Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, April 07, 2008

"County will seek state grant to pay off Hawkins bonds"

If the state covers the infrastructure costs for the Hawkins development, all the bitching and moaning about "subsidies" and "costing taxpayers" will dry up and blow away. However, the most important part of this story is buried at the end:
Commissioner Jerry Finch said Hawkins expects to begin moving dirt in June.
From last Thursday's Whitman County Gazette:
County officials want the state to pay for the infrastructure improvements at the Boise-based Hawkins Companies’ stateline strip mall.

Whitman County was one of 18 entities throughout the state to survive the pre-application process for a Local Infrastructure Financing Tool (LIFT). LIFT funds are administered by a special board through the state’s Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB).

Commissioner Greg Partch briefed county staff on the process in a workshop session Monday afternoon in the commissioners’ conference room.

“We have a real opportunity here,” said Partch. “From the questions I’ve asked, we do qualify for this.”

Commissioners in February approved a preliminary development agreement to bond more than $9 million of county funds for infrastructure improvements at the Hawkins site.

The LIFT board grants funding to pay off bonds for projects that will best generate tax revenue from private investments. To fund the grants, the state discounts its share of local sales tax revenues.

According to Partch, the state recoups its investment by an increased generation of its share of tax revenues from the development.

Partch also noted the board looks to spread funding across the state, and has not made any investments in southeastern Washington.

Major projects were funded completely by the LIFT board this year in Bothell, Vancouver and Liberty Lake. The board is allotted $2.5 million from the legislature every year to award to communities on a competitive basis.

To qualify for the funding, the county must form a Revenue Development Area. Formation of such a district requires commissioners’ approval and a public hearing.

The county would seek $1 million a year from the program for at least the next 14 years. That money would be used to pay off bonds the county is set to issue to finance infrastructure at the shopping center.

Partch said the remaining $5 million over the bond amount would cover bond interest and consultant fees for the firm that puts the bond package together.

An offset of local sales tax revenues generated from the center has been projected as the county’s approach to paying off the bonds. A grant from the state fund would mean the local sales tax revenue would go into normal county accounts rather than the Hawkins bond redemption fund.

Partch also mentioned the possibility of drawing $1 million a year for the next 25 years to lay pipe through the corridor and upgrade the Pullman Airport Road to accommodate increased traffic.

“That road will feed the back side of WSU even more if there’s businesses out there,” said Finch.

Storey said traffic on the Pullman Airport Road has risen significantly since a light was installed by the state at the eastern intersection with the recently widened State Route 270. A county traffic count from last fall showed 6,000 cars use that intersection each day.

Partch noted the extra money could also be used to lay pipe to provide water and sewage to new businesses in the corridor.

“Although they’d be empty, we’d have the infrastructure for development,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Largent thought it might be better, however, to focus the application on the Hawkins infrastructure.

“Going beyond Hawkins in the application might hurt us,” he said. “Because there’s no clearly defined projects in the rest of the corridor, and there’s no water.”

“The Hawkins project is so thoroughly designed, we should score high,” Assessor Joe Reynolds commented.

Largent added he would like to hear from previous LIFT grant recipients on what hoops they were forced to jump through after receiving the grant.

“More than anything I want Hawkins,” added Largent.

Partch suggested submitting two applications; one to cover the costs of the Hawkins infrastructure alone, and one to fund the pipes and road work.

He added the state would provide a consultant to help the county make its application more appealing to the LIFT board. If the county opts to proceed past that, it will likely hire a professional consultant to fully put the application together.

Partch added the county could use some of the information in the Port of Whitman County’s Innovation Partnership Zone application to further develop its application.

The port and county last year shared the $25,000 cost for Mindshare Consultants of Spokane to develop the Innovation Zone application packet.

The application is due June 30, and CERB decision will be announced Sept. 18. That timing could coincide with the county’s bond issuance. Bonds must be taken out by the county within three months of the start of construction. Commissioner Jerry Finch said Hawkins expects to begin moving dirt in June.

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