The City of White Salmon approved their policy priorities for the year 2021 at the latest city council meeting following the city’s annual retreat.

The retreat takes place on a yearly basis, only this time it was hosted virtually through online conferencing platform Zoom because in-person meetings are not yet allowed under current reopening conditions with respect to the coronavirus. The meeting took place on Sept. 9 and the 2021 policy area priorities resolution was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the city council on Sept. 16

“This is the clean slate where you guys (the city council) are giving us the direction of what’s important and where you want to see your money and the community’s money spent,” said Mayor Marla Keethler at the retreat, opening the two hour-long discussion.

The discussion makes sort of a pathway for city staff to follow when drafting a budget for next year, which will come across the desks of city councilors within the next month or so. Councilors debated during the two-hour discussion different policy goals and their priority levels in terms of funding.

According to the priorities memo approved by city council, items added to the list of priorities include adding a position to the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department to “focus on social service issues,” adding more city personnel for further code enforcement, researching funding options to develop street infrastructure, as well as reducing food waste at the landfill site and improving collection of recyclables. Other items have been budget priorities pointed out by councilors for over a year since the last retreat. According to City Clerk/Treasurer Jan Brending, “A lot of that is stuff that is ongoing, has been ongoing from those 2019 priorities going forward.” For example, the city is undergoing a lengthy update to the Comprehensive Plan as well as a review of the city’s critical area ordinance and water system plan.

Aside from that, councilors made clear that new projects should be limited in resources required. As the city undergoes economic uncertainty stemming from the coronavirus shutdown, city councilors argued that ongoing projects will take up much of the city’s resources. 

“Council members ... agreed that 2021 should be a year to be conservative in the budgeting process as a number of projects are carrying over into the new year and the economic outlook for 2021 is somewhat uncertain,” Keethler wrote in the memo. “Once the city council establishes the priority policy areas, it will be up to the mayor and staff to develop implementation measures which may include funding within the 2021 budget or specific actions items at the staff and committee level.”

Councilor Jim Ransier pitched ideas such as beautifying downtown, mitigating fire hazards and adding a position to the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department.

“Finding ways to take some of the social services responsibility that are on the police’s radar and having another person in the police department who can focus more on social service situations ... if there’s ways to essentially let our police not have to be social workers that feels something that would be interesting to do,” Ransier said.

Originally a temporary fix, the city will also be looking into continuing the practice of allowing parklets to support local restaurant operations as they navigate through the ongoing pandemic.

Regarding street infrastructure, city staff floated different funding strategies to improve streets, including filing a levy for election specifically for street repairs.

Councilors also called for a more aggressive plan to work with Republic Services to expand the services the city residents receive.

City staff from here on out will draw up options for councilors to work with given their expected revenue for next year, and will prepare a budget for council approval.

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