Council approves lower-than-requested property tax increase, debates future of Economic Development Commission

Scott James
City Finance Director Scott James

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.)

  1. The best way to prepare for crisis (whether economic, terrorism, war) is not in the middle of it but during peace time (and good times). While we are presently experiencing a decent economy, there are strong indicators this will not last. Best to be prepared prior to the turn. Let’s learn from the past. We have a choice – be proactive or reactive.

  2. I commented Tuesday night that I am not against taxes.
    I wanted to speak for hardworking families whose wages are not going up; and people receiving social security benefits who will not receive an increase this year.

    I asked the council to remember that:
    • an increase in property taxes will put affordable housing that much farther out of reach
    • working wages are not increasing
    • people on fixed income and social security are not receiving cost of living increases this year
    • voters just approved a limit on tax increases in Olympia
    • the proposition to increase the Retail Sales and Use tax narrowly passed

    Next year, Sound Transit wants to:
    • raise the sales tax on most Snohomish County residents by .5%
    • raise the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax
    • impose a new property tax for light rail

    I asked the council to remember that working families have to live within the income available to them; our city should do the same.

    It was disappointing that several council members dismissed the impact of this property tax increase to a monthly cup of coffee when many family budgets are already strained.

    1. I totally agree with Jeff. It seems like our taxes are always increasing, in one way or another. This year, my property taxes increased $600.00 and it mostly went to the school district and that still isn’t enough for them. We are told there always is a need for more in one area or another. When does it stop? Wages have not increased for most people, in fact they have decreased for some and the healthcare law is taking more money from individuals. Senior citizens and others live on a fixed income! In Edmonds there are wealthy individuals that increasing property taxes does not affect like it does the lower income individuals with more limited incomes. We are hit with increasing taxes from all directions!!!!! The economy may be improving now, but what is on the horizon?

    2. I totally agree with Jeff’s observations!

      My own curmudgeon comments: wages and social security are NOT increasing. The council and city bureaucrats seems to be in a bubble that radiates…we need money; just raise taxes a little wee bit more. And add to that the School Board’s request for a replacement=replacement+increase levy…

      You are running out of other peoples’ money…the Golden Goose is croaking!

  3. It is astonishing to me that the two outgoing councilmembers could cause our city to not collect a badly needed 1% increase in property taxes in 2016. It was their position that our city does not have substantial need for that increase in revenue. Really! The Mayor’s proposed budget that assumed the 1% increase does not have sufficient revenue to restore several Police positions lost in prior budget cuts – even adding two officers in 2016 only gets the headcount to 65 when it was 73 in 2006. And certainly more revenue is badly needed for sidewalks and street overlays.

    It is also astonishing that council allowed councilmembers Bloom and Petso to prevail. Presumably councilmember Buckshnis had a compelling reason to not be in attendance, and that she was not able to participate by telephone, but why did council not reschedule the vote to a special meeting next Monday? More than once this city council has shown an unwillingness to schedule a rarely needed second weekly meeting. Recently when the workload was growing the Mayor suggested a Thursday meeting. That was quickly shot down, but no alternative time suggested. The council has yet to publicly discuss the 2016 budget. Last night it was said that councilmembers could email suggested budget amendments. Budget amendments are customarily made during a public meeting. That allows citizens to more knowledgeably make comments.

    I do not know anyone who wants to pay more taxes, but I also do not know anyone who wants a reduction in city services. I urge councilmembers to schedule an additional council meeting so that there’s time to properly review and finalize the 2016 budget publicly.

  4. Everyone of us need to be “patient”. “Take a step back”! “Slow your roll”! I agree with everything that all 3 of you have said. Maybe 1% is not enough. Maybe it is. Just remember where we were 4 years ago. As I have stated in the past, Over the last 9 years or so, Edmonds has been misused by several City Council Members, including a litigation that cost the City at least a Million and a half, easily! It is hard to get things done as a Mayor or a City Council when you have rouge agents in your midst! We can never get that money back. It is gone! Get over it! I’m not one to meddle in other’s affairs as long as it will not be destructive behavior as it has been so with a few Council members.
    The November 3rd 2015 Election has come and gone. The People of Edmonds have spoken. The City Council will have some new members to blend with incumbent members and there-in will be the parody that our City has been crying out for. Make no mistake about it! I feel we have the “Dream Team” of local City Government! Good things will be done. Talent and hard-work will prevail! The Mayor will now have a Council that will vote to move Edmonds forward instead of back words, How awesome is that?
    I know that we need more services. I am sick and tired of our crappy looking roads. When are we going to have every road in Edmonds repaved? How much will it cost every taxpayer in Edmonds to have this done? If you think about it, 2-3% increase will not even cover this. So who suffers? The City? Or the Taxpayers? Interesting dilemma when it comes to paying for services. I am not a wealthy person. In fact, I live from paycheck-to-paycheck. What I do and don’t do depends on my income coming in and my expenses going out. This is called budgeting. It takes time.
    So, in the spirit of newness, support all of our Council members by coming to Council meetings, weighing in on topics that will affect all of us citizens and let’s do a virtual handshake with each other starting today to give our elected officials a warm welcome and let them know that the road ahead will be bumpy but together as a community we can make our little “slice of paradise” a win-win” for all.
    Mike, Jeff and Ron, Thank you for inspiring me today to try and leave a kind message for all of us.

    Ron Smith

  5. Because the city offices will be closed for the remainder of this week, the agenda for the December 1st council meeting has been published as well as the extended agendas for the remainder of this year.

    City council has had essentially zero public discussion of the 2016 budget, yet the December 1st agenda item for the budget says: “On December 1st, 2015, Council will hold a Public Hearing on the 2016 Budget and Approve an Ordinance Adopting the 2016 Budget and Adopting Amendments to the Capital Facilities Plan Element of the Comprehensive Plan.”

    So the intent is to discuss the proposed budget, consider budget amendments, and give final approval all in a single meeting – one hour has been allocated to do all of that, plus deal with the Capital Facilities Plan. This must be some kind of a joke.

  6. Happy Thanksgiving to all. On Tuesday, I was celebrating Thanksgiving in Wisconsin as the matriarch of this family died two months ago and my husband’s sister has to work today. I find it uncanny that I was expected to call in when last time I did I was criticized for not being prepared for that meeting as I was out of town with our family emergency. It was a study session and I informed our CP and Mayor that I would not be calling in.

    Year-end scheduling is always hard for Council and I am sure Mr. Walmbolt that you will hear our opinions on the budget and time will be afforded to our citizens and Council.

    As I told one friend – I wish we all would take a breath and relax – the work will get done and your voices are heard.

    Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving.

  7. Interesting on how so many politicians have never met a tax they did not say was “urgent”, “critical”, or met a “substantial need”. Yet the only time you see a cut, zero based budgeting, or other cost limiting measures is when there are hard limits in place. Let’s prioritize. The Administration talks about needing money, look up how much was spent on the Woodway HS project and the staff and City Attorney time on the current lawsuit. Or the $27,000 fine that the city should have applied to the development at 23200 Edmonds Way. That would have been 25% of the 1% proposed tax.

    And possibly if the Mayor was actively participating in the InterLoc agreement with the FD1 we would have an idea of those costs. THis is required by the agreement but is still not being done.

    Or the Sunset Avenue costs, Five Corners costs, etc. Try being wise stewards of the CITIZENS money then ask for more.

  8. Scott,
    Everything is just less than a cup of coffee, and that is the apparent yardstick for taxes. The Council’s and City’s favorite theory of relativity. Rate payers gave up many, many cups of coffee with the increased water, sewer and storm water taxes (oh, excuse me…those were fees, not taxes). I just came back from the waterfront where a gent was being put into an aide car, on the other side of the tracks. Still a problem, still no viable solution, and yet there is funding for a wayside horn so the noise doesn’t bother the folks who purchased property along side a very active (and noisy) track. Just nothing for the problem of the safety of folks on the other side of those tracks…except an excuse to talk about tunnels and such. I can only imagine the tunnel will be less than two cups of coffee. But there is an elitism to that cup of coffee theory since those who will feel the impact of such fees and taxes likely don’t have the money to blow on even that cup of coffee which everyone talking takes for granted.

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