Five long-term priorities were set by the Centralia City Council during an annual workshop in which several matters were discussed.
The topic of homelessness was part of the discussion; however, the council did not direct staff to make it its own category in the official list of goals. Categories on the list are improving Centralia’s streets, looking for ways to mitigate flood damage, protecting the aquifers, focusing on job and economic growth, and improving key elements of infrastructure.
No one category has priority over the others.
These goals will be what city staff and the council uses to direct their attention and resources throughout the year, City Manager Rob Hill said. Other issues will be addressed as they arise.
The council discussed the goals of the city on Tuesday, though no official decisions were made.
Councilor Peter Abbarno suggested expanding the focus on jobs and economic growth to be labeled as economic development, which could address the homelessness issue as well.
Councilor Max Vogt said homelessness was not an issue during the last goal-setting workshop in 2015 because the homelesss population was smaller.
However, it has significantly increased since then, he said.
Although it was not one of the priorities or goals, Hill said he spent more time working on the homelessness issue than any other. The city is working with numerous organizations in the area to address the problem.
The council agreed improving roads should remain one of the city’s top priorities and that funding these projects has become easier with the Transportation Benefit District, a voter-approved initiative that directs a portion of sales tax toward roads.
Councillor Joyce Barnes suggested borrowing against the money in the district to get a large, low-interest loan to redo all the streets in need of repairs at once.
“We are never going to catch up if we don’t do them all,” she said.
Councilor John Elmore said the amount of money put into the street fund should also be increased by about 1.5 percent, between $400,000 to $600,000, so more money would be directly available instead of leaving it in the general fund.
Hill said increasing the amount in the street fund by that amount may seem like a lot, but it would not go far on the streets. He said leaving that money in the general fund would allow it to be used as matching funds for grants.
Abbarno agreed with both Elmore and Barnes. He believes more money should be put into the street fund and the money from the Transportation Benefit District could be used to borrow funds for larger projects.
Numerous small repair projects throughout the city have been funded through the TBD, Hill said.
Protecting the aquifers, expanding and improving the infrastructure and job and economic growth all have a major connecting factor — the sewer system.
Some homes in the city are not hooked up to the sewer system, Elmore said. If those homes are hooked up, that will help protect the groundwater. Also, if the system is extended or expanded in some areas like on Reynolds Avenue, then developers would be more likely to build, which would in turn help with the housing crisis, he added. It could help people move here and attract more businesses, he said.
For other areas of economic growth, Councilor Ron Greenwood said he would like to see a stronger apprenticeship program within the city to help train workers. He would also like to have a stronger relationship with Centralia College.
Strengthening the relationship with the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce was also discussed as a potential move to improve growth.
As for flood mitigation, the city currently has one project on China Creek in the works. However construction, which was set to begin this month, is delayed due to the lack of a state capital budget.