Olympia Community members backed the sidewalk projects outlined in the preliminary Capital Facilities Plan (CFP) and offered to work with the city in establishing priorities should the city council adopt the recommended .1% sales tax increase for sidewalks.
On Monday, the Olympia Planning Commission held a public hearing on the preliminary 2024-2029 CFP.
In her presentation, Joyce Phillips, Olympia's principal planner, mentioned that in 2024, the city has planned projects totaling $46.7 million, 23% of which will go to transportation.
The city is looking at $10.8 million in transportation funding. Most of the funds will come from federal and state grants.
Some of the highlighted project include:
Olympia Council of Neighborhood Associations (CNA) Chair Larry Dzieza commended the Planning Commission during the public hearing, saying the sidewalks are receiving the policy attention they have been clamoring for because of the commissioners' efforts to recognize "sidewalks as an integral part of the transportation plan."
Dzieza added that the neighborhoods are satisfied seeing Elliot Avenue and Boulevard Road sidewalk projects among the 2024 CFP plan.
Dzieza related that CNA members are encouraged to see the $600,000 redirection of 2023 funding to sidewalks within the CFP and applaud the Planning Commission's attention to treating sidewalks as an integral part of our transportation plan.
The CNA chair underscored the sidewalks' role in developing viable transit alternatives. He expressed support for increasing spending for maintaining existing sidewalk investments, particularly those in deteriorating conditions.
Dzieza also applauded the city's decision to reprogram $100,000 for the sidewalk conditions survey. He said this was a critical move and expressed support in prioritizing and accelerating survey work and necessary repairs.
"We are pleased by the staff recommendation for a fairer, more effective, and more equitable approach towards funding sidewalk maintenance," Dzieza added.
If the city council adopted the Finance Committee's recommendation of 0.1% sales tax increase dedicated to sidewalks, Dzieza said they offer to collaborate with the city to identify priorities and work creatively to maximize the utilization of the funding.
At the Finance Committee meeting in July, Transportation Director Sophie Stimson explained that the recommended 0.1% increase in sales tax and retaining the current $40 license fee would generate $3.1 million in new revenue.
Stimson proposed that the new potential revenue would go to the following:
Stimson also mentioned the plan to hire a new staff to assist with project delivery.
Dzieza suggested that the city's plan to hire a new staff member should prioritize seeking sidewalk grants from federal and state sources to address the gap in the sidewalk network.
Citing the importance of sidewalks in creating a more livable and sustainable Olympia, the CNA chair noted that they have drafted a memorandum of understanding that requests that the city and neighborhood associations conduct a joint community forum on sidewalk priorities and sidewalk funding in the first quarter of 2024.
Former Councilmember Karen Messmer commented, "the transportation part of the CFP is an improvement for active transportation support."
Messmer added that it is encouraging that the city council is considering a tax increase to add funding for sidewalks. She said the city needs additional funds to address the backlog in sidewalk construction and facilitate necessary repairs of existing ones.
Messmer, who also served in the Planning Commission for 11 years, claimed that the allocation of funds for the sidewalks and pathways project listed in the CFP, found on page 103 of the Capital facilities plan 2023-2028 financial plan, appears unusual.
In six years, $200,000 is earmarked for staffing, while only $100,000 or little to no budget for sidewalks and pathways. Messmer said this budgeting approach may be attributed to the practice of saving up funds from one year to the next. " the proportion of staffing funding for projects seems odd when done that way."
While Olympia is proceeding slowly with the six-year CFP, Messmer noted a waiting list of future needs spanning seven to 20 years. "It is discouraging to see that we are just pacing out, not even doing projects in some years on sidewalks. I hope we can progress much faster on the Transportation Master Plan lists of what we should be doing in the seven to 20-year projections."
There are 25 projects listed in the CFP that are expected to occur in seven to 20 years.
Messmer also mentioned the availability of state and federal grant programs, yet she does not see more grant funding being secured for the community. She offered three recommendations: