It’s time we all got along for good of city, Mayor says in first State of the City address
It was standing-room-only in the Wade James Theater for Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling’s first State of the City Address Wednesday morning, and it was no surprise that the former college music professor was giving a lesson about harmony.
While Earling once again addressed the city’s ongoing fiscal crisis — an issue he has been faced with since taking office in late 2011 — he also pointed to an equally concerning problem: Simply put, we can’t seem to get along, and it’s hurting our ability to move forward, as a city, to solve our problems.
While certainly the Mayor may be pointing to elected officials, who in recent years have chosen to make their fights public at City Council meetings and even in dialogue with city staff, he noted he was also was referring to the public at large.
“Because we have such a caring, involved community… we sometimes put ourselves at odds with each other on important issues,” Earling said. “In fact… we have a history of being at odds. Whether it’s on the city council or a local coffee shop, hardened positions begin in concrete and end in concrete.”
The mayor acknowledged that some will think he is referring to the longstanding passionate debate over building height limits, but the problem is “deeper and more profound,” he said.
“For instance, we have people who come to the microphone (at Council meetings) and say, ‘We need to bring more young families into our city. On the same night, at the same microphone, somebody will walk up and say, ‘We have too many kids here.’” The divide is the same when it comes to development in general, Earling noted, with some asking why there is no new construction in Edmonds and others declaring “We don’t want any new construction, ever, in this town.”
“We need to put our swords down and get to work, toward the middle, on critical issues that for far too long have held us hostage,” he added.
And those issues are numerous. Thanks to declining sales and property tax revenues, the city cut $1.5 million from its operating budget this year alone, and is facing annual deficits of up to half a million dollars in each of the next several years. The city is starting to reduce essential services and can’t afford to fix its aging streets. The solutions may be a combination of things — including voter-approved levies and fresh ideas for generating revenue, but many possible funding options are being explored.
Earling said he is working with State Rep. Marko Liias to find money during the current state legislative session to make improvements along the Edmonds stretch of Highway 99, an area which has been maligned for its less-than-aesthetic collection of car dealerships but contributes the lion’s share of the city’s sales tax revenue — $1.59 million in 2012, compared to $270,000 for downtown Edmonds.
But in seeking solutions, the mayor said, the city must be united, not divided. He recalled conducting a Shoreline Community College orchestra during a music competition and being subject to criticism, after performing a technically difficult piece, from a listener who observed that the tuba player had trouble hitting the numerous flats. “I looked at him and said, ‘But did you hear all the right notes?’” Earling said. “We need to build our life around how to hear all the right notes.”
During his 30-minute address, the Mayor did in fact sound many positive notes along the way. He acknowledged the city’s strong community and business partnerships, which were underscored in introductory remarks given by David Jaffee, CEO of Swedish/Edmonds Hospital and Edmonds Community College President Jean Hernandez. And Earling pointed to the Edmonds School District’s successful efforts to improve student test scores and the Verdant Health Commission’s focus on health education and outreach.
“We are truly a community of riches,” Earling said.
He mentioned the recently re-energized the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, with a growing membership of nearly 450 businesses, and its innovative new programs for entrepreneurs and young professionals. He also acknowledged the city’s deep connection to the arts, from the Arts Festival to the Art Walk to the Edmonds Center for the Arts to the Cascade Symphony Orchestra to city’s many theater groups, dance ensembles and working artists. As a result, the City plans to host an arts summit in the city on June 29, with the goal of leveraging the city’s arts resources. (Details still to come.)
“We must find ways to move our community forward, staying faithful to our small-town atmosphere and at the same time understand there are vital improvements that have to be made if we hope to succeed and keep our city prosperous,” said Earling, who received a standing ovation at the end of his address.
If you missed the meeting, it will be rebroadcast on the city’s government TV channel (Comcast channel 21 and Frontier channel 39) and also streamed on demand via the city’s website.