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Winlock resident wills $1 million to city for economic development

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Late Winlock resident Evelyn Miller has left her community close to $1 million in a trust to be used toward attracting and keeping businesses in town.

Made public during the Nov. 18 Winlock City Council meeting, the bequeathment was outlined by Miller's attorney, Rene Remund, who told of how Miller wanted to help the town she lived in and loved, even after she passed on.

"After making some fairly generous gifts to relatives and people who had assisted her during her long lifetime, she decided that she wished to benefit Winlock," said Remund. "The particular interest that she had was in economic development."

Her will did not name a specific entity as sole recipient, but said the trust is available to those bringing new businesses to Winlock, focusing primarily on filling existing buildings in the Downtown Core and attracting those in legal, accounting, and health professions, as well as food and entertainment venues.

According to the will, Miller's estate will be placed in the care of a Board of Trustees, currently comprised of Remund, Webster Brockelman Jr. and Charles Harkins Jr. The board will be charged with considering requests for funding from the trust, and will be required to make a report to the City Council at least once a year so their activities may become part of the public record.

Remund said guidelines for how the money can be spent are flexible enough to allow trustees to use their own judgment when approving or disapproving proposals, stating the language in the will did not place the money "in a straightjacket."

"There is room for projects beyond those that are specifically referenced," he said, stating the trust could be put toward such uses as paying the first year of rent for a new business, or helping develop airport and railroad access.

But Remund was clear the trust is not to be used as an open account for City Hall to take care of day-to-day projects, though the city's current infrastructure needs were raised by officials during the presentation.

"It is not a piggy bank from which to withdraw in order to take care of the potholes," he said, adding the city would not be disallowed from proposing an infrastructure project if they felt it fit the criteria.

Council members received the announcement graciously, but wanted to be sure they understood how the trust was going to be managed.

Council Member Dennis Korpi asked if trustees were expected to open the consideration process to criticism from those opposed to certain projects, and Remund said the spirit of the bequeathment is certainly not to approve or implement projects without due oversight.

"The idea here is not to do it in the dead of night with a whisper in an ear," he said, to Korpi's satisfaction.

Council Member Denise Green asked if part of the trust could be used toward purchasing and developing land to be used as a parking lot downtown, and Remund said it may well fit the criteria.

But Remund also cautioned it may not be in the best interest of the trust to begin spending money on too many or very large projects right now, as most of the funding in the trust intended to become investment capital and will not be able to produce interest if spent right away. He said a large portion of the estate has been invested aggressively to earn greater interest, but only for the short term.

"This is not going to solve Winlock’s overall issues," he said. "It is something more than Winlock had before. If wisely used, it should improve Winlock."

Remund added Brockelman intends to resign from the Board of Trustees at the end of the year, as he is aging and lives in Massachusetts, and the board has requested the council to form a committee and recommend appointments from within the community to take Brockelman's place. No such committee was formed by the council that night, but it is expected they may after Brockelman officially resigns.

It was also reported by Remund some memorabilia from the Miller family has also been left to Winlock and will be placed in the care of the Winlock Historical Museum.

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