Issaquah secures funding from state legislature

The city of Issaquah has received funding for three major projects from the state legislature.

With the help of advocates in the Legislature, consultants and citizens, the city of Issaquah secured state funding for some of its high priority projects.

Issaquah worked with Shelly Helder, governmental affairs consultant from Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs (GTHGA), to advocate for the city to receive funding requested during the legislative session. Helder returned to the council on June 3 to present an update on the result of the session and break down how much money the city received in the biennial budget.

Before the legislative session, GTHGA worked with the city to identify the top items the city wanted to focus on. The first request was for $400,000 to continue work to study and design a pilot cleanup program to remove PFOS/PFAS chemicals in areas where firefighting foam substances had been used for training.

“Rather than have the city advance the request and ask for the money to come back to the city, we worked with the Department of Ecology to coordinate with them and Eastside Fire and Rescue to have the money go directly to the Department of Ecology,” Helder said.

If the money came directly to the city, it would have to go through the Department of Commerce, she explained, who then takes a 3-percent administration fee. The Department of Ecology is already a partner in the PFOS cleanup work and has been working with the city, so the city feels the department would help to advocate for them.

The final budget does include $400,000 for the program sourced from the capital budget. In discussions with Sen. Mark Mullet, he felt there would be greater opportunity to find that funding in the capital budget over the operating budget.

The second item the city took to the Legislature was a request for $4 million for the pre-design and environmental documentation for the Interstate 90 and Front Street interchange. That request was submitted to the Senate, but no funding was included in the final budget for the project.

“Legislature had already indicated that gas tax revenues were not at the level they had been anticipating, and there are some new fees coming online in 2021 that made this biennium in particular a really difficult year to secure additional funding,” she said.

There also was concern over Initiative 976 — Limits on Motor Vehicle Taxes and Fees Measure — and its impact on transportation revenue, another reason the Legislature was conservative with its spending. Initiative 976 proposes to limit and reduce taxes on vehicles and will appear on November ballots.

The city’s third and final item was a request of $3 million for the Issaquah Opportunity Center, a proposed 10,000-square-foot building to increase capacity for medical, dental and behavioral health care.

The Opportunity Center request was ambitious, Helder said, because typical budget appropriations for similar projects range between $500,000 and $1 million. Representatives Bill Ramos and Lisa Callan advanced the request in the House, and Sen. Mullet advanced the request in the Senate.

Mullet was able to allocate all $3 million in the request from the Behavioral Health and Capacity grant program. The grant program provides funding for health care organizations in a competitive format, but had additional funding for legislative allocation in specific instances.

Finding the $3 million for the Opportunity Center was possible because of the grant program’s additional legislative dollars.

The council was pleased with the report and the process of working with Helder and GTHGA. Councilmember Tola Marts noted his surprise at the funding for the Opportunity Center.

“Senator Mullet was setting a low set of expectations, but I always knew he had hope for that, so that was pretty amazing to see,” he said. “I had gone into the session with a lot of concerns, and the session turned out better from all the cities of Washington’s standpoint than a lot of us had been concerned with. Thank you for our efforts and to our legislators who represented us in Olympia.”

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