It’s back to drawing board for Edmonds Council after levy plan rejected

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During Tuesday's Council meeting, Edmonds Police Corporal Joshua McClure was sworn in by Chief Al Compaan. Here, he signs his oath of office while his family, Compaan and Mayor Mike Cooper look on.

Reality set in for the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night when two councilmembers who missed last week’s meeting returned and formed a four-member majority to reject a levy proposal that was passed 3-2 last week. Granted, the May 10 levy vote was taken under unusual circumstances — basically starting out as a forgotten motion for $700,000 in street overlays that had been tabled from a previous meeting, with $800,000 tacked on by Councilmembers Strom Peterson for general maintenance and $1 million added by DJ Wilson to cover the city’s budget deficit. (Councilmembers Peterson, Wilson and Steve Bernheim voted for the measure, while Diane Buckshnis and Lora Petso opposed it.)

Problem was, Councilmembers Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Michael Plunkett were absent at last week’s meeting, and neither one of them thought too kindly of the vote taken last week without having a chance to provide their input. So this time, after some discussion, the vote for the ordinance that had been drawn up based on last week’s vote was 4-2 against, with Wilson and Peterson on the losing end. (Bernheim did not attend the meeting.)

Peterson made one more attempt to get a levy on the ballot, this time proposing that the council approve for the August ballot a levy for $2.2 million to cover the district’s annual payment to Fire District 1 for the fire service. If approved, such a measure would free up the city’s general fund money to be used for other purposes, Peterson said, such as offsetting debt. That measure, however, also went nowhere, also failing 4-2. Plunkett called the idea “a subsidy of the general fund tied to public safety to help it pass,” and reiterated his stance that he wouldn’t consider any levy tied to the general fund unless there were concessions made by labor unions.

Citizen activist Joan Bloom made a similiar point during the public testimony portion of the evening, stating that she wouldn’t vote for any levy “until (city) compensation and staffing levels are addressed.”

After the dust settled, Petso suggested that the councilmembers considering holding a workshop to develop a levy proposal, noting the current council meeting format was too structured to foster constructive given-and-take dialogue. A frustrated Wilson shot back that he really wasn’t interested in attending a workshop with a group of people he couldn’t trust. “I think some people are taking a position in opposition out of principal and I respect that and I think that some of my colleagues are telling me one thing and voting differently,” he said.

Also on Tuesday night, the council heard a report from Joe McIlawaine, executive director of the Edmonds Center for the Arts, who had good news and bad news for the council. The good news is, the ECA’s operating revenue has increased significantly in the past year. For comparison purposes, during the first four months in 2010, ECA revenue was $4,805 while during those same  months in 2011, the amount was $151,797. Unfortunately, the capital side is another story, and the facility is still unable to make its bond payments due to lower-than-expected sales tax revenue, he said.

Because the ECA is operated through an inter-jurisdictional agreement between the Edmonds Public Facilities District and the City of Edmonds, the City is required to cover the bond obligations through a loan or similar means. McIlawaine noted that the ECA will need $83,185 from the city to meet its June 1 bond payment, and is likely to need additional funding at the end of 2011 for the December bond payment.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Some council members obviously believe that the voters are as stupid as some of the
    levy proposals they are making. Well they aren’t!! We are tired of levy labels being contrived to seek the favor of a mayority of voters. It’s time that council members started listening to the citizen inputs they’ve received that compensation expenses need to be cut before any property taxes are increased. They need to quit wasting everyone’s time and get on with doing what they were elected to do.

  2. Most people say we need to fix the roads. ($1.5m per year or under $90 per average homeowner.) So using logic of “no money for anything until compensation is cut” approach when will we begin to fix the roads? We have just under 270 employees. What number of people need to be cut or how much of a reduction in compensation will it take to save the $1.5m we need for roads? When council votes to increase the total property tax by 1% that generates about $100,000 every year going forward. So if you freeze wages and benefits and put that $100k into road each year then it will take 15 years to get back on the cycle of $1.5m to just stay even. Every year we wait to put money into our roads just increases the risk that the substructure will need repair as well. Public Works has estimated tha when a road needs substructure repair the costs will go up by a factor of 2 or 3. We have not spent money on roads since 2008 and the risks are real.

    While we hear all the discussion about compensation it is time to decide what basic services we want and how do we want to pay for them. This will be one of the major outcomes of the Strategic Planning process that is just beginning. I would hope all who are willing to comment on the issues of our City are willing to work together on the development of a Strategic Plan that will guide the Administration and the Council. It seems to be time to get going on a plan that is well thought out, has funding associated with it and does what the majority of people want to do. That’s Democracy. The Council and Mayor seem not to be listening well to what was suggested by the levy committee nor are they listening will to the most recent poll results.

  3. To Councilmember Wilson: It was just unbelievable that you would accuse others on the council of being untrustworthy one week after trying to sneak in a levy proposal you had to have known would never pass if the full council were present. You’re a former political science teacher. Where did you learn it was a good idea to make vague accusations that your colleagues are untrustworthy. Even if they are untrustworthy you must know that publicly proclaiming it was not very smart. What’s your plan for getting them to listen to you now?

    To Councilmember Plunkett: You just couldn’t pass up a chance to insert some anti-union rhetoric into the conversation, could you? Please save your red-meat propaganda for your next political campaign.

    The recent survey shows 78% of us think it is important that the City Council find a levy package they can all support, and not take opposite sides against each other. Isn’t there pretty much unanimous support for more money for street maintenance? Please act like adults and stop sniping at each other. Otherwise there’s no real chance of passing any levy.

  4. Darrol, you’ve made a great point about road substructure repair. The Levy survey showed only lukewarm support for street maintenance. I don’t think people really understand the consequences of continuing to defer street maintenance. I wonder if a city engineer could find the time to show (with detailed hard facts) how investing in street maintenance could save money when seen as a long-term investment.

    If people see street maintenance as just a way to make the roads a little smoother and nicer, there may not be enough support to get a majority vote.

  5. There is no dought we need a levy for street overlays and it would have a good chance to pass if fully supported by the council. But it doesnt fix the general fund short fall as there is no money in the the general fund for street overlays. I think councilmans Plunketts comments were quite appropriate as how do you budget correctly if you dont know what 54% of your budget is going to be. After last nite I am not sure I could support anything several of the council members would bring forward as they under estamate the intelligence of the public

  6. Joe–

    Stating I had a lack of trust in my colleagues was not my finest moment, and I regret saying it. It came in a moment of frustration, and I will apologize to my colleagues at our next meeting.

    As for the proposal I put forward with Mr. Peterson last week, it was a good faith attempt to listen to my colleagues, and put a package together that might get enough interest and support from enough folks that it could move forward with a strong majority. It was not my ideal package, and it certainly wasn’t snuck in in anyway. It didn’t even get a vote!

    As for my colleagues listening to me, if you watch meetings, you’ll know that is not an affliction they struggle with – either before or I expect after my comments on Tuesday. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone on Council is listening to anyone else – or at least it appears few are genuinely interested in meeting their colleagues “half way.” I thought I was trying that, but obviously I missed the mark widely.

  7. Joe, Phil Williams our Public Works Director has made several presentations to a number of groups around town that detail the cost and risk issues with roads. Some of the material about street overlays is on the following link. http://www.ci.edmonds.wa.us/transBDTransProjectsRank1.stm

    I have seen his presentation and data and quizzed him extensively about street overlays and know that if Council were to go forward with a targeted levy to do overlays right then there would be time to make the case and let the public decide. Putting targeted levies out for a public vote will allow for a complete discussion of the need, the costs and the funding for those things targeted. Council is not listening to people when the propose to fund a popular project and use the exitsing money for that project to pay for other things. That looks like the old walnut shells and the pea trick by street hustlers. Since we are not currently spending any money on street overlays the public would get the chance to here all the issues and then decide. No games just the facts and then a decision.

  8. Mr Wilson, I appreciate the courage it took to respond to my comments promptly, directly and publicly. It means a lot to me.

    As to what was snuck in, I was referring to the levy that passed 3-2, not any individual amendment to it. Obviously it was not your vote alone that passed it, but it couldn’t have passed without your vote. But I think we each made our points about it, so it probably doesn’t merit further discussion.

  9. DJ, If you go back and see what the levy committee has suggest in Feb and most recently in the last report to council then start building on those ideas I think progress will be made.
    Both reports and presentations have been sent to the total Council and are posted on the City web site.

  10. Don, if Mr. Plunkett had stated that we need to get a complete picture of staffing costs and look at ways to reduce them, I would have applauded him for taking a stand on fiscal responsibility. But when he says the first thing we need to look at is union concessions, I think that is just divisive political rhetoric. His statement was an appeal to emotions, not to intelligence.

    I strongly agree with your view that Council members should assume we are intelligent and talk to us that way.

  11. It seems like some do not fully read the entirety of my posts, or I’m a lousy communicator. I’ve been saying for months, and before I left city council, that a levy is needed. But we first need to look at employee concessions before determining the magnitude of it.

    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. But right now we do not need the answer to that.

    And some clarification about property taxes. As Darrol has said, they can only go up each year by 1% – unless the voters pass a levy lid lift. But obviously property taxes are not the city’s only source of revenue. Others taxes and miscellaneous revenues account for more than 50% of the city’s revenues.

    Regarding the report of the levy committee, there was no recommendation from the committee for fixing the shrinking general fund reserve. Any levy needs to address that issue.

    BTW; anyone who attended last night’s meeting would have no trouble understanding DJ Wilson’s “moment of frustration”.

  12. Ron, One correction to your statement about the levy committee recommendations. On Feb 22 the presentation showed EXAMPLES of several target levies both immmediately and in the future. Charts and numbers were presented showing help for the GF both in 2012 and again in 2015 when we have to make the critical decision of to proceed in providing Fire Services to Edmonds. These examples can be found at the following link.

    http://www.ci.edmonds.wa.us/CitLevyComm/docs/110222_HAUGPowerPointPresentation.pdf

    In the final report to council targeted levies were proposed but nothing for the GF until compensation and transparency made some progress. The GF is not out of gas yet and for now we have the battle of words. Next year when the Strategic Plan is complete would be a good time to have a serious discussion of the GF. The polling seemed to support that idea.

  13. The Council and Mayor should give up on the idea of a General Fund levy this year. I think voters are too scared and ornery to sign over more money without transparency. The survey shows that.

    I think the Mayor (and several Council members) have made the political calculation that transparency is risky and may cause them to lose more support than they gain. The Council could force the issue of transparency, but their efforts (at least collectively) have been weak so far. No sign the Mayor is going to budge before November.

    I also think voters are too smart to be fooled by relabeling a General Fund levy as “deficit reduction” or “fund replacement” or any other clever euphemism.

    To me, transparency is the biggest issue of this fall’s elections. I hope the candidates are listening.

  14. Joe, I agree with your thoughts. Transparency means different things for different people. Your are very articulate, how would you define transparancy? I will kick it off and say that one of the elements of transparancy is that we should be able to go to the city web site and see numbers and graphs that show the status of all the various funds with things like last years budget vs actuals, and this years budget and each month the actuals get posted to show where we are this year and this year vs last year.

  15. It will come as no surprise that I have some opinions about transparency. First I agree that it would be nice to have the reports mentioned by Daryl. During my working career I was accustomed to having that kind of information, and much more. I worked for public companies, so having full reporting wasn’t optional. I’m currently an investor in a couple of private companies which provide considerably less information.

    Having said all of that I am not convinced that our city needs to do any reporting beyond what’s currently being done. I spent 4 years on the city council’s finance committee and heard zero complaints about the reporting until my last year – coincident with the departure of Kathleen Junglov, Finance Director, in July 2009. Since then the reports were rarely produced on time, and when produced they had insufficient narratives to fully explain significant deviations from budget.

    To expand what was done in the pre-Hines era would, in my opinion, fail any cost/benefit test – because it’s virtually certain that an additional CPA would have to be added to the finance department. And it’s questionable that any tangible significant benefit would result. We all know about the city’s financial challenges, but I am not aware of any of that situation being caused by the finance department. Additionally, those citys that Edmonds is being constantly compared to seem to have the same, if not worse, financial challenges.

    I’ll be happy when the mayor comes up with a competent finance director who provides timely reports.

  16. I find it absolutely amazing this much valuable information can be provided in a single forum. (Congrats to Teresa and all of you….THANK YOU!!)

    I’m equally amazed at how much the discussion centers around how/why increasing taxes (or not) addesses the financing model for ANY of our city costs. Could it be possible the municipality financing model, in place for decades, could be outdated? Property taxes, car tab fee’s, sugar taxes, fuel taxes, sales taxes and levee’s are proving to not be the answer to how we finance the best city in America. (or else these discussions wouldn’t be taking place)

    It sure would be refreshing to see some of the wonderful creativity this city has as residents, put forth ideas that permanently change how we finance our truly required city services.

  17. Ed, Good points. One of the key tasks for creating a Strategic Plan for Edmonds will be to discuss what services govt performs, which are basic services and which are not and then priortize the services and try to address how we pay for them. There are a list of capital projects that have not been funded for example. Senior Center Replacement, Yost Pool, Buying the downtown ball field, and many more. The list represents about $120m+ of projects which if funded would double our taxes for the next 20 years. The Strategic Planning process will allow citizens to weigh in on the projects and funding issues. The City is just now interviewing several firms that will help us with this process. As the process rolls out you and all who participate in these MEN forums should have some good input and all viewpoints will be welcomed.

  18. Great conversation and even better information..one of the ideas that I have floated in the past and really believe with the current anti-tax environment and lack of transparency in local municipalities, is to start looking at creative ways to fund certain projects through a private/public partnership..obvious examples would be Yost pool and the Civic Playfield..I know Bothell has had great succes with partnering up with McMenamins who is building a hotel at the old Anderson school sight, while paying for much needed road work and providing citizens free access to the community pool..here is a link to a couple of other projects that were done in similiar fashion :

    http://www.baxterbulletin.com/article/20110511/OPINION01/105110320/Bulletin-editorial-raising-private-funds-public-projects-future-?odyssey=nav%7Chead

  19. Thank you for the kind words Darrol. 🙂

    The un-funded projects you identify are an example of what I’m suggesting be addressed in my original post.

    Just like the Edmonds Theater, the projects you identify are all opporunties for the city to capitialize upon the private market’s desire to reach our citizens.

    I’m by NO means an expert, nor have enough Edmonds historical knowledge to speak with historical accuracy. But, why hasn’t the city sold the naming right to the Edmonds Theater? Is anyone shopping those rights?

    Yost Pool – the opporunties to use that facility as a desination point for countless reasons is unbelievably obvious. Who is speaking out on behalf of the city, marketing the pool and the park as a resource to anyone?

    Senior Center Replacement – Who’s acting on behalf of the city to market/sell our senior center location as a desitnation point and the benefit associated with it’s locaiton.

    Who’s shopping things from, official paper supplier to the city of Edmonds to official tire supplier to offical internet provider naming rights?

    Maybe none of these are viable, but I have to believe there are revenue oportunties for our great city that just are not being exploited.

    Thanks!

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