This writing is the first of three in a series that I’ve been formulating in my mind for several years now. The theme is Edmonds—our city, where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we want to go from here. I hope to focus on the latter category within my remaining two proposed articles.
First off, it’s fair to say that the most all of our citizens love Edmonds as home. My wife and I love Edmonds and have been living here for over 20 years. It’s a beautiful waterfront city with a ‘village character’ which includes a diversity of people, features, benefits, programs, all of which we would like to have in the future. However this desired maintenance or preservation of our current status as a city (third largest in Snohomish County) with a small-town feel is becoming more and more challenging, and to some of us, downright frustrating.
The historic evolution of Edmonds from a small town on Puget Sound to our current size and configuration has occurred over several generations since our founding in 1890, largely through the early-on efforts of many individual, community, and governmental leaders. Currently however our collective ability to preserve Edmonds’ character is greatly impacted primarily by economic conditions in our country and region. This situation becomes magnified through our political process. Two of these major economic conditions are wealth inequity and cost escalation. Put in other terms:
- A relatively small group of people and entities either own or control the vast majority of wealth in our country; Edmonds is a part of this. This situation plus middle class ‘stagnation’ and political polarity at both federal and state levels are inhibiting overall growth from potentially benefiting the broadest spectrum of our society.
- The cost of everything is high and costs keeps going up! The U.S. Government puts the cumulative rate of inflation in our country between 1960 and 2000 at almost 500 percent, and between 2000 and 2015 another 39 percent on top of that.
In Edmonds if we look at these two factors alone it’s clear that those “old days are over” in expecting individuals or community groups to implement major investments in our physical infrastructure—a lot of which we apparently want for Edmonds; more of this in my next two articles.
Now let’s “zero in” on Edmonds in consideration of these conditions outlined above. The picture is clearer when we look at specific demographic and economic data.
First, population and income: Per U.S. Census data of 2013 the average age in Edmonds was 48.1 years, substantially higher than the countywide average of 37.5 During the period 2011-2013 Edmonds’ median household income was $67,228 per year, compared with Snohomish County at $67,192 (s: American Community Survey 3-yr. 2011-2013). While not as high as King County average [$70,998], it’s reasonably safe to conclude that Edmonds generally has a relatively older and more affluent population which creates a demand for a wide variety of goods, services, and activities. (s: Edmonds Comprehensive Plan, 2015) However younger families are locating in Edmonds in part to escape higher real estate costs in King County.
Second, residential taxes: Per the Snohomish County Assessors Annual Report for 2015 our stats are as follows:
- Edmonds real estate tax levy rate for 2015 is $10.895/$1,000 of assessed value (A/V). Currently, this is the 6th lowest rate in the county. This tax rate (levy rate) is calculated annually by dividing the amount of tax funds to be raised by the total assessed value of all taxable property within the district. Washington legislative action of 2007 limits this regular (non-voted) combined property tax increase to 1 percent per year.
- The average real estate tax per Edmonds residence for 2015 is $4,300.06. This average is the 3rd highest in the County—How can this be, you ask?
This disparity exists primarily due to the relatively large quantity of high-cost single-family residential units (including condos) in Edmonds, many of which house retirees. In 2015 the average home value in Edmonds is $394,700, second highest in the county (although considerably behind Woodway). And, by the way, the current average home value this year is still over 14 percent lower than the high point in 2008 prior to the “great recession.”
Third, voter-approved property tax measures for capital purposes: Again, according to the County Assessor’s report, the last non-school-related bond measure approved by Edmonds was in 1996 (for our Public Safety complex). Does this represent the rate of growth we want or need on behalf of capital infrastructure in Edmonds? Note that only slightly more than 19 percent of all those collected RE taxes come to the city along with bits and pieces from other county allocations. In the meantime, we’re limited to a 1% tax increase each year without a voter-approved over-ride or a bond levy, and costs keep going up! The city’s strategy for many years been vigorous budget management coupled with cuts to staff and services to overcome revenue shortfalls resultant from the recent major recession. While the overall economy is slowly recovering, we’re still not back to our “pre-recession’”level and working hard to maintain budget targets.
This very roughly summarizes the economic picture in Edmonds at the moment. In my next two writings I want to focus more specifically on our expressed desires for sustainable preservation and growth in Edmonds. I’m also urging all of us all to think more productively as to how we can begin to achieve same.
— By Phil Lovell
Phil Lovell, P.E., MASCE retired in 2003 as Vice President of the Turner Construction Company. Since then he has been heavily involved in volunteer civic efforts, both at the State and local levels. He is continuing executive member of the UW Construction Industry Advisory Council, serves as Vice Chair of the Puget Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel, and is a 6-year member and past chair of the Edmonds Planning Board. Most recently, he has been appointed to the Mayor’s advisory task force to study alternatives to the at-grade railroad crossings in downtown Edmonds. These writings represent his views as a private citizen.