Some heated discussions (literally) were in order Tuesday night as Edmonds City Councilmembers discussed their ideas for changes to the city’s proposed 2018 budget.
Councilmember Neil Tibbott stated that Councilmember Mike Nelson’s proposals to allocate $250,000 toward a fund that could be used to address homelessness reminded him of his recently microwaved lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers — a good idea but half-baked, since Nelson didn’t have particulars to share on how the fund would work.
“I’d like this to be more cooked before we commit to $250,000,” Tibbott said.
Nelson came back in kind when Tibbott later proposed designating $300,000 to fund an in-house crew of city employees that could keep up with sidewalk repairs and start to address the city’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Nelson asked Tibbott how such a fund would be utilized and how big the crew would be.
Public Works Director Phil Williams jumped in to explain that such a crew would likely be made up of two staff members for $150,000, with the rest of the money going toward supplies. Williams added that while he was interested in pursuing Tibbott’s idea, it may take a while to work out the details.
Nelson’s reply: “While this apparently is still being baked, I am still nonetheless intrigued.”
Then it was Tibbott’s turn. “This whole discussion has got me thinking about my lunch again,” he said to council laughter. “My intention obviously is to move forward as forcefully as we can with our walkway projects and yet maybe the timing isn’t quite right for this plan,” Tibbott said, adding he hoped it could be included as part of the 2019 budget.
As for Nelson’s plan regarding a city contribution to a regional homeless fund, councilmembers offered varying degrees of support for that suggestion.
Councilmember Adrienne Fraley Monillas said she was in favor of allocating the full $250,000, noting an increasing number of homeless veterans, children and families in south Snohomish County. The idea, she said, is to give the city a pool of funds from which to draw when a regional funding opportunity to address homelessness arises.
Some others echoed Tibbott’s concerns that they needed more details regarding how the idea would be carried out and whether the dollar amount was appropriate.
“I think it’s the right thing to be doing,” said Council President Tom Mesaros, who congratulated Nelson for bringing the idea forward. However, Mesaros added that he would likely be offering an amendment to reduce the allocation to $150,000, since it is meant to be part of a regional effort with other contributors. The council could then add to the fund in the future if needed, Mesaros said.
Councilmember Dave Teitzel said that while supportive, he would like more details on how such a fund would be administered. That would help determine whether the $250,000 is the right amount, Teitzel said, noting that less or even more could be needed.
“Until I see a bit of a framework around how this money will be used, I’ll have a hard time supporting this,” Teitzel said.
Nelson replied that the city and Edmonds taxpayers are already covering the cost of homelessness through increased visits to emergency rooms and police incidents. “It’s a problem and we need to address it and we need to start putting money away for it,” he said.
He also alluded to his earlier statement that the city could postpone a $253,00 allocation to replace its outdated phone system to help fund what he considers to be more important matters. Whatever the council decides to allocate to homelessness, “I should hope it’s more than what we’re going to do for the phone system,” Nelson said.
That system was one of five items Nelson had proposed deleting from Mayor Dave Earling’s budget, suggesting that money be used instead for things like hiring a second police officer to fill an open K-9 position and a consultant to assist Edmonds in reaching renewable energy goals. In addition to the $250,000 fund for homelessness, he also proposed that $250,000 be designated to address opioid addiction.
Other items that Nelson recommended for deletion include two new proposed Public Works Department positions — a capital projects manager and an assistant engineer — along with removal of money designated for a federal lobbyist.
Councilmembers had a similar range of reactions to Nelson’s proposal for addressing the opioid crisis, with some expressing a desire for more details to determine an appropriate amount.
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said that the important thing is to establish the funds and not worry so much about the dollars that the council initially allocates. “Having an opioid fund, having a homelessness response fund, these are steps in the right direction,” she said.
Councilmembers appeared to favor Nelson’s plan to fund a new police officer, and Police Chief Al Compaan — who had not requested any new staffing in the 2018 budget– thanked the council for its support.
The council also reacted favorably to Teitzel’s proposal that $15,000 be allocated to purchase two additional radar feedback signs to slow down speeding motorists. Another of Teitzel’s proposals — to allocate $70,550 to install a crosswalk at the busy Admiral Way and Dayton Street intersection — was removed from the council’s 2018 budget proposal so it could instead join the city’s list of capital projects, where it will be appropriately prioritized.
The council discussed whether the city should have an upper limit on the amount of money it allocates to its reserve fund. Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling had proposed as part of the 2018 budget that the city move $760,000 in cash into the city’s contingency reserve fund, which would increase that fund to 16.1 percent. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis argued that the council’s practice had been to maintain a ceiling of 16 percent on reserves.
In addition, the council talked about a proposal by Fraley-Monillas to allocate $2 per Edmonds resident — a total of $83,800 — to help fund the Snohomish County Health District. Mesaros said he wasn’t sure if the $2-per-person formula was the correct amount, and asked for information regarding what other cities are contributing.
The council will continue to discuss the budget– and may even take action — at its next meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 5.
— By Teresa Wippel