Shelton sewers, veterans’ ‘tiny house’ village win funding in Senate capital budget

OLYMPIA – The state Senate Thursday passed a capital budget that funds an innovative veterans’ housing project in Mason County and sewer improvements for the city of Shelton.

The local projects are part of a $4 billion proposal for state capital spending over the next two years. The state’s capital budget pays for long-term assets like schools, parks and public infrastructure. The budget passed 49-0 and now moves to the House for consideration.

Big projects for the 35th Legislative District include $3 million for a “tiny homes” development for homeless veterans. The shed-sized homes, 200 square feet or less, are expected to cost less than half of conventional state-subsidized housing. Residents of the Mason County project would be required to have honorable discharges.

“This is an innovative approach to homelessness which makes housing the first priority,” said state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who advocated for the project as the Senate budget was developed. “Not only is it the first project of its kind in a rural area, it also recognizes the important contribution made by our veterans, who deserve our support after their service to our country.”

The project will be managed by Panza, a south-sound non-profit organization that has developed a similar tiny-house community for the homeless in Olympia. Executive Director Sean McGrady said the group has identified a site in the Shelton area and is hoping to tap private donations and other sources of funding. “We won’t just be solving a housing problem for Mason County,” he said. “We’ll also be demonstrating that the village model is exportable to other communities. Sen. Sheldon was quick to see that this would work not just in his community but elsewhere.”

The capital budget also provides $1.5 million for Shelton sewer repairs. This latest phase of the Shelton sewer improvement project would replace leaky and overloaded pipelines in the valley of the city, bounded by Alder Street, Henry Street, N. 1st Street and N. 8th Street. The project would cut pollution in Shelton Creek and reduce contamination of shellfish areas in Oakland Bay.

Sheldon noted that the funds will reduce repair bills that otherwise would be borne by sewer customers. “Reducing excessive rates has been a priority of mine for years, and this will go a long way toward making sure water and sewer bills remain reasonable,” he said. “We’ve finally turned the corner.”

Other allocations for the 35th District include:

  • $8.9 million to replace the high voltage distribution system at Washington Corrections Center in Shelton. One transformer has failed, and others are nearing failure.
  • $2.2 million to replace a deteriorating roof at Washington Corrections Center.
  • $8.8 million for renovation of the Eells Spring Hatchery.
  • $4.7 million for renovation of the Hoodsport Hatchery.
  • $5.4 million for floodplain planning by the Mason Conservation District, under the state Department of Ecology’s Floodplains by Design program.
  • $475,000 for improvements to the Holly Ridge Center building in Bremerton, which houses programs for infants and young children with disabilities.
  • $11,000 for improvements to the Meals on Wheels kitchen at the Belfair Senior Center.

The state capital budget should not be confused with the state operating budget for 2017-19, which also is under consideration by the Legislature. Unlike the operating budget, which pays for the state’s immediate expenses, the capital budget pays for durable assets and is financed in large part by long-term bonds. Important elements of the Senate proposal include a record $1.1 billion allocation for school construction and other major investments in water and flood-control projects, environmental cleanup and mental health treatment facilities.

As president pro tempore of the state Senate, Sheldon wielded the gavel during the debate on the capital budget. “It’s always nice to preside during the passage of a bill that is so important to our district,” Sheldon said.