How the Old Milltown Courtyard/Park is being funded

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By Barbara Chase

As we are into the last weeks of the political season, a lot of words about money and how it’s spent is in the news. It’s certainly an important topic. Whether it’s salaries or which city projects the city supports, it is of high interest.

One area which seems ripe for misunderstanding is the REET fund — actually two different funds. This is money collected from the Real Estate Excise Tax. One fund (REET1) is designated for pay down of debt on such things as the ECA, Brackett’s Landing Park, Marina Beach Park, City Hall  and seismic upgrades for the Frances Anderson Center.

Up to $750,000 of the other fund (REET2) is dedicated to parks capital needs. Just recently the fund has brought in $650,000.

When the city voted $70,000 to guarantee the completion of the Old Milltown Courtyard/Park,  the money came from that REET fund. The City council had missed the deadline for grants, but decided to vote for it so it was not delayed until 2012. Winter weather would hinder progress should the city wait. Money to complete the Interurban trail came from the same fund.

In the meantime, several community groups such as Floretum Garden Club, Edmonds in Bloom, Edmonds Arts Commission and ACE came forward with pledges.  The Hubbard Foundation and a local citizen who is paying for a drinking fountain are other contributors. $30,000 is pledged to reimburse the REET fund. Hopefully more money will come in the future.

So happily a new park will blossom and the three-year wait will end. A park in the center of town will come to fruition. This is a good example of the city and citizens coming together for the common good.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Barbara, Thank you for explaining this so clearly. There was some mis-information about this at the Edmonds Senior Center / ACE candidates forum. Candidate Bob Wilcox was trying to make the case that the City should not be buying park land now. As a businessman, his point was that you don’t spend money when you can’t afford it.

    In point of fact government is not run like a business. For every $100,000 of real estate sold, 1/2 of 1 percent (or $500) is set aside in a parks acquisition fund. So, counter to what Mr. Wilcox was arguing it does make sense to buy park land when prices are low.

    Mr Wilcox was referencing the Milltown Park. But here again, his ” businessman approach” ignores many facts. First of all the City already owns this park. The land was purchased years ago from the developer. (It could have been asked as part of a mitigation payment. But the City chose to purchase it outright.)

    Now the City wants to improve the Park. This money can come from a different REET fund, that is also collected at the rate of 1/2 of 1% or $500 per $100,000 real estate purchase.

    Another way to improve the Park is from grant funds. Instead of waiting for grants, many doners have come forward with private doner pledges, as described by Barbara.

    To recap, the City is not spending money from the general fund to purchase or improve the Old Milltown Park.

    I want a council candidate who understands government budgets and processes. That is why I am casting my vote for Diane Buckshnis.

  2. Kris:

    The land was not purchased when prices were low as you first indicated. It was purchased 3 years ago.

    There are two real estate excise taxes; each are 1/4 of 1%, not 1/2 of 1% as you’ve stated.

    There is REET money available, but some believe that that money would have been better spent on street overlays. The council could change the rules to make that happen. Instead they’ve chosen to ask citizens for more property taxes.

    Your confidence in Ms. Buckshnis is misplaced. When staff lowered the forecast for REET by $400,000, Ms. Buckshnis complained for months that they had removed $400,000 from REET collections. She still has not admitted her error. Everyone makes mistakes, but is very unproductive not to admit them.

  3. The city has 36 parks. 2 are within a mile of this location. And we have some streets 80 years overdue to be overlaid. Something isnt right here..

  4. @2 Ron, I am no longer arguing about this PROCESS….there was NO REASON for Mr. Hines (your recommended choice of Finance Directors) to lower the REET MONEY to $350K as the REET balance was already over that budgeted appropriation.

    By lowering this appropriation, the State Auditors wrote this up as an exception in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). Both Ms. Petso and I would have NEVER allowed the amendment to occur as it didn’t make sense.

    Once again Ron, who made you the expert or oracle in municipality finance which is very different than running a small or large private business. You ARE NOT the EXPERT and you will soon see the change in our City’s financials as both Ms. Petson, Mr. Tarte and Mr. Hunstock have spent many hours in defining what needs to transpire. You compliment Mr. Tarte on the 2012 budget format, where in fact, it was my recomendation to provie transparency of the numbers and open government.

    But to the point of this lovely letter:

    Thank you Barbara for your dedication and volunteering in Edmonds and bringing up how the local community is donating to this wonderful garden. I hope more individuals and companies will donate more and the Off-Leash Area Edmonds (O.L.A.E) is thinking of donating . I would hope the City of Edmonds will provide a list of all donors and I hope many will donate as this is a wonderful start to economic renewal as this will be the perfect gathering place.

  5. Ron, Thanks for the correction. I will still vote for someone who has been on the Council for two years and has proven her worth. I am thankful to have Diane Buckshnis looking out for my tax dollars. She still has my vote of confidence.

    I will also be voting to support the levy for street overlays.

  6. Diane:

    Diane, to use a phrase thay you very much like: You still don’t get it. The $400k has nothing to do with budgeted appropriations. The $400k was a reduction in the amount forecast to be collected for the year. Staff saw that the $750k forecast was not going to be achieved, so they lowered it by $400k.

    Ladies and gentlemen, this is only one example of how Ms. Buckshnis does not understand the workings of an operational entity, like the city. Her experience has been confined to auditing the books after they’ve been closed for the year. If you want to hear more, get the recording of the Feb 9, 2010 finance committee meeting. At that meeting she repeatedly demonstrated that she couldn’t understand why forecasts of revenue change as time passes by.

    Another example, watch the tape of the Sept 6, 2011 budget workshop council meeting. Ms. Buckshnis correctly observed that the city usually doesn’t spend a few percent of its budgeted expenses. She asked the reason for that. Really! She’s unable to look at the budgets and determine that herself? This is a council member who claims to have analyzed the financial statements of 50 other Washington cities!

    Let’s elect Bob Wilcox, a person who’s familar with operations.

  7. Yes, I meant forecasting not appropriation (I had just finished analyzing the budget).

    Municipalities utilize “modified accrual accounting standards” and both Mr. Tarte (a private sector accountant) and Mr. Hunstock (a municipality trained accountant) are moving the City of Edmonds towards implementing that financial policy law (I authored and the Council passed in April 2010) that requires full disclosure of the general fund balance via modified accrual standards.

    As I have stated a number of times, accounting for the private industry is VERY different that accounting for municipalities. You and Mr. Wilcox are trained in “operational accounting” as you like to promote. “Operational accounting” is a term defined in the private sector to assist policy-makers in defining business strategies to make a profit.

    Municipalities are not in the business to make a profit and legislators (policy-makers) should ensure full disclosure of financial statements in a clear and concise manner where fund balances can reconcile and citizens can understand how their money is being spent and that it is being spent wisely.

    Lastly RW – Feb 9, 2010 – give me a break – I was appointed 1/25/10 and I had just had the documents dropped in my face.

    Do you know why the former finance director stopped taping the sessions?

    I do – it is clear he was too stubborn to answer any of our questions or move towards complying to the law. Too bad though, as folks could also hear your inability to understand why the City should move towards modified accrual standards and your continued complaining about the former finance director and his inability to show up to meetings, complete reports in a timely manner or answer questions.

    My record is clear and the future in city finances is bright. I walk the talk. Give it up.

  8. Diane:

    Regarding the Feb 9, 2010 meeting, why would you have to see any documents anytime to know that forecasts of revenue are subject to change as time passes?? And at that meeting you also say that you “didn’t have a chance to look at all of the report numbers because it was too nice of a day”.Citizens expect their council members to be properly prepared for meetings.

  9. Speaking of Councilmembers being prepared, if Bob Wilcox and Darlene Stern had ever worked on a committee or testified at a Council meeting they might see more support from voters. I see no evidence that either of them is prepared for this job. Instead, their supporters just keep taking cheap shots while they sit back and silently watch.

  10. How can someone run for public office and know so little about government? Why have they not taken the time to get involved before? I think that is a little arrogant. Everyone else on the ticket have had years and years of experience. These two have only just started showing up at City Council meetings. Yet, they have never ever gone on the record with any opinions.

  11. Kris:

    You say that “Everyone else on the ticket have had years and years of experience.” You are so right. And have you made an assessment of where that experience has gotten us??

  12. Kris,
    Thanks for the further details on the REET funds, It’s good to see citizens interested in the details of our city finances.
    I am glad we are not continuing to see Old Milltown in its decrepit state. I was told by a city horticulturist that one of the cherry trees was hollow and ready to be a disaster in our next windstorm. They have saved the Japanese maples.
    I also agree that supporting the redo of Old Milltown does not exclude supporting the street levy.
    Barbara Chase

  13. News about more money for Old Milltown Park
    Now that the Hazel Miller Foundation has offered $88,000 for the completion of the Old Milltown Park the city will be able to replenish the REET fund. In August the city council voted to use $70,000 from the REET fund to get the park started. With the other $30,000 pledged from community groups and individuals it’s a grand total of $118,000.
    That speaks well for community support for the park.

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