Edmonds residents will continue to see their utility rates rise and will also receive a 1 percent increase in their 2017 property tax bill under proposals that the Edmonds City Council agreed to place on next week’s council consent agenda for approval.
Also during the jam-packed four-hour meeting, the council unanimously agreed to add to the city’s capital project list the Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector Project, announced last week as the preferred option for providing emergency access to the Edmonds waterfront. Now that the project — recommended by Mayor Dave Earling’s at-grade rail crossing task force after a year of study — has been officially included in the capital projects list, city officials can start seeking state and federal funding. The combination pedestrian and bicycle overpass/emergency vehicle access ramp, with an estimated cost of $24 million, would connect Sunset Avenue to Brackett’s Landing Park and the waterfront trail system.
Under the utility rate increase scheduled to be approved next Tuesday, an Edmonds resident’s average combined monthly utility bill for water, sewer and storm water services would rise from $103.28 currently to $132.25 by 2019. The three years of increases continue a plan set in motion in 2013 that enables the city to fund replacement of failing water/sewer/storm infrastructure with generated income rather than debt, saving the city approximately $50 million in interest over time. The proposal also includes a five-year reduction in the water utility tax rate due to a change in state law.
Opposing the rate increase were Councilmembers Mike Nelson and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, who expressed concerns about the impact of the hike on those least able to afford it. Public Works Director Phil Williams did note that low-income homeowners can request a rate reduction by contacting the city’s utility office.
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she wondered whether it would make sense to delay the rate increase a year to allow the council to get a better sense of how taxpayers will be impacted by last week’s approval of the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 ballot measure, which includes increases in both property taxes and sales tax.
In the end, Buckshnis ended up supporting the utility rate increase in a 5-2 vote, joined by Councilmembers Dave Teitzel, Tom Mesaros, Kristiana Johnson and Neil Tibbott (Nelson and Fraley-Monillas opposed).
However, when it came to the 1 percent 2017 property tax increase, which was presented in conjunction with a 5.7 percent 2017 emergency medical services (EMS) tax, Teitzel was the lone councilmember voting against it, stating his concern about the measure’s resulting “cumulative effect on Edmonds citizens.” The total tax increase for an average Edmonds home with an assessed value of $428,400 will be $22.71 annually, or $1.89 per month, said City Finance Director Scott James.
Speaking during a public hearing preceding the votes, long-time Edmonds resident and business owner Don Hall said: “It seems like almost every week we talk about adding more taxes. And with Sound Transit going through, all our utility taxes going up. $1.89 doesn’t sound like much but you know, you put them all together and there’s a lot of people that just can’t afford it. And I’m concerned about those people and what are they supposed to do? I just can’t see continuing to tax and tax and tax.”
Earling and James pointed out that if the council did not pass the 1 percent property tax increase, the council would be left with a $136,000 deficit in the current 2017 draft budget, and would have to make significant reductions.
That possible gap became more meaningful given that councilmembers spent a chunk of Tuesday night’s meeting discussing a wish list of other items they wanted added to the mayor’s draft budget — some of which have no identified funding source. Among them: $50,000 for a part-time social worker who would work with police to focus on the homeless population; a $15,000 increase in operations funding for the Edmonds Senior Center; a $41,000 contribution to assist the financially struggling Snohomish County Health District and $11,000 for a new mobile speed indicator trailer.
But the lion’s share of the discussion was devoted to a proposal for $82,300 to fund a full-time parking enforcement officer, spurred by ongoing complaints from business owners that the city isn’t doing enough to enforce the city’s three-hour parking limit downtown. (No decision was made on that proposal Tuesday night, but we will be exploring the parking issue in a future story.)
The council also:
– Heard a proclamation regarding Small Business Saturday being celebrated in Edmonds on Saturday, Nov. 26. Residents were invited to shop local and also enjoy the holiday market, then stay for the annual tree-lighting ceremony that evening.
– Unanimously approved a variance for the play structure at the City of Edmonds-owned Meadowdale Club House.
– Approved by a 6-1 vote (Johnson opposed) a resolution supporting a staff recommendation to approve an application from Westgate Chapel requesting vacation of approximately 375 feet of right-of-way on 92nd Avenue West located adjacent to church property along Edmonds Way. The city will receive half of the appraised value of the property — $92,610.
– Unanimously approved moving to next week’s consent agenda a new fee schedule proposed by the Development Services Department. Among the changes: increasing the department’s hourly rate for services from $90 to $100; implementing a 3 percent convenience fee for credit cards; and adding a technology surcharge increase of $10 — from $25 to $35 — to cover the cost of electronic record-keeping.
– Authorized staff to salvage the remains of a totaled police car.
— By Teresa Wippel