By Polly Keary, Editor
At Wednesday’s Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce meeting, three Sky Valley mayors talked about the year that just ended and the one that has just begun.
Each shared what the city accomplished or survived in 2012, and previewed a little of what is to come in the next 12 months.
Gold Bar has had some well-known struggles in the last year, but there has been good news, too, said Mayor Joe Beavers.
The city completed a water system and decommissioned the old wooden reservoir.
“That completed the to-do list we got in August of 2008 from the Department of Health,” said Beavers.
And the city’s books appear to be in order.
“The auditor made the first go-through and she said we did fine,” said Beavers.
Beavers grew emotional when he talked about a recently completed sidewalk and culvert bridge named for longtime city volunteer Lee Gerry.
“Lee was our 2006 Citizen of the Year,” said Beavers of the late Gerry, before pausing to collect himself. Gary had been a strong advocate of sidewalks, and the new sidewalk, named the Lee Gerry Memorial Sidewalk, completes a connection all the way through town.
And the budget came out alright despite serious expenses on litigation.
“The city ended 2012 in the black,” he said. “Just barely, but we made it.”
There were some struggles, too, he acknowledged.
For example, a hacker managed to break into the city bank account and make off with about $450,000, of which the city is still trying to recover more than $100,000.
“We have since bulletproofed our bank accounts,” he said.
Litigation over public records cost the city about $100,000 in legal fees and staff time, he noted.
“It’s not over yet,” he said.
There has been a lot of leadership change in the last year in Skykomish. Mayor Fred Black resigned last summer, and Cascadia Inn owner Henry Sladek stepped in until the council appointed Tony Griver, a teacher, to fill the position for the rest of this year.
“It took us a couple of months to find a good candidate,” said Sladek, who attended the meeting in Griver’s stead.
The decade-long cleanup of oil-polluted dirt beneath the city is complete and now the city is prepared to start growing businesses again, Sladek said.
“Last summer was the first summer without any disruption from earth moving, and we saw a pickup in traffic,” he said.
Currently there are only a handful of businesses open in town, but the Whistling Post, after burning down in an arson fire last spring, will reopen this month.
The Sky River Motel, The Skykomish Hotel and the Sky Chalet Restaurant all closed in the last 10 years, but there’s hope, said Sladek.
“We have some prospects,” he said. The owner of the Sky Chalet is planning to reopen soon.
“He is actively looking for a tenant,” said Sladek. “He got the building hooked up to the town sewer.”
Perhaps the biggest thing happening in town this year is the possibility of 150 new condos going in on the hill above the Sky Chalet. A developer who has built similar vacation condo villages at other ski resorts is hoping to build in Skykomish, but is concerned about the speed limit on the highway.
Currently the speed limit through Skykomish is 60 miles per hour; Sladek and others, including the developer, want to get it reduced.
“We need to reduce the speed to 45,” said Sladek. “The DOT has agreed to 50. They also agreed to do further studies this spring to see if it should be lowered more.”
Before beginning her talk on Sultan, Mayor Carolyn Eslick paused to introduce recently-hired city administrator Ken Walker to the chamber, praising his ability to work with budgets and the ease with which he has integrated into the staff.
Sultan ended the year with a balanced budget, partly due to monthly meetings called to address budget problems before they got out of hand, she said.
“We had to cut staff 10 percent in the General Fund,” she said. “We now have three of our employees working 32 hours per week, but nobody lost their job.”
The city also has paid off its debt, and received more than $2 million in grants, she added.
The economy of Sultan seems to be improving, Eslick said.
There’s been an increase in permit and licensing activity. And business licenses went from 84 in 2011 to 227 in 2012.
“When the economy is bad, people do what they have to do to get by,” she said.
Improvements on Sultan Basin and Rice Roads are complete.
And volunteers put in 5,000 hours of service last year, doing everything from weeding parks to shoveling snow off the roofs of senior citizens.
“Volunteers rebuilt a radar trailer when we had complaints about speeding on streets like 8th Street,” said Eslick.
The Sultan Safety Fair was bigger than ever last year and will grow again this year.
And the Christmas Tree Lighting, reprised this winter for the first time in years, was a great success, Eslick said.
“That was best event of the year in my opinion,” she said. “We had 250-300 people there.”
This year, the city will continue to be vigilant about problems created by drug and alcohol abuse, she said.
And Sultan will continue to work toward the Port to Pass IPZ project, which would create a zone along the U.S. 2 corridor in which to encourage outdoor recreation equipment manufacture.
The city will use a $250,000 settlement from the PUD to install emergency sirens in town to alert people of emergencies.
The Boys and Girls Club will break ground soon, too.
“The city got out of the way, thank goodness, and the project is being done by the Boys and Girls Club and the VOA,” she said.
Security cameras downtown will be updated and installed in some new locations.
And a new city website is going online any day.
“It looks pretty doggone good,” said Eslick.
In April, the police will hold a dramatic bus catch drill in which they will overturn a school bus to practice emergency response, said Sultan Police Chief Jeff Brand.
“We believe we need to be prepared for a major event,” he said. “We will roll over a school bus and then put actors in it and then practice that event.”
In order to address the eventuality of an even worse catastrophe than that, the town leaders met recently to discuss measures to help police address emergencies such as that at Sandy Hook Elementary. They are considering implementing procedures to be used during such disastrous events; for example, putting numbers in the windows of classrooms so that people inside could direct outside emergency workers quickly to rooms in need of help.
The General Fund budget will be slightly reduced in 2013, down $26,000 from last year.
“It’s not horrible, and not a lot of cities can say that,” said Eslick.
Also, the city is planning to rebuild and overlay parts of Alder Street and High Street.
And Sultan will continue to work with other towns in the valley to develop outdoor recreation.
“It’s all for the good of the community,” Eslick said.