What’s expected to be explosive growth in the town of Winlock now has local officials ringing alarm bells, warning that the influx of buildings and residents threatens to overwhelm existing emergency services.
In a meeting of local mayors last week, Winlock Mayor Branden Svenson told Lewis County commissioners that homes currently in a planning stage will “effectively double our population in the next seven to 10 years,” and will not be sustainable without significant, and expensive, upgrades to public services.
“We’ve got a tidal wave on the horizon, basically,” said District 5 Fire Chief Dan Mahoney. “It’s going to catch us in a very bad way, and we’re already behind the eight ball.”
Winlock has been identified as a major growth opportunity in the county, with its industrial park slated to host a Lowe’s distribution facility, and an Old Apostolic Lutheran Church under construction expected to draw in upwards of 50 families. Former Lewis Economic Development Council Chair Dan Rich previously characterized Winlock as spearheading economic development for the whole county.
With the new expansion, Mahoney said, comes new requirements by the fire district. For example, if the district has more than five buildings over 35 feet in height, the fire district would have to invest in a ladder truck, which could run as much as $1 million. A new station would have to be constructed, 12 firefighters would have to be retained and responders would have to ensure a response time within 850 seconds.
“Right now, Winlock has one paid firefighter, and it’s on the wrong side of the tracks,” Mahoney said.
And without those enhancements, city officials expect insurance rates to skyrocket for new buildings. The straining of services would likely impact the entire county, Svenson said, since Winlock has mutual aid agreements with other jurisdictions.
To fund a major investment in those services — and in schools, which Svenson also expects to be impacted by sudden growth — Winlock officials are asking the county to implement impact fees. The one-time fees are a way to charge developers for their impacts on public services or infrastructure.
The other option, Mahoney said, is a levy lift, “and we know it probably won’t pass.”
Svenson doubts the fees would discourage developers from moving in.
“Not one of them has said they would pull out if we implemented impact fees. As a matter of fact, a couple of them kind of snickered and said, ‘Well, we were waiting for this to happen. We pay them everywhere else,’” Svenson said.
Chehalis Mayor Dennis Dawes expressed concern with the county implementing the fees, asking instead that Winlock impose its own impact fees. However, Svenson said since much of the development lies within the county’s urban growth area — land in unincorporated Lewis County flagged for development — the measure would likely have to be spearheaded by the county.
County commissioners will look to discuss imposing impact fees on developers in and around Winlock in coming meetings.