City Council approves homeless, opioid funds as part of final budget; elects Mike Nelson 2018 president

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    Councilmember Mike Nelson is the 2018 Edmonds City Council President.

    The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night approved an amended 2018 city budget that includes half a million dollars to address homeless and opioid addiction issues, $106,000 for a new police officer, a $41,250 contribution to the Snohomish County Health District and $130,000 for a climate/renewable energy consultant.

    In addition, the council voted unanimously to appoint Councilmember Mike Nelson as its 2018 president, replacing 2017 Council President Tom Mesaros. Nelson, who was just re-elected to the council after running unopposed, has served for the past year as president pro tem.

    Both Diane Buckshnis and Neil Tibbott were nominated to replace Nelson as council president pro tem. Buckshnis was elected to the job on a 4-3 vote.

    Many of the budget additions approved by the council Tuesday night had been proposed by Nelson, and the council also passed some of the spending cuts he had proposed to pay for the new initiatives.

    Those votes were not unanimous, however. Councilmembers Teitzel and Tibbott in particular expressed reservations about allocating $250,000 each toward addressing homelessness and opioid addiction when there was no accompanying plan for spending the money or for council oversight. Council President Mesaros proposed reducing the dollar amount to $150,000 for each of those funds — with the idea of adding more money later as plans are more fully developed — but that idea was rejected twice on a 3-4 vote (Councilmembers Fraley-Monillas, Buckshnis, Nelson and Kristiana Johnson opposed).

    Councilmember Buckshnis, who supported full funding of both measures, likened it to a fund the council established several years ago for Edmonds Marsh restoration — before there was a plan to use the money.

    Added Fraley-Monillas: “This council put $200,00 away to help with the issues around the marsh and I think the least we could do is save the lives of women and children and families that are living on our streets for $50,000 more than what we did to save the marsh.”

    The council cut several significant items that Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling and city staff had proposed as part of the draft budget. Among them: $72,000 for a federal lobbyist, $128,000  for a new capital projects manager to oversee upcoming parks and recreation initiatives, and $40,000 to remodel city conference rooms.

    Nelson had also proposed cutting an assistant engineer position requested by the public works department, but that proposal failed on a 2-5 vote (Nelson and Fraley-Monillas voting for). And Nelson withdrew his earlier proposal to cut $253,00 designated to replace the city’s outdated phone system.

    Some councilmembers questioned Earling’s effort, as part of his proposed budget, to assign $2 million for the future development of Civic Field. Buckshnis argued that the council should have a say in whether that money is designated for that purpose. “”That’s a lot of money,” she said.

    “I believe that it’s our budget and we get to make the decision,” Councilmember Johnson added. “For myself, i would like to see us set aside for open space. And I would like to see more money for sidewalks. I would support a lesser amount (for Civic Field) to accomplish other goals.”

    Johnson acknowledged that the $2 million committed by Earling to Civic Field as part of his budget may have helped the city get a recent $1.5 million contribution to the project from the Hazel Miller Foundation. “But boy, if we cut it in half I don’t think it will hurt us.”

    Replied Earling: “If you diminish that $2 million I will veto the budget.” That $2 million “was made with a certain dynamic and it’s already gotten us another $1.5 million,” he added. “We need to show serious commitment. It’s not an intent to fritter away $2 million.”

    In an attempt to address council concerns, Councilmember Teitzel made a motion to set up a specific $2 million Civic Field fund, but that measure was defeated 2-4 with Councilmember Buckshnis abstaining. Buckshnis said she abstained from voting ‘because the mayor said he was going to veto our budget; so it’s no longer our budget.”

    “Let him veto it,” Fraley-Monllas added.

    Among the other budget additions approved by the council Tuesday night:

    – From Kristiana Johnson, $14,485 to increase the half-time parking enforcement officer to a three-quarter-time position.

    – From Dave Teitzel, $15,000 for two radar feedback signs to assist with traffic calming.

    – From Diana Buckshnis, $100,000 for a new Edmonds Marsh fund to support future restoration efforts.

    – Also from Buckshnis, an amendment that changes the percentage of the budget that the city allocates to its contingency reserve fund from the mayor’s suggested amount of 16 percent to 14 percent.

    – Councilmember Tibbott withdrew his proposal to designate $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. “I’m hopeful this is something we could add to the budget the following year,” Tibbott said, after additional planning is completed.

    The council also:

    – Agreed to a one-month extension of the city’s current agreement for backup police services with the Town of Woodway, while the two sides continue negotiating a new contract. Woodway separately is also trying to negotiate a contract with the City of Mountlake Terrace, Earling told the council. You can read more on that issue here.

    – After a lengthy discussion, authorized the mayor to sign a professional services agreement for $917,494 with Parametrix for design services for the Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector. The project includes a one-lane bridge from Edmonds Street to Brackett’s Landing that is aimed at providing an emergency connection when the railroad tracks are blocked. The rest of the time, the bridge can be used as for pedestrian and bicycle access to and from the waterfront.

    The measure was approved 5-1 with Buckshnis voting no. (Councilmember Fraley-Monillas had to leave the meeting by the time this issue was raised.) Buckshnis said she can’t support the current project and instead favors having a crew of first responders stationed on the other side of the tracks.

    Speaking about the project, Earling made it clear that he wasn’t pleased about the council’s decision to cut the lobbyist, stating that federal influence is critical to the city obtaining grant funding for key transportation projects. The city will work to acquire additional state funding for the estimated $30 million project, and that money will be used to show “good faith” for acquiring federal dollars.

    When the state Legislature learns the city no longer has a Washington, D.C. lobbyist to work for federal funds, “we’re beginning to bury ourselves,” Earling said. “If we don’t have a federal lobbyist carrying the weight of probably $24-$25 million, it will provide a problem for us.”

    Nelson replied that since the council had indeed eliminated the lobbyist, he had confidence that Earling could work with state and federal legislators to secure the needed funding. The mayor responded that he would be bringing Nelson — as the new council president — with him to lobby for such requests.

    – Authorized a contract change order of $700,000 for the 76th Avenue West and 212th Street Southwest intersection project due to unanticipated work on a sewer line in the construction area.

    – Approved the 2018-2023 Capital Facilities Plan and Capital Improvement Plan.

    – Received a presentation regarding a U.S. Department of Energy award recognizing the city’s efforts to promote solar energy.

    – Approved the Edmonds Downtown Alliance 2018 budget and work plan.

    — By Teresa Wippel

    19 COMMENTS

    1. I still can’t believe you allocate funds (tax payer monies) to a fund with no idea what is to be done with the epidemic. There is no plan in affect to deal with this HUGE problem, and throwing tax payer money at it won’t change the situation. You first need a plan. So far NO ONE in the US has figured it out. Giving our money to Snohomish County will not be the feel good answer to address this growing problem. first you need a plan or goal. Then you figure how much money or resources you will need to accomplish the goal. This sounds to me a slush fund of our money.

    2. I agree with addressing the drug and homeless problem, but not without a plan. It’s like launching a ship without knowing its dimensions, without a captain, navigation charts or any means to know when we’ve reached our final destination or ports of call along the uncharted trip. Please don’t play “Me too”, and dump money in a trough for potential waste.

    3. I agree with the Council that opioid addiction needs some allocation. I don’t know how the money would be allocated; could be punitive, could be funds on a more clinical approach. We we can all agree that Seattle’s approach to homelessness has only made it worse. Seattle is now the case study for how direct subsidies create more homelessness. The ultimate problem (which Portland has been able to make some ground in some areas) is that it is illegal to do marginally better than homeless. If you’re living in a tent, but now get an RV to live in, the City will tow it. If you get a job, you’ll be taxed and garnished for things like back child support. Going from homeless to affording $2k per month for an apartment is many incremental steps, and most are under the table. The city could do things like Portland did, ease building codes for transitional shelters (they call them “pods”). Those sort of strategies are free and don’t require allocations, but allocations can help if they aren’t squandered as hand-outs.

    4. Sometimes you need to “set aside” funds before you have a full plan. There are many instances where once you have a plan, the money is no longer available and/or reallocated to other programs and initiatives. Knowing what you have to work with allows for better planning and parameters for the funds you know you have to work with, as opposed to a theoretical amount that may not be available later.

      • Alicia, In business, setting aside money before you have a plan is pretty normal. So I know what you mean. Its tremendously expensive to bid contracts and you have no idea if you’d win them even if you bid. Im trying to secure capital Im my business without a full plan as we speak. That said, most ventures fail. Its more difficult to justify not having a plan when tax payer money is allocated. We need a fresh approach to addiction and homelessness. Shelters create dependence. Gotta find a way for poorest ppl to live in society and allow incremental improvements in their living conditions, such as pods, campers, etc.

        • Matthew, I’m in agreement with you (as a former corporate banker). I think now that the money has been set aside, discussions around what’s feasible can happen. Now that I work for an organization that focused on helping the homeless, I also agree with you that creating shelters shouldn’t be seen as an end-all/permanent solution. I (and my organization) are big believers of creating programs around rapid rehousing and economic empowerment programs around job training. YWCA currently have programs that train people to work in banking and medical fields, many that our clients participate, graduate and now have gainful employment.

          • Many props to YMCA, one of my favorite organizations. My family recently made a sizable donation of tooling and equipment to Goodwill in AZ, which they are using for skills development programs for gang-affiliated minors. I really like the private sector approach. As much as I am for government approaches, I’m also for means testing. Im also okay with those who are happy to just drink and panhandle and who really have no inclination beyond that. Its a diverse society with plenty of room.

    5. Thank you Teresa for providing the summary to an exhausting meeting.

      Voting Edmonds citizens please stop co-mingling subjects!

      There is no doubt there are wonderful organizations that could use an influx of money to enhance their good work to address homelessness and addiction. This action by our council now invites the beggars to show up touting their need and put’s the council in the power position of allocating funds “our money”. Whom on the council is a certified addiction expert? Whom on the council is the homelessness expert?

      Stay focused on the subject -> The Edmonds City Council just approved the dedication of spending yours and my/”our” money, without any type of plan. “Mom/Dad, I scommand you dedicate a percentage of our family income to address a problem. There are countless examples of wasted money already spent on this problem, but I believe I can resolve the issue without industry or professional guidance. Just take away from your rainy day fund, improvements to our home or lifestyle. At some point, we’ll come up with a plan to spend the money you’ve set aside.”

      Please!! We’ve seen this story before, money set aside to address city needs only to magically disappear.

      * Has anyone forgot we’re paying twice for street overlays? There was money set aside, spent elsewhere by the powers at be and yet we pay again. Is any citizen happy with the condition of Edmonds streets?
      * Previous city administration’s agreed to Edmonds living by climate/renewable energy standards, but never budgeted on-going accountability and guidance. Hmm, smells like allocating money with out a plan to me. We’re being “told” we’re spending another $130K to just establish a way point for the money already spent.
      * $917,494 with Parametrix for design services for the Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector. This is just a drop in the bucket of the future dollars coming. Let’s say the city builds this bridge for the estimated $29M. Has anyone from the city provided an estimated annual budget for this bridge post build? Earthquake, ground settling post construction, human safety?

      Please citizens: Stay focused on how our money is being spent and trust your personal values as to the correct decisions.

      • Oh yeah and I forgot more joy coming our way related to money spent with no plan or accountability;

        We were told just a few short weeks ago, citizens have spent their money to build sidewalks and curbs according to an Edmonds government master plan. Yet we now require an additional $11M of our dollars to fix 8,000 non-ADA compliant curbs (we already paid for) to become compliant with federal regulations. This doesn’t include the +$100M master plan revealed when we were told were 8,000 curbs require action.

        Can any voting citizen, current council member or Mayor Earling provide justification for our money to be spent on a bridge that may truly be required less than once a year. Instead of directing the money toward our non-ADA compliant sidewalk infrastructure? The condition of our sidewalk infrastructure has a daily impact on thousands of Edmonds citizens daily and is not something a visitor would brag about to their friends.

        I can’t be the only person seeing more of the same fiscal antics we’ve seen from previous council’s and mayor’s.

        • “we’re paying twice for street overlays” <- We pay twice for K-12 funding; once in the form of taxes, then in the form of levies. Washington state legislature is in contempt of the Washington State Supreme court because of budget tricks where money allocated for kids is being spent on fire trucks and pension plans [and whatever] instead, then using levies "for the kids" to get extra money. Allocating money to a slush fund is at least honestly-dishonest as far as governance goes, and it feels good to say it's for homeless people. We're not being lied to about it being a slush fund at least. Let's pay for the plan before we write it before we read it.
          http://blogs.seattletimes.com/politicsnorthwest/2014/09/11/supreme-court-finds-legislature-in-contempt-on-education-funding/

          That said, homelessness and opiod addiction is real concern. I read that 1% of homes in this area have detached domiciles (mother in-law apartments). It would be pretty tough to build one in this town given the expensive permitting process, zoning, rental regulations, and neighbors who would complain that a homeless person was living in a structure in another person's back yard. No would go through the effort of developing $300/mo living spaces (something homeless people could afford) when it would cost them more than that to set up and a year to permit (even if getting a permit for such a thing in this town were possible). The Council has it within their power (for free) to try some of the deregulation and de-zoning that seems to be working in Portland. It's a strategy that seems to be tried, shown promise many times, and shut down by City Councils in many cities [see video from reason]:
          http://reason.com/reasontv/2016/12/09/los-angeles-homeless-tiny-houses
          At the heart of the issue is that communities are not tolerant to people who aren't living in permanent structures with elevators and CO2 detectors.

        • EP or MR Help me understand the comment “we are paying twice for street overlays” I cannot understand the comment and need to understand before making an informed comment.

          • I didn’t fully understand that comment either. I’ve lived in Edmonds [going on] 7 years. I’ve seen incremental improvements to the side walks since here, and as I’ve read in MyEdmondsNews, those improvements weren’t compliant with federal ADA standards and will need to be redone (paid for twice). I am not 100% sure; there could have been some other appropriation for side walks that was squandered. Ed? I walk to work every day. The side walks are fantastic and I really think the city is doing an amazing job with that. We got flowers hanging everywhere. It’s a beautiful town. However, a friend of my uses a chair, she has a tough time with some transitions that are rough in several places. [Some] relatively small amount of money could be spent to grind down the bumps on those transitions, but even incremental improvements like that not compliant with ADA width and slope standards which will require more than a hundred million dollars to comply with. The irony is that disabled people I know just need the bumps at the transitions tweaked to be taken care of, but that would be money wasted if the whole transition is redone to make them federally compliant. The mayor seeks grants, and they can be contingent on retrofit compliance which will cost us a lot of money. It might not be worth it.

    6. Councilwoman Buckshnis: Thank you for your position for a more effective waterfront emergency safety contingency plan. And thank you for being willing to put the Civic Field fund on the chopping block (we’re still a LONG ways from $10M!) plus the added $128k for a CPM seemed high, too.

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