Edmonds City Council takes the scenic route to place levy on ballot

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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.

35 COMMENTS

  1. The following was the last slide in the survey presentation. Seems like valid conclusions that would indicate it makes little sense to proceed with a levy at this time.

    Thinking Ahead to Next Steps

    Let’s consider the trend in local levies and bonds in Snohomish County since 2008: fewer measures on the ballot and a lower winning percentage.

    Edmonds’ last revenue measure (Transportation District) was just recently on the ballot in November 2010 and lost by a large margin.

    Elections for Council and Mayor in November 2011.

    Not much time between now and August or November 2011.

    High gas prices, local economic conditions not likely to improve significantly.

    Women are increasingly cost sensitive since the recession began and they are 55% of your households.

    Polling indicates support from a small majority…within the margin of error. 41

  2. With the economic situation as it is and high gas and food prices and the fact that there isn’t clear, transparent information on the city’s financial situation, I do not believe its time to ask the taxpayers for more money!! I certainly won’t vote for it. The cost of city govt. through salaries and benefits needs to be addressed as times have changed and even though I feel employees should be paid fairly, the cost of this has spiraled out of control. Edmonds is not the only city facing this situation…its happening nationwide and you hear about all the cuts municipalities are making to compensate for this everywhere and the general population has stated pretty loudly…’No More Taxes’!!!

  3. Daryl, Couldnt agree with you more.unfotunatly we have a mayor and many council members who dont feel that way. Come to the next council meeting and bring your friends and speak to the council unfotunatly there is about three of use who speak and we need a bigger voice.

  4. Don, unfortunately I will be out of town the next 2 weeks or I would go to the next mtg. as I believe this one is important. I don’t believe they really all listen, though. I watch the meetings on television but really don’t believe the general public realize what is going on and leaving comments here and other publications, I feel at least some Edmonds citizens will read about it. Some of the council members seem to think citizens don’t pay their fair share and taxpayers are an endless money pit. The economy is bad and its because it has hit the taxpayers severely so how do they , some the council members, believe taxpayers have more money to send them?? They really need to prioritize, get the costs of govt. under control, get the financial dept. organized in a fashion that we as the public know what money is there and what it is spent on. Its obvious they don’t really know the exact numbers. Edmonds may be known for expensive homes, etc. but not all of us live in them..and live from month to month as it is.

  5. To the Mayor and City Council: If you want the levy to pass, talk to the taxpayers like we’re adults who are just as smart as you are. Answer our questions honestly with real facts.

    One of the many reasons the car tab increase failed is the way it was presented to voters: “We’re smart people who have decided what you need, and we’re not asking for that much of your money.” No surprise it failed so badly. Here’s a clue – don’t tell the voters how many espresso drinks the levy is equivalent to. A lot of people gave up those luxury espresso drinks long ago.

    I think a levy can pass if it’s explained well. For example, if you explain (with hard, verifiable facts) how much more it will cost to repair roads if we don’t do overlays, a lot more people will be willing to spend their money on it. You’d be telling them that if we don’t do these repairs now, it’s going to cost them or their children more in the future. Likewise with parks and building maintenance.

    I have always supported school levies (as have most voters in Edmonds) because I think it’s a smart investment. As someone smarter than me once said: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

    And of course the mayor is going to have to respond to people like Ron Wambolt and convince us that there are no reasonable sacrifices city employees can make. I’m generally pro-union, and I’m not sure we need to take money and benefits from staff, but the mayor needs to address this question. He’s an ex-union member and I think he’s afraid of a confrontation before his election. He may be more concerned about getting reelected than getting voters information they need. If he can’t stand up to union employees he’ll likely lose my vote. After all, in negotiations with the union, he represents taxpayers.

    Maybe there aren’t any more reasonable cuts the city can make, but so far the evidence of this is unconvincing. Politicians hate to be on the defensive, but times have changed and if you want more of our money you’re going to have to work hard to gain our trust. You don’t have it yet. That’s the single most important thing the survey is telling you.

  6. I stated earlier that I would support a reasonable levy, which this appears to be. Yet at this point I am undecided. I believe that the Mayor and 6 Council members are sincere and are doing a good job. I have strong reservations about the moral and ethical fitness of Donald Wilson to be involved in any important decision such as a levy. Ron Wambolt is making a lot of sense to me in his responses.

  7. Warning: snarky comments ahead!

    Survey: Only 8% or us think the Police Department is Poor, Very Poor or Don’t Know.
    Council: Let’s spend a quarter million dollars on more Police Officers. (Thankfully common sense prevailed here and only 2 councilmembers thought this was a good idea.)

    Survey: 51% think the city is spending too much and needs to cut.
    Council: Uh, can we please move on and talk about the levy. Cuts are not fun.

    Survey: 70% of us think the level proposal should wait until the Strategic Plan is completed.
    Survey: 53% of us want the Council to find a levy they can all support and not take opposite sides.
    Council: Since 2 councilmembers are absent, we can pass a levy proposal now with a minority. Woo hoo!

    I’m so thankful (not) we spent money on a survey to guide this process.

    By the way, thank you Teresa for a headline that made me laugh. I need the reminder to keep my sense of humor.

  8. Joe:

    Mayor Cooper is not an ex-union member as you mentioned above. On February 25, 2011 the mayor wrote the following on his facebook page: “I am going to Olympia tomorrow to stand side by side with my union brothers and sisters for two reasons. First, I am a proud IAFF member since 1980 and secondly to send a message to elected officials at all levels of government that public employee bashing must stop”.

  9. Both Ron’s have very valid points. We need canadates to challange, the mayor and the four city council members running for election. Remember two of them where appointed after beinging defeated. So if you know of concerned citizens who care what happens in the next four years encouriage them to file by the end of may. Lets make this a spirited debate about the real issues facing this city

  10. Hi Their:
    After reading all of the opinions and talk around town. My belief that no levy will pass
    At this time. It appears to me that the lack of cohesion in the city council and apparent lack of leadership is ruling the day on this issue.I Know for a fact that each council person is a leader in their own specialty .What is also clear is that the levy issue has the council and Mayor are unable to reach common ground. At least for now. I would make this proposition. Delay the levy until after the elections.Lets let things cool down. I can sell a levy by showing the public where and why we need one In person and with the help of the press, we will pass the levy.
    I do not believe any levy will pas under the current circumstances

    Dave page

  11. Ron Wambolt, et. al.:

    It is no secret that you have been telling people that you will be running for Mayor. If I remember correctly, you have to file your PDC paperwork within ten days of disclosing. Have you done this yet?

    Also, Ron, I remember that you took money from people who have made noise that they want to build large buildings on the waterfront. And, in fact, when I asked your opinion about the person who built in front of my condo, blocking my neighbor’s view, your response was: “That’s what happens when you don’t own the view”. The person who built is Mr. Michelle. Both you and Mr. Plunkett accepted campaign donations from him. And, the City gave him a permit for building a roof that was out of spec. Yes, I am a neighbor of that infamous, three story, Alder Street building.

    My point in bringing this up, Ron, is that if your logic is that the Mayor cannot negotiate with Unions and act in the best interest of the City because he has taken donations from the Union then, I wouldn’t vote for you because you cannot protect my view. It takes just one more exemption from code so that my neighbor can build out to the street and block my view.

    Ron, I expected you to run on the issues. I am a bit surprised at this early mud-slinging. As I remember, you were a victim of the same thing during your last campaign.

  12. Ron B. The council members who voted to appoint Mike Cooper Mayor are Wilson, Petso Peterson And Monillas. Hum

  13. Priya:
    1) I am not running for any elected office.
    2) The law does not permit the denial of a building permit in order to solely protect the view of an other property.
    3) Taking contributions from unions is the least of my concerns about Mayor Cooper’s lack of independence – he’s been an active union member/leader all of his working life!

  14. Ron, somebody who had not yet declared his candidacy could honestly say “I am not running for any elected office”. So for the sake of clarity will you state that you are not going to run for any elected office this year?

  15. Joe:

    You are probably right, but I don’t play those kind of games. But for clarity, I will not be running for any elected office in 2011.

  16. Ron:

    1) put to bed.
    2) But, our local zoning regulations do discuss roof heights and variances. The building I am discussing received multiple variances from the City. But, this issue is now moot with regard to you since you are not running.
    3) I am surprised that you are using the same smear tactic that was used against you during your last campaign to distract from the real issues. Very disappointed in you.

  17. I’ve never seen you be intentionally deceptive, so I’m sorry if you or anyone else took my question as an accusation. I do appreciate the clarification!

  18. Priya:

    2) I don’t recall any height variance being given for any project in Edmonds.
    3) And how are facts a smear???

  19. As I’ve said before, I’m generally pro-union. My Father was a proud union member and I have family union members, including government unions.

    But I do think that the Mayor’s union membership and outspoken union advocacy should disqualify him from negotiating with any union on behalf of the taxpayers. I just don’t see how he can negotiate on our behalf in good faith.

    If he doesn’t find a way to recuse himself (and his appointees) from those negotiations, he’ll probably lose my vote. Of course I don’t know who if anyone will be running against him, so it’s hard to be sure of anything. I’m certainly not going to vote for a candidate who vows to dismantle the union or anything drastic like that.

    Pointing out a genuine conflict of interest on a fiscal matter is not a smear tactic.

  20. I do not understand the ‘logic’ being presented that since Mr Cooper is a union member he cannot negotiate fairly. A lot of you are saying he is biased toward the unions. If he was a non member, (using this argument) would he not be biased against the unions?

    It is the same argument being used in California right now against the federal judge who ruled on Prop 8. He is gay so he is biased on the law. Well, if he was straight doesn’t that mean by the same thought process that he would be biased against the gays?

    If you are or not anything you have to be biased for or against it? Hmmm, is it only the bloggers who can think straight?

  21. BRAVO, Chris Fleck.

    And, for those of you who think City Union workers are a “privileged” class obviously you do not know or socialize with any of them. I suggest you take your favorite union worker for a beer and discuss what a pay cut would really mean to them. It would be a shame that the people that take care of us could not afford to live in the same City they work in.

    I will note vote a Levy that will require our Unions to take a concession unless each Council member donates his/her salary back to the City and refuses all medical benefits.

  22. Chris, your analogy with the judge does not apply here, because unlike a judge, I am not expecting the Mayor to be impartial. Union negotiations (or any negotiations, for that matter) should be a little bit adversarial, though hopefully not too much.

    I’d just like to see the issue of pay for city workers discussed more openly so I, as a voter, can decide for myself whether I think there should be concessions by city employees. I might come to agree with you, Priya. As it stands, it just looks like a lot of sketchy anecdotes to me.

    I could take both a city worker and a fixed income retired taxpayer out for a beer and ask them each what it would mean to take money out their pockets, and I’m sure they’d both give me an earful. The city appears to be going broke, so maybe they both have to give a little if they don’t want to see the city slide downhill.

  23. Unions are a “special interest group”, we taxpayers generally do not have any organization representing our interests.With labor negotiations we largely have to depend upon the mayor; with an unaffiliated mayor everyone would likely get treated more fairly.

    Why have I been pushing for employee concessions? Because we have all heard what is happening all around us with government workers. I have been asking for a survey to be done to determine what concessions, which workers, have taken in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Some months ago the usual salary survey was done and the salary ranges were increased. So let’s do a similar survey of concessions to determine what’s fair for Edmonds workers. And that could mean no further concessions beyond what were given in 2009.

  24. To suggest that we should sell the ECA is asinine. Operations like that take a minimum of five years to begin to show an operating profit. And that is in a strong economy. This fact was pointed out during the discussions to fund the entity years ago.

    The ECA brings a great deal to the city. It brings prestige and enhances the appeal of the town. This is like saying we should discontinue the flower basket program. After all, the baskets just look nice and enhance the livability of Edmonds; they don’t actually generate trackable monies.

    The ECA also brings in a number of people who do not reside in Edmonds. Those people come to Edmonds to shop and eat before the show. Thus they support local businesses and generate tax dollars. I have met many people who come back to town because they were so impressed, when the ECA was the reason they came in the first place.

    Put all that aside. In this depressed market, there is no way the city would recoup enough money to make it worthwhile to jettison.

  25. Ron B.,
    Of course ECA is not the Wiener Staatsoper! but I urge you to attend a performance there and I bet you’d be impressed, and further more the seats are a lot more comfortable!!! .I also disagree with your comment about the management. Joe and the whole crew have become very creative at squeezing every cent possible and making money with having beverages allowed in the hall which brings quite a bit of extra money. Please go, I think it will change your mind, it is truly a wonderful and intimate venue.
    As far as I am concerned Edmonds’ financial salvation is having a City manager who is schooled in running a city, not hampered with allegiances with Unions and who will properly run this city with a mind of balancing the books by any means possible, including laying people off where and when needed. We all know the president’s salary… try to find out the salaries of Edmonds employees.. it is a closely guarded secret because we probably would be astounded at the numbers. That would be the start of a meaningful discussion… We can always dream!
    .

  26. To Ron B, you just made the point in your comment that red ink sometimes is what makes people, happy, fulfilled and knowledgeable. European indeed know how to live and savor the small pleasures in life, like your experience you still remember after many years. That music was probably also tainted by red ink….orchestras are perennially bathing in red ink and saved by patrons and heavy donors who need tax breaks. How about giving your same experience to someone or a child? it seems priceless to me…

    To Ron W. Thanks for the link to the typical material from city hall. most people have no clue of what this all means. how about a list that says that a secretary in Edmonds makes up to $80 K+ and on top of that merit raises and a benefit package unheard of these days. How much does the janitor make, the Directors of the different Depts, etc.. That would be transparency! People of Edmonds should have the right to find this information out without mumbo jumbo and hoops to go through. It should all be on the web, in simple terms for anyone to understand.
    BTW, why are you not running for mayor? i think you’d be good and you have the necessary experience. I like what you are saying these days.

  27. When FD1 transports someone to the hospital who does all that work? Does FD1 collect money from insurance companies for transport? Does FD1 collect a copay from individuals? Does FD1 collect transport fees from individuals if they do not have insurance? Where does the emergency room fit into this? Does FD1 charge anyone for services performed on site when no transport is needed?

  28. Regrettably a public disclosure request must be filed to learn the specific salaries. Since there’s apparently considerable interest in this, which is understandable, perhaps Teresa will obtain the info and post it on this site.

    Citizens are not required to pay any EMS transport fees. Any fees not covered by insurance companies are written off by the city.

    Betty: Thank you for your confidence in me; I’m optimistic that a well-qualified candidate for mayor will soon make an announcement.

    • I did make a public disclosure request for employee salaries and received a copy of the ordinance that establishes employee salary ranges for 2011. It’s attached here.

  29. Darrol:

    I just saw your posting. FDI does all of the administrative work; nothing is collected from individuals. The emergency room charges are the responsibility of the user. I don’t know the answer about charges for services performed on site with no transport.

  30. Ron B.

    We have Medical Supplement plans. The agent who processes the billings for FD1 mistakenly billed us for the amount our insurance did not cover; I called the agent and their billing went away. That was a startup problem, because the most recent time that we used EMS there was no billing.

  31. So Ron B it looks like co pays are not collected? Currently the City recieves about $700,000 from transport fees and it kind of looks like most of it comes from insurance companies.

  32. Teresa:

    Thanks for your effort, but this info is already on the city’s website. What some citizens have been looking for is the specific salaries for the current incumbents.

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