Funds for study
focus of hearing|One supports allocation, second urges caution

Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Contributing Editor

A plea to provide up to $50,000 for an urban-design study related to revitalizing Washington’s downtown and a request not to pay for such a study if its recommendations won’t be implemented were heard by the Washington City Council on Monday.
Both requests came during a public hearing on the proposed city budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Two people spoke at the hearing.
Bob Henkel, saying he represented downtown property owners, asked the council to allocate $50,000 for the study, which was recommended by the Citizens for Revitalization, which last year was instructed by the council to review two previous studies of Washington’s downtown/waterfront area to help develop a new revitalization strategy for that area. The group was tasked with taking several elements from each of the studies that complement each other and combining them for inclusion in the new strategy for how best to use the downtown/waterfront area.
In March, the committee asked the city to consider hiring a consultant to conduct an urban-design study for most of the downtown/waterfront area. Earlier this month, the council adopted the committee’s report concerning criteria for an urban design study as the city’s current position on revitalizing downtown.
“We have a consensus at this point, and I think it’s a good one,” Henkel told the council.
Henkel, a member of the Planning Board, said finding adaptive reuses for existing buildings downtown should be a key element to revitalizing the city’s central business district. Improving and utilizing unused spaces in those buildings will help add to the city’s tax base, he said.
Gary Tomasulo, president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, cautioned the council about spending money on such a study.
“I believe in plans. Without plans, you can’t do anything,” he said.
Why should the city spend money on the study if the plan will not be used, questioned Tomasulo.
“We don’t need a plan to be sitting on a desk,” he said.
Tomasulo urged the council to restore funding to the city’s facade-grant program, which provides grants to downtown property owners to help fix up their storefronts. Grants are used to help pay for replacing existing awnings or installing new ones, painting structures, replacing windows and doors and repairing masonry work.
Earlier this year, the council took $15,000 earmarked for alley improvements and moved it to the city’s facade-improvement program. Tomasulo wants the council to keep that money in the facade-improvement program, plus add at least $5,000 more.
The program is a “great incentive” to persuade property owners to improve the exteriors of their buildings, he said.
“I’m hoping with a budget of this size you can come up with 20 grand,” Tomasulo said.
City Manager James C. Smith’s proposed budget calls for no increase in the property-tax rate, which is at 60 cents per $100 valuation, and no layoffs of city employees. It keeps fees for water, sewer, stormwater, solid-waste and trash collection at existing levels.
Smith’s proposed $11.3 million general-fund budget does call for reduction in some services, mainly accomplished by shortening hours at facilities such as Brown Library and the Hildred T. Moore Aquatics and Fitness Center.
The council resumes its budget deliberations at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the Council Chamber of the Municipal Building, 102 E. Second St. Copies of the proposed budget may be reviewed by the public at Brown Library or in the city clerk’s office in the Municipal Building.