A variety of options and purposes — from streets to parks to police — were floated for a property tax levy during Tuesday night’s Edmonds City Council meeting, but in the end councilmembers decided to put off further discussion due both to the lateness of the hour and the desire by the Council’s Finance Committee to get further clarity on the city’s financials during a meeting next week.
Council President Strom Peterson said he is hopeful the council will be ready to take a final vote on a levy proposal by its May 17 meeting.
Edmonds Mayor Mike Cooper provided the council with what he called “very high level data” from pollster Alison Peters, who is currently conducting a survey of Edmonds voters on a variety of levy options and will present a final report at the May 10 Council meeting.
Approximately 48 percent of those surveyed so far “are willing to modestly increase their property taxes,” said Cooper, who defined a modest increase as similar to what he included in his initial recommendation to council — about $130 per year for an average Edmonds home.
Cooper also noted the poll results include “a lot of red flags” that should be useful in guiding the council as it works to create a possible levy proposal. For starters, respondents so far say that their highest priority “is to use the money to shore up the budget to continue our current level of core services,” and have also stressed the need to focus on maintenance work rather than capital projects during these difficult economic times, he said.
More than three quarters of those surveyed said it was important for the council to present a unified — and ideally unanimous — front when voting on any levy proposal — unlike the Council’s divided 4-3 vote for the Transportation Benefit District fee increase, which failed miserably at the polls last November, Cooper added.
And respondents also said it was important to “be specific about what we are spending the money on” as opposed to stating the levy will raise taxes “and we’ll sort it out later,” Cooper said.
In other action, the council heard a review of Edmonds Planning Board recommendations regarding changes to the city code governing the installation of cell phone towers and other wireless communications facilities. The issue was prompted by complaints from Westgate neighborhood residents last summer regarding a plan from Clearwire to install a utility pole and antennas in their neighborhood.
After exhaustive review of the issue (the Planning Board met nine times in the last year to discuss it), the board and city staff determined that federal regulations require accommodation of wireless communication facilities if they are necessary to improve the wireless signal — even in a residential neighborhood or in a public park if that is determined to be the best location. In addition, such facilities can’t be regulated on basis of health impacts if they meet federal criteria for radio frequency emissions. (You can see the entire presentation made to the council here.)
What the city can do is regulate both the placement of wireless antennae and their appearance based on city design standards. The preferred placement is what is described as co-location — essentially placing a new antenna on existing sites such as a building or a utility pole. The least preferred option is to install a new monopole radio antenna, although city code is requiring them to be the tall pole-like structures rather than guyed lattice towers and they are not allowed in certain areas of Edmonds.
Councilmember Michael Plunkett suggested that the city look into whether it could require wireless companies to ensure that such monopoles are sufficiently disguised to closely resemble real trees; Councilmember Diane Buckshnis noted that many such poles in California are designed to took like palm trees. The next step is a public hearing June 7 to obtain citizen input on the proposal.
Also on Tuesday night, the Council approved a resolution supporting the Edmonds Senior Center’s effort to assist unemployed senior citizens through its Creative Transitions Program.