methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Small Town, Big Job
Mayor of Winthrop

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Winthrop mayor Dave Acheson says he has plenty on his plate for the remainder of his second term.

A good way to learn patience, says Dave Acheson, is to become mayor of Winthrop. “Things that are truly rewarding are rarely easy,” is his conclusion after six years in the job.

Take the Spring Creek Bridge, for example, and the Susie Stephens Trail. When he became mayor in 2006, so much of the work on the bridge and the trail had been done that he believed he’d be able to see those projects through to completion right away. But the bridge wasn’t inaugurated until last fall, and the trail from downtown to the post office still awaits completion at an unknown date.

Acheson, 43, says he will not run again when his second term is up two years from now. “It’s better to step away before they throw you out,” he jokes, though he adds that he’s enjoyed being mayor enough that he won’t rule out seeking the job again sometime. He started in politics by serving on the town’s Westernization Committee, then was appointed to the town council. Later he ran for the council seat and won.  

Acheson arrived in town in 1994 after graduating with a business and economics degree from Central Washington University. He’d grown up in Kent but says he knew he wanted to live on the east side of the Cascades. He had learned bicycle maintenance in high school and came here to work for Winthrop Mountain Sports. He’s now employed by Methow Cycle and Sport.

A Western-themed tourist town of just 400 residents, Winthrop this year is spending $5.9 million to run the town and make infrastructure improvements. Roughly $1 million of that sum is a loan to improve the water system and $2.1 million is a grant to improve streets. 

Winthrop gets 1.1 percent of the 7.8 percent sales tax paid on everything taxable purchased in town. That puts nearly $300,000 a year into the town’s coffers. This income is dramatic evidence of how important tourism is to the tiny town. “It’s a huge impact,” says Acheson. “The sales tax we receive is way beyond what 400 people could generate.”

Asked if town officials have considered expanding town limits - and its tax base - by annexing nearby neighborhoods, Acheson says annexation doesn’t pencil out because of the cost of additional services the town would have to provide.

The mayor has plenty of unfinished town business on his plate. One festering, unresolved problem is what to do about the substandard, cramped basement hidey-hole that serves as the marshal’s office. Acheson says the facility is dangerous and ill-suited to handling aggressive prisoners as well as inaccessible to handicapped people. But efforts to solve that problem have failed. Various scenarios have been under consideration, such as moving the marshal’s office to space vacated by Fire District 6 if it builds a new facility. Asking voters to approve a bond to build a new marshal’s office “is certainly something to explore,” Acheson says.

Meanwhile, the mayor says he expects to make public “in a matter of weeks” the findings of his investigation into a complaint by the town of Twisp about the behavior in Twisp of a Winthrop officer in the line of duty. The two towns have a law enforcement mutual aid compact, and Acheson will only say the issue is a personnel matter.

One thing Acheson says he feels has improved is the Westernization Committee, which oversees compliance of downtown businesses with the town’s western motif and whose rulings sometimes have been contentious. The committee has been reduced from 12 members to seven, and the rules have been made “more black and white” with the intent of becoming more clear, he says. Still, he admits, “It doesn’t make everyone happy. It’s still a charged issue.”

Winthrop still has what Acheson describes as “paved cow paths,” and some will be properly paved beginning this year. Upper Bluff Street, starting near the intersection with Bridge Street, will be paved starting late this summer to the town limits, he says. A new water line along upper Bluff Street to town limits will be put in at the same time. And the rutted south end of Castle Avenue will have a roadbed put in and be repaved down the hill to Center Street in the spring of 2013 before the Fulton ditch is turned on, according to Acheson.

Replacing subpar sections of the town’s water system is a big-ticket item. The Washington State Department of Public Health says the present piping system does not provide adequate pressure for fire fighting. So larger pipes will be installed, or some piping may be re-routed, says Acheson. The entire project will take six years and cost $2.5 million, according to Acheson. Ratepayers will see their water bills go up $11 tor $12 per month to pay for the loan. In addition to upper Bluff Street, new pipes will be put in along Highway 20 south of town, and possibly in some sections of Horizon Flats.

“The town needs to finish what it started with the trail project,” Acheson says. But it won’t pave the trail that’s been constructed from the Spring Creek Bridge past Winthrop Physical Therapy to White Avenue this spring as had been planned. He explains that the town has been advised by the primary source of funding for the trail, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program’s Recreation and Conservation Office, to forego paving for now and use remaining grant funds, about $165,000, to help finish construction of the rest of the trail. In May, the town will apply for more funding to complete the trail.



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Wow, maybe now with all the grants we can get some of our light posts fixed downtown so people can see the walkway in the evening. That would be awesome!!

Lauri Martin