From marijuana to road repair, council retreat explores pressing city issues
By Harry Gatjens
The Edmonds City Council held its annual retreat all day Friday and half day Saturday. The goal of the sessions was to identify issues facing the city and try to establish strategies for dealing with them.
The first section of the meeting focused on City Council processes. There was some discussion of whether the Council meetings should be conducted under Robert’s Rules of Order, the current system (set up 30 years ago) or some other system used by other cities. It was decided that a subcommittee should further study the options. Once an option is decided upon, a training class will be held and an ordinance prepared stating what system would be used.
The next issue was how to make the Council meetings more efficient. Among the ideas presented were streamlining the agenda, asking questions of staff before the actual meetings, and whether or not individual councilmembers could be polled on issues before coming to the meeting.
There was spirited discussion on each of these ideas after the pros and cons for making changes.
Phil Williams, Edmonds’ Public Works Director, noted that on certain capital improvement projects there seems to be extreme duplication of effort on the request for qualifications and request for bidding items. The current system requires that items that have already been included in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan and budget are required to be re-reviewed by both the council subcommittee and the entire council before the RFQs and the bids move forward. Williams maintained that this process can add between 14 and 42 days to project completion, just to re-approve something that had been approved in the first place. The council asked Williams to come back with recommended changes to the process.
Shawn Hunstock, Edmonds Finance Director, next made a presentation on ways to increase the city’s revenue. Hunstock showed a matrix of potential new revenue sources, including a Metropolitan Park District, a Regional Fire Authority, an increase in sales tax for public safety purposes, increasing utility tax rates and a voter-approved levy.
All of those options require voter approval and it was decided that several exploratory committees will study the various options.
One other idea brought out was that the state Legislature was contemplating a change in the Transportation Benefit District funding so that TBDs could levy an additional $20 license fee without voter approval.
Stephen Clifton then talked about the Roger Brooks presentation, still showing each morning at 9 a.m. on the city’s channel 21, and what progress is being made in achieving some of his suggestions for branding the city.
Hunstock gave a report on Edmonds’ fiber optic program and what is being done to increase this asset’s contribution to city revenue.
There was extensive discussion on how to update the City’s Code, a pet project of Councilmember Joan Bloom, including what has been accomplished and what can be done.
Rob Chave, Edmonds Director of Developmental Services, gave an overview of how the code is constructed and what the possibilities are. Chave has suggested that working with a consultant to the Association of Washington Cities could achieve an online organized code for a discounted price. This would be possible because the city’s code is already mapped out digitally by our own staff. This is something the consultant does not already have and could incorporate into standardized frameworks that has been developed. Chave also provided information on the relationship between the comprehensive plan, the city’s codes and working with development agreements.
Phil Williams presented a history of how the city has funded street construction and repairs over the past seven years and into the future. As gas taxes and real estate excise taxes have declined, the only new funding has come from the Transportation Benefit District. Further, while the TBD was supposed to supplement the funding from the general fund, the contribution from the general fund has also been reduced. This has resulted in a reduction in the street fund balance that becomes critical in 2014. Williams didn’t have a solution but knew it was important to bring the issue to the council’s attention.
There was also discussion about what is wanted by the Council-requested study on SR104. Council President Petso gave a fairly elaborate list of items she would like evaluated under a study of SR 104. Both Williams and Clifton said that while Petso’s list was quite inclusive, it was a far bigger project than could be accomplished with the $50,000 funding provided. It was agreed that a slimmed-down set of goals should be established and prioritized.
Next came the topic of medical marijuana dispensaries as well as the new legalization of marijuana in the state. While possession is no longer illegal in Washingon, sales of marijuana — for medical use or otherwise — is still against he law. Further, the federal government still finds even possession as illegal.
The federal government has not given clear direction as to what their enforcement will be. This makes it very hard for cities in the state of Washington to know quite what to do.
Also, the state liquor control board is formulating guidelines for sales of marijuana to go into effect at the end of the year. This further complicates matters for cities, including the prospect of licensing retail sellers.
While no definitive action can be taken at this time, Mayor Dave Earling requested that the council explore its options soon. That way, when sales do become legal, the city is not starting from scratch to set up local rules.
Lighthouse Law Group then made a presentation on the perils of record-keeping for public requests for copies of records. The presentation detailed what items were subject to these requests and how to minimize both exposure and required work when dealing with the subject.
Saturday’s meeting began with a presentation of the Strategic Plan and further steps required to implement it. The bulk of the information is included in our story on last week Strategic Plan meeting here.
Stephen Clifton presented a recap and councilmembers asked a number of questions. The plan is undergoing some tweaking by consultant Tom Beckwith and then by Clifton before final presentation to the Council and stakeholders.
Next up, Hunstock made a presentation about “Budgeting for Outcomes,” which the city is planning on implementing for the 2014 budget. As this will be the city’s first year using this system, Hunstock suggested that a limited application of the process be used, focusing only on the general fund. In future years, as people become familiar with the system, it can be used for all of the city’s budgeting.
Hunstock gave an overview of the steps involved and the timing to accomplish them. Efforts need to be underway by next month if the city is to use this new system. He also passed out a chart showing the makeup of the groups involved in establishing priorities and soliciting offers from the various departments.
While there has been no formal adoption of the system it appears that no one is challenging the change.
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson made a request to the city find some way of recognizing its large group of volunteers. This led to discussion on how to recruit volunteers and incorporate them into helping the city run better.
Each of the issues brought up throughout the retreat received much discussion and thought. Nothing was decided, as a goal of the retreat was not to make decisions but rather identify issues and strategies for resolving them over the course of the year. The council ended the session confident that they had identified strategies for most of these issues.