Council retreats to Mount Vernon for focus on La Conner's future
August 2, 2023
Focused on the future, Town officials have taken the long view to address La Conner’s most pressing needs.
Town leaders highlighted a handful of top-tier issues in a 5-year strategic plan crafted during an all-day retreat July 24 in Mount Vernon.
Priorities include a mandated upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant, robust investments in fire protection and safety, providing public access on South First Street to Caledonia, securing a permanent home for the public works department, developing long-term flood mitigation measures, replacing aging water lines on Channel Drive and elsewhere and recruiting staff to succeed those employees upon their retirement.
Admittedly, those goals won’t be achieved overnight. Thus, the five-year timeline.
“This is fairly daunting,” Town Administrator Scott Thomas said of the to-do list. “We’ll be thinking through strategies on many of these. We won’t be able to get everything done all at once, but we’ll be able to get started on them. We’ll obviously have to work on some of them simultaneously.”
Thomas, Mayor Ramon Hayes, council members and staff all applauded the process by which retreat facilitators Brian Murphy and Julie Tesch led them to prioritize local needs.
“I wish we could have more of these,” Fire Chief and Code Enforcement Officer Aaron Reinstra said. “There was great input from everyone.”
Councilmember Ivan Carlson called the retreat “a cool experience.”
“It makes taking on all the things we have to do a lot more organized,” Carlson added.
Planning Commission member Marna Hanneman, who becomes mayor in January and will inherit these goals, was likewise pleased with the outcome.
“This was awesome,” she said at the day’s close, “though the needs are daunting. But it’s a start. We’re not eating the apple. We’re taking a bite.”
Councilmember Annie Taylor concurred.
“This was great,” she said. “We had open communication and we were able to figure out the major projects ahead of us.”
“The free exchange of ideas,” added Councilmember Mary Wohleb, “was very beneficial.”
Hayes called potential opening of South First Street a “three-fer” by helping with downtown traffic flow, enhancing efforts at waterfront flood mitigation and emergency management and solving the public hazard situation caused by the dilapidated and vacant Moore-Clark building which sits several feet on the Town’s right-of-way and is subject to condemnation.
Hayes addressed the public works department’s dilemma, whose La Conner Marina location is too small and is a site The Port of Skagit has targeted.
“I’ve always thought that we could merge the Town Public Works Department with the Port and reserve space within their redevelopment plan in a way that would benefit both parties,” said Hayes.
Thomas said a marina location would serve public works best since it is outside the flood plain.
Grant funding will be sought to fund infrastructure. But Thomas cautioned that applying for grants is very competitive and can be fraught with hidden costs under the best of conditions.
“Getting grants is also getting hours,” Thomas explained. “It takes time to write a proposal, get the grant, manage the grant and do the required financial reporting.” He suggested hiring a grant writer.
Councilmember MaryLee Chamberlain and Hanneman each said keeping present staff and recruiting qualified replacements for those who will retire in the next five years should be prominent on the Town’s radar.
“We definitely want some continuity,” Thomas agreed.
Murphy advised the Town must walk something of a tightrope in the years ahead.
“You’ve got to be patient and impatient all at once,” he said.
Much of what happened at the retreat was rehashed during a fast-paced 35-minute regular July 25 town council meeting at Maple Hall, an agenda most notable for Councilmember Rick Dole presenting Hector Soltero an official resolution honoring the United Parcel Service driver for his valued customer service during his years on the La Conner route. Soltero’s wife, Christina and his UPS supervisor attended the ceremony.