Warden mulls 2024 budget, plans for the future

Nov. 20—WARDEN — The Nov. 14 Warden City Council meeting featured a public hearing and discussion of Warden's 2024 preliminary budget, as well as comments on her election from city council member Rosalie Martinez, soon to be Warden's mayor.

Martinez led the council meeting due to Mayor Tony Massa's absence.

"I just wanted to let you know that I feel honored to serve as your mayor," said Martinez. "I know that no one else wanted to get the baton, so I showed up and I took it, and I wanted to serve this community. I love Warden. I raised my children here."

Martinez said that she has children who are involved in education and law enforcement and that she is invested in those areas.

"Being first-generation American, I am so grateful to live in this country," Martinez said. "I'm proud of what we've been able to do here in Warden."

Martinez continued to elaborate on the town's recent challenges.

"Our first and foremost vision was taking care of our employees in the city," she said, "and I believe that we have everyone caught up to where their finances are comparable to others, their wages are compatible to other cities, other towns our size."

Martinez then thanked the city council members for their dedication.

"Through it all, they showed up. There were times it was hard to come here to councils and be all separated with masks while everybody was safe at home. We kept business going, and I'm very proud to have served next to Tony," Martinez said. "I think people don't realize how many good things are coming down the line. Many good things that we really can't talk too much about right now. We are doing the best we can with the budget we have, with catching up with so many new people coming, and we welcome everyone who wants to come to Warden."

Martinez spoke about her conversations with city staff regarding their direction when she takes office Jan. 1.

"We have a vision that we are trying to implement, now that we're really standing on our feet welcoming hundreds of people into our town and I know that that there's a lot of positiveness and there's a lot of good input from people that are coming into town," Martinez said. "It's going to take a while. It's going to take a while to get everything back up to where it should be, and I appreciate your patience ... I'm going to carry the baton."

Martinez also responded to public comments regarding stray dogs in Warden, a frequent topic of public comment at city council meetings in recent months. Martinez said she intends to address the issue aggressively and has already spoken with the city's animal control department about implementing changes.

During the public hearing for the 2024 preliminary budget, council members asked clarifying questions regarding the budget and various funds.

The general fund 2024 budget is listed at about $1.93 million, according to the preliminary budget packet distributed prior to the meeting.

"This is a nine percent increase over 2023," said Massa in the mayor's message portion of the packet. "Most of the increased cost is negotiated labor, capital purchases and reallocation of overhead costs."

The packet listed the water-sewer budget, the largest fund, at $2.63 million.

"Funding through the Department of Ecology had been awarded to upgrade the oldest of the city's sanitary sewer lift stations," Massa wrote in the message.

Massa also mentioned utility rates when discussing the water-sewer fund.

"Utility rates have been reviewed," he said. "The rates for water have not increased since 2016. Sewer rates were last increased in 2018. Standards and city code relate the utilities should be increased by the cost of living rate each year. Those rate amendments will be placed before the city council prior to 2024."

The public hearing for the final budget will be held during the next city council meeting Nov. 28 at 7 p.m.

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com. Download the Columbia Basin Herald app on iOS and Android.