The Pasco City Council approved more funding Monday for the Downtown Pasco Development Authority, but one councilman said the city should prioritize downtown redevelopment.
The city will pay the downtown authority $90,000 in 2015 and $120,000 in 2016. The nonprofit that seeks to redevelop downtown had received $60,000 each of the last three years. The authority is looking to use the money to hire a full-time sales and marketing director who will help work on its website and promote its events to sponsors.
But the city should instead worry about getting the Sacajawea Apartments reopened before it tries to redevelop downtown, Councilman Bob Hoffmann said. Hoffmann and Councilman Tom Larsen cast dissenting votes in the 4-2 decision.
The 64-year-old building at 507 N. Fourth Ave. has been vacant since a July 2013 fire displaced its 150 residents, many of them low-income or disabled.
“It doesn’t make sense to move forward with downtown while that issue is unresolved,” Hoffmann said. “It seems to me that you’re putting the cart before the horse.”
Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Francik countered that the apartments are a separate issue because the downtown authority is funded by the city and the apartments are privately owned.
Hoffmann’s statements came after Zhi An, an owner of the apartments, spoke to the council in the public comment portion of the meeting. He said repairs to one of the building’s elevators and alarm system, along with paying to hook into transformers that have to be moved, will take at least six more months and cost nearly $850,000. During that time, he will lose another $210,000 because of rent he is not receiving.
Owners have already spent $500,000 on repairs to a building they paid $1.65 million for in 2011, An said.
“The upgrades are out of our affordability,” he said. “We are getting close to the point where we might have to hand the keys back to the bank.”
Councilman Al Yenney voted for funding the downtown authority, but said he would like to see a fund set up to try to keep catering businesses that get their start at the Pasco Specialty Kitchen in downtown when they expand to restaurants. Some businesses have opened restaurants in Kennewick or Richland.
“As a Pasco councilman helping to support the downtown kitchen — to see a business go to Kennewick — I have a problem with that,” he said.
Also Monday, the council:
• Approved the transfer of Pasco’s cable television franchise from Charter Communications to Comcast by a 5-1 vote. Mayor Matt Watkins opposes the transfer because of Comcast’s poor customer service ratings, but others said the city has little choice in the matter.
Comcast, the country’s largest cable provider, is in the process of taking over Charter’s operations in the Northwest as part of an agreement where Comcast lets go of some of its franchises in the Midwest and Southeast. Comcast is trying to get regulatory approval for its proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable. Richland has already approved a transfer from Charter to Comcast, and the city councils in Kennewick and West Richland might not have to give their approval because of wording in their existing franchise agreements.
The council also approved a settlement agreement in which Charter pays Pasco $90,322 to resolve a dispute over unpaid franchise fees and utility taxes from 2007-14.
• Approved a 2015 property tax rate of $1.94 per $1,000 assessed evaluation. The rate includes a state-allowed 1 percent increase. Officials said the increase was needed because of a decline in Pasco’s rate of growth of its assessed value since the early 2000s. The tax rate would have dropped to $1.92 next year without the increase. Hoffmann noted that part of the decline in property tax revenue was related to a decrease in the Sacajawea building’s assessed value to $378,500 in 2015 from $1.6 million before the fire in 2013. No one spoke at a public hearing about the rate increase.
• Approved a list of city priorities for the 2015 state legislative session. They include past requests like money for a Lewis Street overpass and reform to the state’s public records laws, as well as new requests like a law that would require better notification to home buyers in urban growth areas if the previous owners have signed utility agreements waiving the right to fight annexation.