street neighborhood group is raising $10,000 to make the islands already on that street permanent. The group needed the city to formally accept those funds as a donation.
At Monday night’s meeting, the council unanimously supported a resolution to do so, given King’s report on how well the islands work.
“We’ve measured the speeds,” he said, of cars traveling Washington Street around those islands, which are at Benton Street near the U.S. Post Office and at Cass Street near the Jefferson County Courthouse.
“We’ve achieved the objective of slowing people down,” even as some are annoyed by these street features, King added.
The neighborhood organization, which intends to give the city the dollars raised through a GoFundMe campaign, can do so legally in light of the resolution.
King said in an interview that he and the city want to build a program to help other neighborhoods fund car-slowing devices.
“There is so much interest in traffic calming,” he said.
“I love the community’s passion for slow cars. It’s really awesome.”
Residents inside and outside the city also express abundant passion about the Mountain View Pool, which closed its doors and lanes this week. With the city unable to find enough staff and the pool’s repeated equipment failures, a new approach was needed, King has said.
Last winter, the city entered into an agreement with the Olympic Peninsula YMCA to help reopen the pool. After a year away, swimmers returned in late March.
The City Council took action Monday night to expand that. The members voted, again unanimously, to have the Y operate the pool for the next 27 months.
The city will pay the YMCA up to $400,000 per year to take over running the facility — which King said is the top-end amount.
“We’re negotiating with the Y to do it for less than that,” he said in an interview.
While Mountain View Pool revenue has amounted to $250,000 yearly, the expenses — staffing, chemicals, propane for heating — have reached $650,000.
King hopes the pool can reopen in a month with a full complement of lifeguards and management staff. He also hopes it will start generating better revenue.
Mayor Michelle Sandoval said the pool is one of the topics about which she hears the most complaints, often from people outside the city limits.
If it is to remain financially viable, the pool needs broader support, she added.
“We’re going to have to form partnerships … it has been the city that has rescued the pool and its operations,” Sandoval said.
“We’ve picked up the mantle, and we need other partners to do so as well.”
Council member Owen Rowe noted the pool contract ends at the same time as the Port Townsend Golf Course lease does, at the end of 2023. City leaders then will have a chance to steer both facilities into the future.
“This is very good to match it up [with the golf course lease],” member Monica MickHager said, “and get the community more deeply involved in what is needed.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]