Editor’s note: This end of this story has been edited to clarify numbers and funding, as those had been included but were not saved in the final version that was posted early this morning. Thanks to Council President Strom Peterson for noticing the discrepancy.
It would have been impossible to write a script for the drama surrounding the property tax levy proposal approved by the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night. But it’s safe to say that even though councilmembers passed – by a 3-2 vote with two members absent – the $2.5 million proposal destined for the November 2011 election ballot, the resulting ordinance is likely to change when the full Council reviews it next week. And citizens will have a chance to comment on it too.
The stage was set for the evening when pollster Alison Peters, hired by Mayor Mike Cooper to gauge the sentiments of Edmonds voters about a levy proposal, presented her results. The presentation is now available on the City’s website. We will describe the results here, and then return to explaining how the council vote unfolded, as some of the discussion is related to the survey findings.
Peters explained that the goal of the survey was to learn several things:
– How residents are feeling about the quality of life in Edmonds and the current pace of economic recovery.
– Are residents satisfied with city services and programs.
– What are the program and service priorities for residents in this economic climate?
– What is reaction of citizens to hearing about a proposal for new operations revenue for the city?
– What kind of path or approach would residents would like to take?
The results were gathered through a 14-minute telephone survey from April 25-28 aimed at sampling all of the 7,500-plus registered voter households in Edmonds. Four hundred interviews were completed. The results were reported overall but also were segmented by age and gender and also where they lived by the following quadrants: the Northwest region (Perrinville), Northeast (Meadowdale), Southwest (city center and Esperance) and Southeast (Highway 99).
Among the conclusions, according to Peters, were:
– 59 percent agreed that things in Edmonds seem to be going in the right direction while 24 percent said they were going off track and 17 percent said they didn’t know.
– 56 percent said they believe the local economy is staying the same, 21 percent say it is getting better, 20 percent say it’s getting worse and 3 percent don’t know.
– On a scale of 1-5, the job that the police department is doing to protect public safety was rated the highest out of city services provided, while parks maintenance came in second. Maintenance of facilities and streets was rated third, followed by the city’s efforts to communicate with citizens. At the bottom of the list was how the city was doing in terms of spending tax dollars wisely and being transparent.
– In an attempt to gauge citizen awareness of city finances and past public involvement efforts, those surveyed were asked if they were aware of the 2009 public process to evaluate the need for a levy. Just 32 percent were aware of that process, while 45 percent were not and 23 percent didn’t know.
– While just 36 percent of those surveyed said that the city could fund current needs with existing revenue, there is a perception that overspending is an issue. In a question that asked whether the city had a revenue problem or a spending problem –51 percent indicated spending, 31 percent cited revenue and 14 percent didn’t know.
– When asked to rate spending priorities, survey respondents gave police and streets high marks while money for the arts was rated as less important.
Citizens also showed a preference for maintenance projects over capital projects, and preferred that levy proposals be presented individually as separate measures rather than a package of projects, Peters said.
Following Peters’ presentation, the council turned to the task at hand: Continuing its discussion regarding a property tax levy for either the August or November 2011 election. Council President Strom Peterson and Councilmember D.J. Wilson presented a $2.75 million “maintenance and safety ” levy that called for $800,000 in street maintenance, $900,000 in parks maintenance and $800,000 in building maintenance, plus $250,000 to restore a uniformed police officer and a crime prevention officer lost during past budget cuts.
As the council began talking about the proposal, it was clear that the councilmembers were far apart on what form the levy should take. Buckshnis said she is still uncertain about the accuracy of the city’s financial statements, although she feels like the council is making progress thanks to the efforts of the city’s interim finance director. And both Buckshnis and Petso said they aren’t in favor of presenting a package of options to the voters like what Peterson and Wilson developed, but instead prefer offering each item individually so that people can pick and choose. And they made a point of noting that the survey results indicated that voters preferred that too.
During this debate, Petso recalled that there was some unfinished business from the last council meeting: A quick check of the minutes showed that Petso had proposed that a $700,000 streets measure be placed on the ballot — a motion that the council had tabled and never acted on. She asked that the motion be considered, which set off additional discussion about the merits of a single proposal versus a package of levy items.
A series of amendments then were proposed to extend the levy beyond the streets proposal. Peterson moved to add $800,00 in building maintenance, which was approved 3-2 (Buckshnis and Petso voting no). Wilson proposed that $250,000 be added to fund the police proposal, but it was defeated 2-3. However, his followup suggestion to add $1 million to the levy to cover the city’s deficit was approved 3-2, giving the levy a package price of $2.5 million.
Mayor Mike Cooper noted that the Council can make change to the ordinance when it comes back for review and a public hearing at next Tuesday’s meeting.