Years of work and deliberation culminated with a 10-minute meeting in Colfax on Monday, the result of which is expected to have a profound effect on Whitman County's economy.
County commissioners approved a preliminary development agreement to enter into a public-private partnership with Boise-based Hawkins Companies, which plans to build a 700,000-square-foot retail development just west of the Idaho border.
According to the agreement, Hawkins will construct public infrastructure - including water and sewer systems - at the development site, and the county will reimburse the company for its costs through the sale of $9.1 million worth of bonds.
The county will assume ownership of the public infrastructure once it's completed, according to the agreement.
Commissioner Greg Partch said the development will change the face of Whitman County and will help secure the financial stability of the county.
"It's a good day for us - a long day in coming," Partch said. "It's time to move forward on this. The timing is right for us and the people of Whitman County.
"I know in two or three years we are going to see major changes in Whitman County," he added. "Today is going to put things in motion."
Commissioner Jerry Finch agreed that the county will reap the benefits of the deal for years to come.
"We have been talking about this a long time," Finch said. "I am so excited about this. This is going to set the tenor for the corridor and it's going to help the county financially long-term."
Commissioner Michael Largent said the agreement will be a win-win for both the county and Hawkins, but most importantly it will benefit the county residents.
"From my perspective I am interested in one thing - a win for Whitman County taxpayers," Largent said.
Largent said revenue generated from the development will help the county's budget, as well as provide money to junior taxing districts such as library, fire and school districts.
"If you are going to support schools, you are going to have to think real hard about supporting this revenue stream," Largent said.
Partch stressed that taxpayers won't see an increase in their taxes because of the bond, which will be repaid through sales and property taxes generated directly from the project.
"It's really important for the people of Whitman County to realize when we enter into a bond this will not end up on their taxes," Partch said.
The deal comes with a guarantee from Hawkins. The company will cover the difference if the county doesn't receive enough sales and tax revenue from the development to cover the expense of the bond payments during years three through seven of the deal.
Aside from extra tax revenue, the county also will see several other perks from the agreement, including a new rural fire station that will be donated by Hawkins.
Hawkins representative Jeff DeVoe said he's thrilled at the approval of the agreement, but more work is ahead, specifically finalizing a deal with Moscow regarding water and receiving a signed commitment from a major retailer to locate at the development.
"It's not finished quite yet," DeVoe said. "The preliminary agreement is finished, but there is still work ahead."
According to the agreement, a final development agreement for the partnership must be reached by June 1.
The securing of water rights was the only significant obstacle left to clear, but that appeared to be resolved at Monday's Moscow City Council meeting, after the council voted 5-1 to approve a settlement agreement between Moscow and Hawkins over disputed water rights.
The agreement should clear the way for Moscow to sell water and sewage services to Hawkins for use at the development.
Even before the agreement announced Monday in Moscow, Finch said he had little doubt the project was a done deal.
"I think we are pretty much certain it is going to happen now," he said
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
"Whitman County will sell bonds to pay for public infrastructure at site of proposed Hawkins development"
From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News: