With Councilmember Diane Buckshnis absent Tuesday night, the Edmonds City Council wasn’t able to field the super majority of five votes required to approve a 1-percent property tax increase. Instead, after much discussion, the council unanimously voted to approve the allowable rate of .251 percent, tied to the national inflation rate.
Under state law, in order to raise property taxes by 1 percent, the council needed to pass a resolution stating there was “a substantial need” for the increase. City Finance Director Scott James made the case that such a need existed, given that the city is facing an as-of-yet-unknown 2016 bill from Fire District 1 for fire services as well as cost-of-living adjustments for existing staff.
James also pointed out that the 1 percent increase, which would raise an additional $99,170 for the city, would cost the average homeowner $1.84 per month. And he added that Edmonds has the fifth lowest property tax rate in Snohomish County
But Councilmembers Lora Petso and Joan Bloom, both of whom are leaving the council at the end of the year, said they disagreed with James’ assertion and when the vote was taken to approve the 1 percent increase, it failed on a 4-2 vote.
“I’m not seeing the substantial need,” Bloom said, citing the city’s plan to add or restore 10 staff positions in the current 2016 budget. “I think we need to be doing more belt tightening.”
Before landing on the .251 percent increase, which will generate $25,027 for the city, councilmembers also considered another option — to “bank” an option to implement the full 1 percent tax after 2016. But after much discussion, it became clear that there wasn’t enough support for that idea and so it wasn’t brought to a vote.
The council also spent considerable time discussing what to do about the Citizens Economic Development Commission, formed in 2009 to advise the council on new strategies for economic development revenue generation, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2015. City Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty, who staffs the commission, laid out a range of options that the council has been looking at, and noted that the question was a focus of the council’s retreat in early 2015.
Among the items for the council to consider are whether to extend the commission at all, and if so, with or without another sunset clause. Other points to be determined include whether to keep the 17-member commission the same size, shrink it, or break it up into smaller commissions, each with a different focus.
Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas noted that the commission was established when the city was experiencing an economic downturn, and that other cities who formed similar commissions have since disbanded them as the economy has improved.
Praising the commission for its early work on the city’s Strategic Action Plan and planning for Westgate and Five Corners, Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said that she believes the group has “moved away from that very specific action orientation to more of a discussion, think tank, ambassadorial function.”
“I’m not trying to diminish any of the contributions but I think over time there have been fewer and fewer recommendations,” Johnson said.
Bloom said she believes the commission is experiencing “pretty serious growing pains,” but added that much of the blame for that can be placed on the council, which hasn’t provided enough guidance on what the group should be doing.
Councilmember Mesaros said the council has an opportunity to refocus the commission “and allow them to continue to do good work.”
Added Councilmember Mike Nelson: “I do believe there is still a need for this Economic Development Commission…we are still going to need new strategies. We should not sunset it.”
Bloom asked whether commissioners could attend the next council meeting and provide their own opinions on what should be done about the group. Fraley-Monillas suggested that given the short amount of time remaining to sort out the issue before the end of the year, it might be most efficient for councilmembers to instead contact their individual appointees to the commission and get their feedback.
The council also approved the following items for placement on next week’s consent agenda:
- An amendment to the city’s Professional Services Agreement with Zachor & Thomas, Inc., P.S. for prosecuting attorney services.
- An interlocal agreement with the Edmonds School District regarding emergency access keys used by the Edmonds Police Department.
- An addendum to renew the city’s agreement with Yakima County to house jail inmates for the upcoming year.
- An ordinance amending the city’s code to allow officers from the Edmonds Police Department to respond to complaints and take enforcement action if/when necessary regarding shellfish harvesting on the Edmonds waterfront and fishing pier.
- The city’s 2016 Legislative Agenda.
- A bid authorization for the fishing pier rehabilitation project.
- Acceptance of final construction costs for the Vista Place outfall repair project.
- An interlocal agreement with the Snohomish Conservation District for youth education and ongoing development of a neighborhood rain garden program.
And, during a discussion of the proposed 2016-2021 Capital Facilities Plan/Capital Improvement Program, City Public Works Director Phil Williams said that the city is continuing to survey residents regarding their opinion of the temporary Sunset Avenue Walkway configuration, and has received approximately 700 responses so far. The city plans to keep the survey open a while longer, and Williams promised he would come back to the council will a full report so a decision can be made on next steps.
Finally, former City Councilmember Ron Wambolt during the public comment period urged the council to consider adding more resources to the 2016 budget for traffic enforcement, citing the deaths of two pedestrians last year after they were struck by cars and numerous car-pedestrian incidents in recent months.
“I don’t think this city council wants to be known as the city council that doesn’t care about death on our streets,” Wambolt said.
(Note: Publisher Teresa Wippel is a member of the Economic Development Commission.)