Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Hawkins vote could come Monday in Whitman County"

"...the best way to keep shoppers in Pullman and, crucially, attract shoppers from Moscow and other nearby communities, is for Pullman to 'differentiate itself' from its neighbors, to offer shopping and dining opportunities not already available in our area."
- PARDner Chris Lupke, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, June 16, 2006

"I see Whitman County and Latah County as having somewhat of a fixed revenue source. I don't know if there is enough dispensable income to support this kind of project."
- PARDner Don Orlich, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, January 29, 2008, on the Hawkins Companies retail development in the corridor which will bring a variety of new shopping and dining opportunities to the Palouse, including a Lowe's Home Improvement and another undisclosed large retailer.

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Commissioners say they won't be rushed in making decision to sell bonds to pay for infrastructure at development site

Whitman County commissioners have tentatively set Monday as their target date for a vote on the proposed public-private partnership with Hawkins Companies and the selling of roughly $10 million in bonds.

The bonds would be used to pay for public infrastructure at the site of Hawkins' proposed retail development in the Pullman-Moscow corridor, just west of the Idaho state line.

Commissioner Michael Largent said at a public meeting Monday in Colfax the commissioners would not be rushed in making their decision.

"We will not make a decision until we are ready, regardless of a timeline," he said.

Monday's meeting was not as well attended as the previous two public meetings on the topic, with only four Whitman County residents attending.

Donald Orlich, a Pullman resident, was one of two residents who spoke against the proposed development. He told the county commissioners it was not the government's place to provide money for private businesses. He also said it was not the time to burden the county with debt, given the declining state of the country's economy.

"What we have in front of us is whether the county will commit to financing public infrastructure," Orlich said. "I don't think we should be subsidizing private companies.

"I really think this would be bad timing all around and I am opposed to this."

Orlich also questioned the profitability potential of the proposed 700,000-square-foot shopping center.

"I see Whitman County and Latah County as having somewhat of a fixed revenue source," Orlich said. "I don't know if there is enough dispensable income to support this kind of project."

Commissioner Jerry Finch responded to Orlich's comment by citing a recent study that concluded the Palouse loses $80 million a year in potential retail sales to nearby cities like Spokane and Lewiston.

"If we capture 10 percent of that, which I think is realistic, those numbers are doable," Finch said.

Finch also said the county and Hawkins have been careful in their estimates.

"Everywhere we have done this we have done this very conservatively," Finch said.

Russ Coggins, a Pullman resident, spoke in favor of the bonding and the development.

"I think the proposed bond as proposed is going to be a good thing for Whitman County," Coggins said. "It is a heck of a bargain. I don't see how Whitman County can pass on it."

The commissioners also said during the meeting that representatives from Hawkins have indicated that a second "major retailer" is ready to commit to the development.

The county has made available an informational packet on its Web site (whitmancounty.org) in response to the many questions raised by residents during last week's public meeting and to clear up some of the public's questions.

One of the questions addressed in the packet was what would the total cost of the bond be to the county once interest is included. According to the packet, the county has not decided on the length of the bond, but if the county elected to sell 20-year bonds, the cost of a $9.1 million bond ultimately would be $14.2 million.

Another question addressed how the county will pay for the bonds. According to the packet, the county expects sales and property taxes generated from the development will "more than pay for the costs to the county."

The county also expects to see a tax revenue profit from the development of $9 million over the first 20 years, "over and above the costs in principal and interest to pay for the infrastructure."

If the estimates aren't reached, the county still would have several options to pay for the bonds, including using .09 funds - money provided by the state and awarded by the county to assist rural communities with economic development - or dipping into the county's general fund, according to the packet.

Hawkins representatives were scheduled to meet with Moscow representatives today in Spokane, with a goal of resolving their differences over a water-rights transfers granted by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Moscow has appealed the Department of Ecology's decision, arguing that the water rights were located in two different bodies of public groundwater and the transfers would impair existing water rights, not be in the public's interest and would improperly modify the manner of the rights' intended use. The appeal also cited Ecology's failure to conduct an analysis of the average amount of water use from the rights over the past five years.


April E. Coggins said...

That's a disappointing article. There was no mention of the firestation that Hawkins would build and donate to the County. No mention of the new tax revenues for Pullman schools, Fire District 12, etc. that was discussed. It doesn't mention the new extension of Moscow's A Street to the Airport Road. These are important public benefits that were all covered at Monday's meeting.

It was also disclosed during the meeting that the County's sales tax estimates are based on a VERY conservative 40% build-out, which translates to a 40% occupancy. Hawkins expects at least an 80% occupancy.

Not important but interesting, Don Orlich thought Wal-Mart owned the property. He was shocked to learn that Whitworth University is the actual owner and this development is an important fund raiser. Mr. Orlich also didn't know where this devolpment was actually going to be located. It's flabbergasting that someone who has been as outspoken a critic of the development would have so little knowledge of even the basic facts.

Tom Forbes said...

Not flabbergasting at all, when you consider that Mr. Orlich and the other PARDners suffer from Wal-Mart Derangement Syndrome. They see the "bullies from Bentonville" behind every rock and every bush.

"I don't know where it is or anything else about it, but I'm against it if the Forbicites are for it!" *LOL* You JUST CAN'T make stuff like this up.