mulberry lily pink Capital budget holds millions for local projects
State lawmakers and local public officials were elated Friday at the passage of a long stalled capital budget that includes nearly $60 million for projects in Cowlitz County and other parts of the 19th Legislative District.
The state’s two year, $4.18 billion budget features money for major improvements at a pair of parks in the Longview Kelso area and tens of millions in matching state funds if two big ticket school bonds pass next month.
“The best thing about the capital budget is that it allows the state to use its good credit and better borrowing capacity to help raise funds for what are really local projects,” said Rep. Jim Walsh, R Aberdeen, who sits on the House Capital Budget Committee. “I’m a fiscal conservative and this is a good use of the state’s borrowing power to good ends.”
Kelso City Manager Steve Taylor sounded jubilant Friday at the prospect of finally receiving $1 million in state funds designated for upgrades at Tam O’Shanter Park.
The Kelso City Council approved a plan in January 2017 to fix the park’s sunken parking area in front of the youth baseball field and repave the park’s driveways, while also adding parking spots and redesigning the lot with a loop to give emergency vehicles full access to the athletic complex.
But that plan and hundreds of others across the state was placed on hold last August when Senate Republicans linked the capital budget to delivering a solution to the state Supreme Court’s Hirst water rights ruling. Last year marked the first time in modern history that lawmakers failed to pass a capital budget.
(The so called Hirst decision forced many rural counties to place moratoriums on residential construction until lawmakers negotiated a compromise on water rights.)
“We were just waiting for this capital budget to pass and get through all of the controversies with the Hirst decision to get rolling,” Taylor said in a phone interview.
Taylor said the city plans to be under contract for the design phase of the project within two months, with construction starting later this year or early in 2019. Long Park in Longview, although it’s unclear whether that plan has enough City Council support to move forward. (The exact allocation for the project in the capital budget was not immediately available.)
The capital budget also includes a record $1 billion in school funding to build new schools and help districts reduce K 3 class sizes, plus an additional $800 million for community colleges and universities.
Nearly $40 million in state funds will flow to the Kelso School District if voters approve a $98.6 proposed bond measure on Feb. 13. The plan would rebuild Wallace Elementary and Beacon Hill Elementary, while also adding a new primary school at the district’s 10 acre Lexington site.
“Our assistance that could become eligible in the next state fiscal year was tied to the passage of this two year capital budget,” said Scott Westlund, executive director of business and operations, via email.
The Kalama School District which is also proposing a $64.3 million school bond on the February election ballot would receive $5.9 million in state assistance.
Meanwhile, Lower Columbia College was forced to place a major renovation project on hold when the capital budget was held up last summer. The $3 million project involves converting some of the school’s old science labs into general math classrooms.
Overall, the budget will create an estimated 75,000 jobs in construction, engineering and natural resources over the next four years, according to a press release from House Democrats.
“I’m glad were able to finally reach an agreement to pass a budget that puts people to work on local projects right away, builds much needed school capacity, and grows our economy, Rep. Brian Blake, D Aberdeen, said n a statement.