While volunteers blaze away on a pair of new homes in Pasco’s Whitehouse Addition, Lisa Godwin of Tri-County Partners Habitat for Humanity is working on a different mission.
Whitehouse Addition is one of 21 Mid-Columbia projects earmarked in the state’s 2017-19 capital budget. But the legislation is stalled while the Senate majority coalition demands a fix to the unrelated Hirst decision, a 2016 supreme court ruling that clouds rural water rights.
Godwin isn’t waiting for lawmakers to act. To keep the hammers hammering, she’s pursuing grants and private donations on the side, with some success.
The House and Senate agreed to a $4 billion list of capital projects, including about $1 billion for schools. There is more than $51 million for several Mid-Columbia projects, including $1.5 million for Habitat’s Whitehouse project.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee called on the Senate to de-link the capital budget and the Hirst decision, noting that the capital projects have the potential to employ 19,000 in construction projects throughout the state.
A local lawmaker says Hirst needs to be fixed.
“We’re ready, willing and able to go into special session and pass a Hirst fix, and the capital budget” Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, said. “I really believe this is an issue of rural Washington versus urban Washington.”
Without a solution, Brown said it’s going to cost people living in rural counties more than jobs.
It’s going to cost them a place to live.
Brown said she knew one person purchased property believing he could build on it, and borrowed a trailer from his mother-in-law. Now his mother-in-law is stuck without a home, and he has no place to go. As he was testifying to a committee, he got on his hands and knees to beg for a solution.
Brown fought for many of the projects currently being delayed by the impasse, she said.
“This is not a callous decision,” she said. “It should show people how incredibly important this decision is.”
This is not a callous decision.
Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick
While Brown said many counties stopped issuing building permits for homes that need new wells, officials in Benton and Franklin counties said they haven’t made any changes yet.
Instead, they’re watching the developments in Olympia closely.
“It’s a little early to measure the full impact,” said Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson. “We’re pushing out folks in Olympia, so the burden on counties is not unreasonable.”
Some of the Mid-Columbia projects on ice during the standoff are:
- Tri-Tech Skills Center expansion in Kennewick ($10.8M)
- WSU Tri-Cities academic building in in Richland ($3M)
- Save the Old Tower historic rehabilitation at the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco ($300K)
- Princess Theater rehabilitation in Prosser ($114K)
- LIGO gravitational wave observatory education center in Richland ($411K)
- Ridgeline Drive overpass at Highway 395 in Kennewick ($6M)
- Water meter automation in Kennewick ($6M)
- Coyote Ridge Correctional Center security system upgrade in Connell ($6M)
Few local projects are more affected by the budget showdown than Habitat for Humanity. The nonprofit builds affordable housing for low-income families. Whitehouse Addition is its primary effort.
The Benton-Franklin-Walla Walla chapter broke ground on the 24-home neighborhood near Highlands Park in 2014. A three-year federal grant paid for land and infrastructure, but came with a hard deadline of late 2018 to complete work..
Nine homes have been delivered to ecstatic buyers. Homes 10 and 11 are in construction now.
Construction is on track, but Godwin said Habitat needs $2 million to stay that way. The $1.5 million in the unapproved capital budget would cover the lion’s share.
Godwin invited lawmakers to contemplate the effect a relatively small investment can have on what she called Washington’s substandard housing challenge.
“We can do a lot here in the Tri-Cities,” she said.
The budget contains a wide variety of projects covering education, historic renovations and infrastructure development.
The city of Kennewick, for instance, is a big beneficiary with the $12 million earmarked for the Ridgeline Drive overpass in Southridge and the water meter update. The update would install radio technology to eliminate hands-on meter reading.
Neither is ready for bid, said Evelyn Lusignan, the city’s spokeswoman.
“The entities it really affects are the ones with projects to go out to bid,” she said. “Luckily, we have some cushion while these get resolved.”
The entities it really affects are the ones with projects to go out to bid.
Evelyn Lusignan, city of Kennewick
A Tri-Tech Skills Center expansion project is another that is in limbo. The budget sets $10.8 million to add 16,000 square feet at the Kennewick school. The additional space would allow the district to offer more programs.
School officials are waiting to hear if they received funding.
For Washington State University, the capital budget standoff could delay development of a new academic building at its Tri-Cities campus. The project is supposed to get $3 million and would add classroom and laboratory space for an expanding student population.
The WSU building is in the design phase. The capital budget could delay the process, but the project is far from being ready to go to bid.
But for WSU Tri-Cities and Columbia Basin College, there is a hidden cost to the delay. Each receives money to conduct routine maintenance — fixing roofs, sidewalks, mowing lawns and repairing elevators.
Chris Mulick, WSU’s director of state relations, said the university is looking for ways to trim spending.
“But we simply can’t hold out forever,” he said. “For instance, we may not repair an elevator in a building that has two,” Mulick said. “Reductions in custodial, landscaping and snow and ice removal services also are in the offing.”
Columbia Basin College expects $1.8 million to pay for maintenance projects and employees. This includes $400,000 for employees.
“We have some planned retirements where we are looking at delaying filling those,” said Tyrone Brooks, the vice president for administrative services. “That $400,000 is pretty real. We’re trying to manage with our available resources.”
The college also is delaying some maintenance projects for this year, including roof fixes.
The longer the delay, the more expensive a solution could become.
Normally, governments try to bid projects early in the year, when contractors hunger to fill empty calendars. If the legislative battle continues into next year, the college will miss the window where it costs them the least amount of money.
Even if it’s approved tomorrow, the college and other public entities are likely to see some increased prices when they look at bids.
“It’s creating an unusual dynamic,” Brooks said. “Everyone is going to rush to market at once. We do anticipate some higher costs, especially in our local market.”
Everyone is going to rush to market at once. We do anticipate some higher costs, especially in our local market.
Tyrone Brooks, Columbia Basin College
The $1 million for Pasco’s Early Learning Center and as well at the money for Richland’s Jefferson Elementary School fall into a different category.
The school districts are paying for projects with money they already had.
However, officials want an end to the capital budget problems, so they can replace already-spent money.
For Richland, which is looking to complete a series of new schools during the next few years, the stalled capital budget could create a series of other problems if it’s not solved soon.
If the Legislature doesn’t reach an agreement before next year, they won’t receive matching money for its next elementary school.
That leaves the district to cover the full cost until it runs out of money, or delay the project until it gets state money.