The Winlock City Council has begun discussing the possibility of temporarily eliminating their utility hookup fees as a way to encourage growth within the city.
Proposed by Council Member Sarah Gifford during the council's Dec. 8 meeting, Gifford said she has researched instances of other cities who reduced or suspended their hookup fees as an incentive for developers, then revisited the idea in the future to determine if such policies were still needed for growth.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I think we need to do something crazy to get people here who want to build," said Gifford, adding, as an example of her concerns, she had found no building permits have been issued by Winlock for new construction in the last three years. "This town's slowly dying, and I'm tired of watching it die, so it's going to take something drastic."
Members of the council were generally receptive of Gifford's proposal, agreeing something must be done to counter the stagnation within the city. Council Member Sam Patrick added he feels the city needs to take stronger efforts to market itself, stating after the meeting he is in the midst of developing possible marketing plans he intends to share with the council at a later date.
Gifford added, if the council temporarily eliminates hookup fees, this alone would get people talking about and looking into possibly of developing in Winlock.
The council had previously voted in June to increase its hookup fees for water and sewer to $3,000 and $4,000, respectively, for residences within the city limits, with the new fees applying both to new hookups as well as the restoration of expired hookups. The reasoning at the time had been a need to generate greater income for the city, while officials also stated the increased rates remain lower than hookup fees charged by surrounding cities.
It is expected the council will continue to discuss the possibility of waiving hookup fees and the required steps they would take to do so, as waiving fees under most circumstances would constitute a gifting of public resources and would be prohibited by state law. City Attorney Erin Hillier has previously stated cities are allowed to offer reduced hookup fees in instances where doing so would stimulate the growth of infrastructure, but she has not yet commented on the possibility of entirely waiving the fees.
Winlock has, in the past, also faced the challenge of developers purchasing more utility hookups than they intend on using, which has led to policies allowing unused hookups to expire in light of Winlock's limited ability to offer utility connections, and it is expected the council will need to discuss how best to offer the potentially-free hookups to ensure they are utilized.