As planned, the Edmonds City Council spent three hours in a self-described workshop Tuesday night — tossing around ideas for a possible levy to place on the November ballot. And in predictable form, the council did not make a decision, instead preferring to wait until the city’s second-quarter financial numbers are released.
After councilmembers spent a couple of hours of broad discussion on the issue, Edmonds Mayor Mike Cooper said that he and his staff were feeling like “a squirrel in a cage” as the council had gone through a similar review of levy options a couple of months ago and also did not make a decision. At Cooper’s suggestion, Council President Strom Peterson took a straw poll of councilmembers to see whether a majority favored putting some type of levy on the ballot, even if the content and amount was not yet defined. After seeing a majority of hands, Cooper said that he and city staff would develop several levy options based on the workshop discussion. The deadline for putting a levy on the November ballot is Aug. 16.
“Clearly, all of you have been throwing out different numbers so we will take our best stab at what we heard,” Cooper said.
Among the ideas mentioned:
– A levy specifically devoted to street overlays, which are badly needed thanks to years of deferred maintenance. Some favor the actual amount it would take to put street overlays on a recommended cycle of repair — $1.5 million annually to ensure overlays every 15-18 years for arterials and 30-35 years for residential streets. Others, such as Councilmember Lara Petso, recommended a lower amount — $700,000 — in the belief that a more modest levy amount might gain passage.
– A $800,000-$900,000 combination levy for parks and building maintenance, favored by Councilmember Diane Buckshnis. Buckshnis also suggested offering a separate levy for streets and possibly another for general fund purposes, depending on the results of the second-quarter financial numbers. Other councilmembers also expressed support for this approach of offering a so-called smorgasboard of separate levies instead of one larger levy package, so that voters could pick and choose.
— In contrast, Councilmember DJ Wilson encouraged the council to “think big” and look at five areas of city government that are facing what he called “dramatic deficits” — parks, buildings, streets, the city’s ongoing financial deficit and an inadequate number of city staff for critical tasks. ” I know this is tricky time financially,” Wilson said, “but I really encourage us…to really talk about these issues.”
Wilson also took a strong stance regarding labor contracts during the short business portion of the meeting, when the council discussed the approval of labor agreements between the City and two unions: the Public, Professional and Office-Clerical Employees and Drivers Local Union No. 763 and the Service Employees international Local 925. Wilson was the sole vote against approving the agreements, stating that he couldn’t support a four-year labor contract with cost-of-living increases, additional paid holidays and the return of any savings in health care plans to employees, when other local and state governments have asked their employees to make sacrifices and when families in Edmonds are struggling to make ends meet.
Noting that his highest priority has been to get a levy on the November ballot to ensure the city has adequate funding for important services, Wilson said he “can’t sell a levy if I have to defend those things that are over and above what we already have in our contract.”