The Edmonds City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to direct City staff to prepare ordinances for three separate levy proposals totaling $2.5 million, with the idea of reviewing them next week for probable placement before Edmonds voters in the fall.
The vote came after the City’s Interim Finance Director, Jim Tarte, reported the result of his most recent examination of city budget numbers: that expenses will exceed revenue by nearly $347,000 at the end of 2012, with the debt increasing further in future years.
Councilmember Steve Bernheim, who introduced the proposals, said he wanted to present voters with the opportunity to approve all, some or none of what he described as “modest” levy measures, including a $1 million proposal for street overlays, a $750,000 proposal for the general fund (amended by the council later in the evening to $1 million) and $500,000 for maintenance and parks. As proposed by Bernheim, all three proposals would sunset after three years. The idea is to earn the public’s trust that the money is being spent wisely, then come back with additional proposals for more money later, he said.
Both Michael Plunkett and DJ Wilson cast the “no” votes, for very different reasons. Plunkett said that he wouldn’t support a levy that put money into the general fund, due to his concerns about labor costs. Wilson, on the other hand, said he was against the idea of proposing three smaller levies rather than one larger one because his past experience as a political consultant shows the public won’t support them. In addition, Wilson said, the $2.5 million proposed by Bernheim won’t get the city out of debt, especially given the sunset clause, and Wilson was skeptical that voters would be receptive to Bernheim’s plan to come back in a few years and ask for even more money.
Next week, the council will have an opportunity to review the ordinances and decide whether to send them on for placement on the November ballot.
Bernheim said he is approaching the process by viewing voters “as part of the budgetary process.” As such, “I’m not promoting a ‘yes’ vote, I’m promoting a people vote,” he said. “Let the voters decide.” If some or all of the measures are rejected, “it’s not a failure,” but a learning experience, he added.
In other action, the council spent quite some time considering a Planning Board recommendation to amend downtown business zones, but decided instead to table the issue so that they could discuss it further at a later date.