Latest ‘Coffee with Harry’ focuses on Proposition 1

By Harry Gatjens
Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams stopped by the latest “Coffee with Harry” meeting Wednesday to discuss Proposition 1. This was neither a pro nor a con meeting, but rather an opportunity for people to sit and openly discuss the issue.

I was pleased that while there were firm opinions, everyone had a civil demeanor and listened to what the others had to say. That’s the way I think issues should be debated in Edmonds: without too much rhetoric and with a sense of the community’s best interests as whole. I think we accomplished that.

It seemed like there was universal agreement that funding of street repairs should be a priority for the city. Mr. Williams had a graph that showed over the past 10 years, city spending has gone up an average of 5-8 percent for fire and police departments, around 3 percent for the parks department but less than 1 percent for street repairs and improvements. Since deterioration is gradual, you may not notice if street repairs and improvements are not done this year, but continued negligence year after year will show in the future when the costs will be much higher.

The list of Transportation Benefit District projects listed as candidates for Proposition 1 funding was not quite so universally agreed to. Although it is probably hard to ever get everyone to agree on all projects in a list, a bigger concern was just the sheer number of projects and the thought that the community views some of them as “nice to have” rather than necessary. When the country is facing a stagnant economy, is it appropriate to legislate in these types of projects that increase our license tabs $40 per vehicle per year with no end in sight. The feeling was that the measure might be more likely to succeed if it concentrated on the repairs, overlays and maintenance and left new projects for another funding mechanism.

We discussed the impact of the particular fee and how it is regressive in that it affects lower-income citizens in a far greater percentage than it does wealthier people: An additional $40, or $60 total per car, is a far greater proportion of expense for someone younger or a single parent than it is for higher-paid executive. On the other hand, there was a thought that users (vehicle owners) should pay for improvement to what they use.

What really came out of the discussion is that there is no perfect way to fund this sort of item. If it comes strictly out of the general fund, then you are charging property owners disproportionately more than renters. You can argue all day over what the perfect funding system is. The best you can do is weigh the inequities of one versus the other and vote for one if it isn’t too onerous for those people who are disproportionately affected.

We also discussed the pro-Proposition 1 campaign’s claim that this is an opportunity to approve a fee that allows voters to direct where it is spent. It can only be spent on improvements and the projects; no other city services. What supporters fail to mention is that the original $20 didn’t “really” work this way. Sure, the entire $20 went to street projects for a total of $580,000, but the City Council then removed $700,000 that it had allocated to the street fund from the general fund. Hence, in actuality, even though vehicle owners contributed $580,000 through the fees, the actual expenditures to the street fund went down by $120,000. Now that can’t happen this time as the Council has already budgeted zero for streets, but when people always talk about how they want to provide clarity to issues, this is the kind of communication that makes citizens crazy.

Another thing that came up was the “Complete Streets” program that was introduced to the Council on Tuesday night. There was near-universal agreement that the City should not adopt an ordinance that had been crafted by an organization that is clearly a special interest group. I will provide a more thorough analysis for My Edmonds News in the near future, but suffice it to say that no one at our meeting was in favor of it.

So what was the net result of the coffee meeting? Everyone got a better understanding of each others’ concerns and this is  a very good thing. I think more of this is needed and I encourage others to hold their own get-togethers or to come to future “Coffees with Harry.” The main rule at the Coffees is that you are respectful of others and let everyone have their say. We definitely didn’t agree on all of this issues but everyone left with respect for each others’ opinions.

Thank you to Phil Williams for taking time out of his schedule to come and meet with people and answer their questions about Edmonds streets. I also need to thank the wonderful people at Chanterelle for hosting us. Everyone who ordered something to eat or drink was pleased with the food and the service. Our server, Ally, was just wonderful at taking care of our needs and yet leaving us the freedom to talk. Owner Brooke Baker shows a real interest in the community by providing the space, free coffee and great attention to our needs and the needs of our city. Go have a meal at Chanterelle, 316 Main St., and if you get the chance, thank Brooke for her community involvement.

Edmonds resident “Citizen Harry” Gatjens is providing regular reports to My Edmonds News on the workings of the Edmonds city government, including the 2010 Citizens Levy Committee and the Citizens Technology Advisory Committee.

  1. Property owners pay property taxes directly; renters contribute to the property owner’s taxes thru the rent that they pay – they’re not getting a free ride.

    I’d like to know more about the city council allegedly taking $700,000 from the street fund. I do not recall anything about that.

  2. Good job Harry – your examples are good and should be taken as such by readers! I applaud your continued interest in this projects and reports on a gratis basis!

  3. Thanks for the invitation. I enjoyed the discussion and the variety of opinions.
    I wanted to clear up one point that I think has been misunderstood. There has been no money removed from the Street Budget. All revenues from the TBD fees have been placed into this fund and have been spent to maintain and operate our local transportation system.

    The $770,000 that was budgeted to come from the General Fund in 2010 for street maintenance is still going to be transferred for that purpose.

    The 2011 preliminary Street Budget does not anticipate a General Fund transfer.

  4. I would like to explain a bit further how the TBD vehicle fee is allocated. $20- for street maintenance, $20 – for street overlays, $20 for projects; of these projects two thirds are needed for safety, congestion and concurrency. All of these projects are needed.

    Of the total $60 about 10% are what some would say are nice to have. That would include sidewalks. However, you should be aware that the sidewalks are intended to provide safe walks to school, repair hazards/ reduce liability, and provide for pedestrian safety. More people listed walking as their favorite activity than any other in the City’s recreation survey. Some would go so far as to say that sidewalks are needed. Regardless 90% of the $60 are definitely needed for this community.

    In a time when the City is seeking new sources of revenue, this TBD fee would bring into the City a steady stream of revenue dedicated to transportation. An estimated 1.74 million each year could be spent to keep our street system from falling into further disrepair.

    I support Proposition 1. It is an investment in our City’s future.

  5. There is nothing in the Proposed Ordinance which allocates the distribution of funds as Ms. Johnson has described above. The TBD is in no way bound to any particular distribution of funds. They are also left to determine in what order they want to do the projects ($500,000 is listed annually for overlays but presumably they could decide to forgo that if they wanted). Please read the proposed ordinance and do not believe me or anyone else to interpret it for you.
    Mr. Williams…..Harry has been very accurate and fair in his analysis. Hopefully Harry will give us his thoughts on this.

  6. @kristiana..”All of these projects are needed”…really? Did you decide that for me and the other citizens? Let’s walk around town and ask folks if each of these projects are needed, I would be willing to bet a dinner the majority of our community would say no to quite a few of them!

  7. Yes, I would say that street maintenance and preservation is needed. Street overlays are needed. Safety projects are needed.

    And, congestion/ concurrency projects are needed. The context of the congestion/ concurrency projects is based upon a long-range transportation plan through the year 2025. This is a requirement of the State’s growth management plan. It is based upon employment and population projections from the Puget Sound Regional Government.

    The information was then used in a transportation model to determine future traffic conditions. All future growth must be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, including the Transportation Element. With regards to transportation, development must also be concurrent with traffic improvements, within a six-year time frame. This is all based upon standards established by the International Transportation Engineers.

    The update of the Transportation Element was cafefully managed by City Staff, working with the Citizens Advisory Transportation Committee, the Walkway Committee and the Edmonds Bicycle Group. Additionally, three community meetings were held. The resulting plan was reviewed by the Edmonds Planning Board and adopted by the Edmonds City Council.

    If you would like to review any of the projects in detail they are mapped and described on the City’s website.

  8. Cmon Kristiana, u are talking like a politician! We all agree street overlays n maintenance is needed. The other “projects” are not safety and maintenance “needs” thay are a want i.e. A roundabout at 5 corners, a better lite at 3rd and main, etc..please don’t sell ur arguement short by rephrasing and paraphrasing.the arguement isn’t “don’t u want safe roads” the discussion is do we need a 40 dollar increase where only a portion goes to overlays/maintenance and the rest goes to “projects”…which is what u are now calling “safety projects”..I and others have gone to the site and looked at these projects and can not be “sold” they are need nor all for safety.

  9. I will be voting for Proposition 1. I agree that it is a regressive tax. However, our progressive vehicle tax was eliminated in 2000 when the Eyman initiative, I 695, was passed by Washington voters. This resulted in a flat per car fee, regardless of whether your vehicle is a brand new $70,000 Mercedes Benz or an old $1000 Neon.

    As I understand it, increasing the vehicle licensing fees through voter approval is one of the few ways to generate tax dollars for the maintenance, overlays and projects that Kristiana is discussing. Thank you, Kristiana, for your efforts to educate Edmonds voters with clear, concise, and accurate information.

  10. I have voted against Proposition 1 in the hope that Edmonds leaders will be inspired to prioritize vital street overlays and maintenance… and discouraged from trying to roll in so many unnecessary, optional enhancements in such hard times.

  11. The Official City Website interestingly is in color but only the Prop 1 pages. It even has a color graphic of the dollar, split in half and links in color to the various projects. The Comprhensive Transportation plan is only linked to a PDF.
    The City is not remaining neutral in the presentation of Prop 1. City employees are being used to present the need for the proposition.
    The City is working awfully hard to get this passed.
    READ the ordinance. Look at the projects.
    Much of the “clear and precise” information being presented is not accurate.
    DECIDE for yourself. And Vote.

  12. Kristiana is not a city employee. She is a citizen of Edmonds, just as all of us are. Phil Williams is a city employee, and I was there for his presentation on Prop 1 to another citizen group the week before last. No personal opinions were expressed by Phil, as he must remain neutral in his presentations. He stated this at the beginning of his presentation, and was true to his word. He was very gracious in answering the many questions, and challenges, of the group.

    I read conflicting opinions in the Beacon from two different council members. As elected officials, they have the right to express their opinions in a public forum. I can appreciate your distrust of “the City”, Diane, but I have not observed any instances of pressure from any city employees on Prop 1. The signs you see around town were not placed by the city.

    Voters don’t need to be reminded to decide for themselves. I’m certain they will do so.

  13. The City is bound by the Public Disclosure Commission/ Laws to adhere to rules of basic fairness: One of which is the following:
    “• Shall not coordinate informational activities with campaign efforts, in a manner that makes the agency appear to be supporting or opposing a ballot measure.”

    Mr. Williams is being put in a precarious position when he attends meetings because his department is severely underfunded, and the proposed budget offers $0 for streets, according to Mr. Williams. (without Prop 1 passing, the Streets budget will have to be addressed in a different way).

    It is the appearance of fairness and neutrality that lacking, and about which I am bothered. The official city website originally stated that a the proposed fee was $40, and was only changed because I complained.

    I am not affiliated with any special interest group, belong to neither political party, and frankly have no interest in such affiliations. If one reads Prop 1, it is easy to see that much of what is being said is simply not in the language of the proposition itself.

  14. I voted no on Proposition 1. I do feel ultimately we will need this added tax to at least cover street maintenance. I share some of the above comments about the list of projects not being the highest priority. I also was confused as to whether we had to do this list of projects, even if more important projects arose in the future. In addition, I felt that putting this proposal to the voters before deciding if a levy is needed is inappropriate. Why not present this as a complete package so we know the total impact of the need to increase taxes?

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