I was pleased that while there were firm opinions, everyone had a civil demeanor and listened to what the others had to say. That’s the way I think issues should be debated in Edmonds: without too much rhetoric and with a sense of the community’s best interests as whole. I think we accomplished that.
It seemed like there was universal agreement that funding of street repairs should be a priority for the city. Mr. Williams had a graph that showed over the past 10 years, city spending has gone up an average of 5-8 percent for fire and police departments, around 3 percent for the parks department but less than 1 percent for street repairs and improvements. Since deterioration is gradual, you may not notice if street repairs and improvements are not done this year, but continued negligence year after year will show in the future when the costs will be much higher.
The list of Transportation Benefit District projects listed as candidates for Proposition 1 funding was not quite so universally agreed to. Although it is probably hard to ever get everyone to agree on all projects in a list, a bigger concern was just the sheer number of projects and the thought that the community views some of them as “nice to have” rather than necessary. When the country is facing a stagnant economy, is it appropriate to legislate in these types of projects that increase our license tabs $40 per vehicle per year with no end in sight. The feeling was that the measure might be more likely to succeed if it concentrated on the repairs, overlays and maintenance and left new projects for another funding mechanism.
We discussed the impact of the particular fee and how it is regressive in that it affects lower-income citizens in a far greater percentage than it does wealthier people: An additional $40, or $60 total per car, is a far greater proportion of expense for someone younger or a single parent than it is for higher-paid executive. On the other hand, there was a thought that users (vehicle owners) should pay for improvement to what they use.
What really came out of the discussion is that there is no perfect way to fund this sort of item. If it comes strictly out of the general fund, then you are charging property owners disproportionately more than renters. You can argue all day over what the perfect funding system is. The best you can do is weigh the inequities of one versus the other and vote for one if it isn’t too onerous for those people who are disproportionately affected.
We also discussed the pro-Proposition 1 campaign’s claim that this is an opportunity to approve a fee that allows voters to direct where it is spent. It can only be spent on improvements and the projects; no other city services. What supporters fail to mention is that the original $20 didn’t “really” work this way. Sure, the entire $20 went to street projects for a total of $580,000, but the City Council then removed $700,000 that it had allocated to the street fund from the general fund. Hence, in actuality, even though vehicle owners contributed $580,000 through the fees, the actual expenditures to the street fund went down by $120,000. Now that can’t happen this time as the Council has already budgeted zero for streets, but when people always talk about how they want to provide clarity to issues, this is the kind of communication that makes citizens crazy.
Another thing that came up was the “Complete Streets” program that was introduced to the Council on Tuesday night. There was near-universal agreement that the City should not adopt an ordinance that had been crafted by an organization that is clearly a special interest group. I will provide a more thorough analysis for My Edmonds News in the near future, but suffice it to say that no one at our meeting was in favor of it.
So what was the net result of the coffee meeting? Everyone got a better understanding of each others’ concerns and this is a very good thing. I think more of this is needed and I encourage others to hold their own get-togethers or to come to future “Coffees with Harry.” The main rule at the Coffees is that you are respectful of others and let everyone have their say. We definitely didn’t agree on all of this issues but everyone left with respect for each others’ opinions.
Thank you to Phil Williams for taking time out of his schedule to come and meet with people and answer their questions about Edmonds streets. I also need to thank the wonderful people at Chanterelle for hosting us. Everyone who ordered something to eat or drink was pleased with the food and the service. Our server, Ally, was just wonderful at taking care of our needs and yet leaving us the freedom to talk. Owner Brooke Baker shows a real interest in the community by providing the space, free coffee and great attention to our needs and the needs of our city. Go have a meal at Chanterelle, 316 Main St., and if you get the chance, thank Brooke for her community involvement.
Edmonds resident “Citizen Harry” Gatjens is providing regular reports to My Edmonds News on the workings of the Edmonds city government, including the 2010 Citizens Levy Committee and the Citizens Technology Advisory Committee.