Council votes to maintain current property tax, outlines next steps for housing strategy

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    The “zero increase” property tax option approved by the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night.

    During an action-packed meeting Tuesday night, the Edmonds City Council voted not to increase the city’s property tax, outlined a path for developing a new housing strategy and approved several amendments to Mayor Dave Earling’s proposed 2019 budget.

    Included among the budget amendments was elimination of $72,000 for the city’s federal lobbyist, a position that had also been removed during last year’s budget discussions but was brought back as part of a last-minute deal brokered between the mayor and council.

    The mayor and city staff have maintained that a federal lobbyist is critical to the city’s efforts to obtain grant money for a range of key city projects, including the waterfront connector overpass and Highway 99 redevelopment.

    Voting to remove the lobbyist were Councilmembers Mike Nelson, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Diane Buckshnis and Kristiana Johnson.

    The council also rejected an effort by Buckshnis to remove $75,000 that the mayor had designated to support programming for the Edmonds Center for the Arts. Buckshnis, Johnson and Councilmember Dave Teitzel voted for the amendment while Councilmembers Tom Mesaros, Neil Tibbott and Mike Nelson opposed it. Councilmember Fraley-Monillas abstained, leaving a tie vote of 3-3, and thus the motion did not pass.

    Regarding the property tax increase, councilmembers had signaled last week they were interested in reviewing options in addition to the recommendation from Finance Director Scott James to approve a 1 percent increase, which would have resulted in a $5.40 yearly increase for the average Edmonds home value of $527,000. Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas suggested no increase, while Council President Mike Nelson proposed a 1 percent decrease.

    When it came time to discuss the matter Tuesday night, Fraley-Monillas made a motion to approve the current property tax with no increase. From there, a discussion ensued about whether it was a good idea to “bank” the 1 percent increase — a practice that gives local governments the authority to levy that additional 1 percent at a later date.

    As an example of how that banked capacity could be used, Taraday said that if the city experienced a huge loss in sales tax revenue during a future economic downturn, the banked percentage could pay for essential services, such as police officers.

    Fraley-Monillas proposed an amendment to her original motion that would have eliminated the city’s ability to bank the increase for future use, but that motion died for a lack of a second.

    The proposal to keep the property tax at the same level as last year was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Councilmembers Buckshnis, Teitzel, Tibbott and Johnson supporting. Nelson, who had already reiterated his support for a 1 percent decrease, voted no, as did Fraley-Monillas and Mesaros.

    In a related matter, the council unanimously approved a 1 percent increase in the city’s emergency medical services (EMS) property tax, which will result in a $2.07 increase annually for the average Edmonds home.

    On the topic of the housing strategy, the council heard more about a proposal from Councilmembers Tibbott and Buckshnis to form a Citizens Housing Commission in 2019. The idea, Tibbott said, would be to build on the momentum created by the citizen interest in the city’s current housing strategy developement. Work won’t start on the effort until 2019, he added, but the councilmembers wanted to raise the issue now for two reasons: first, to meet the required time frame for introducing an amendment to remove the strategy from the Housing Element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, and second, to ensure the council had an opportunity to budget for any costs associated with the new effort.

    The commission would assist in the short term with redrafting the city’s current Housing Strategy and in the long-term would help the city implement actions stemming from completed strategy. The group would sunset at the end of 2021, Tibbott said.

    The goal is to develop a strategy to increase the city’s supply of affordable housing and address diverse housing needs.

    The selection process is still open for discussion but the draft document calls for a nine-member commission with one appointment per council member and the mayor, plus one Edmonds Planning Board member, along with two or three councilmembers who may or may not be voting members.

    “What we want to do is make sure that this is a council-driven commission…that will also allow any citizen to come at any time” and make comments, Buckshnis said.

    Councilmembers Nelson and Mesaros both commented that they thought the group could be larger than the nine members originally suggested, to ensure maximum citizen involvement.  Mesaros proposed two citizen appointees per councilmember to accomplish this.

    During the budget amendment process, the council went through a portion of their proposals; more will be discussed at the Dec. 5 meeting. The council also heard from several citizens who testified during a public hearing on the budget. In addition to numerous speakers who supported the $75,000 allocation to the Edmonds Center for the Arts, Donnie Griffin from the Edmonds Diversity Commission asked that the council retain a proposal (now proposed to be cut) to increase funding for staff support. Such an increase would allow the commission to do more outreach to the community, he said. Also speaking was an Edmonds dad — accompanied by his wife and 3-year-old son, who has cerebral palsy. The topic was the need for more accessible playgrounds, which his son currently finds difficulty accessing. Budget proposals related to the Diversity Commission and accessible playgrounds weren’t discussed Tuesday night; the assumption is they will appear next week.

    Among other budget items of note decided by the council Tuesday night:

    • Considered a proposal to hire a city arborist, but after discussion instead approved a proposal by city staff to increase the arborist duties and pay of the city’s part-time arborist, Debra Dill, who is also now mainly serving as a horticulturist for the city.
    • Approved eliminating money allocated for a consultant to explore redevelopment options for the Five Corners neighborhood.
    • Rejected a proposal to remove $65,000 allocated to purchase a police car for the new school resource officer, who is set to begin work at Scriber Lake High School in 2019.
    • Rejected a proposed $18,000 increase in the annual contract for the city’s public information officer.
    • Approved $33,000 in security costs for the municipal court.
    • Removed $45,000 for contract management support in the public works department.
    • Eliminated $53,517 allocated for a part-time coordinator for the city’s newly established youth commission, but instead approved $30,000 to hire a consultant to get the commission started and figure out future needs.

    Also at its Tuesday meeting, the council:

    – Approved an ordinance setting a minimum threshold of $12,000 annual value of products, gross proceeds of sales, or gross income for those businesses needing a city business license. The threshold will apply to only out-of-town/non-resident businesses.

    – Approved $10,000 from 2018 council contingency funds to pay for 2019 council historical preservation interns.

    – Approved a proposal from the Edmonds Senior Center that the city cover more than $900,000 in unbudgeted costs related to the new Waterfront Center building.

    — By Teresa Wippel

    16 Replies to “Council votes to maintain current property tax, outlines next steps for housing strategy”

    1. I have no doubt the statement “$527,000 ave home value and ave tax increase of $5.40/yr is accurate..but maybe not as descriptive as it could be. A “home” could be a house or a condo and I have to think there is a marked difference in ave values of the two housing types. A more revealing description for we taxpayers on the proposed 1% property tax increase would have been to differentiate between the two.

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      1. I’ve often wondered about that too. When I worked for the city of Seattle I had to provide an annual disclosure on business interests and property that I held in the city or with the city. It kept transparency available for all decision makers.

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        1. The document elected officials are required to file is called a K1.
          Earling filed his in the past, do not know if they are required to file every year.
          Does not mean that they disclose everything, could have silent side agreements, or be a silent partner, and not disclose on a K1.
          You can get these from Olympia.

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    2. So, with all the tax related activity, what is the bottom line property tax increase for the “average” residence, or total increase per thousand dollars of assessed value?

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    3. The increased funding for the Senior Center was not only for the $900,000 increased budget but also picking up the Center’s half of the original $900,000 so, a total increase in the City’s contribution of $1,350,000 more than the original proposal. So much for the Center “self-funding” the new building.

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      1. As I understand it from news articles, the increase is not for the building itself but for the surrounding parking lot, which the city owns (the land) but was only going to pay half of the costs associated with the construction. The Center had come back to the Council asking the City to fully fund the entire parking lot egress etc. But bottom line is that it’s not the building which is involved in this increase.

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    4. “Included among the budget amendments was elimination of $72,000 for the city’s federal lobbyist, a position that had also been removed during last year’s budget discussions but was brought back as part of a last-minute deal brokered between the mayor and council.

      The mayor and city staff have maintained that a federal lobbyist is critical to the city’s efforts to obtain grant money for a range of key city projects, including the waterfront connector overpass and Highway 99 redevelopment.”

      Isn’t this still an important component for ANY city to have?

      Perhaps “Tom Mesaros, Neil Tibbott and Mike Nelson opposed it” …one of those 3 city council members can explain to us their rationale in opposing the city’s federal lobbyist line item.

      Please enlighten us…thx.

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      1. Actually Councilmembers Mesaros, Tibbott and Teitzel voted AGAINST removing the lobbyist. The other four councilmembers — Buckshnis, Nelson, Fraley-Monillas and Johnson — voted FOR removing lobbyist funding from the budget.

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        1. Thanks…it still would be helpful for the Councilmembers [Buckshnis, Nelson, Fraley-Monillas and Johnson ] to give us their Rationale for voting “FOR removing lobbyist funding from the budget.”

          What is their alternative plan?

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    5. I would also like to add that there were four or five public comments on the housing strategy, all opposed to continuing with the current plan and all in favor of a reboot.
      There was another great comment on the impact of the WA State Ferry on Edmonds, and what we should be doing about it.
      And one comment on the possibility of an adequately compensated city council, rather the basically unpaid city council we have now.

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      1. The City Council is paid — whether it’s adequate is up to interpretation — and also receives a full health care benefits package.

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      2. Council members are paid.

        Per a previous MEN article:

        In Edmonds, the mayor’s 2017 salary is $118,361 per year, plus benefits. Councilmembers earn $12,000 a year, plus medical insurance premium costs (for councilmembers only) or
        the cash equivalent. The council president receives an additional $2,400 per year.

        For more information, including a history of salaries for elected officials, visit http://www.edmondswa.gov/salary-commission.html.

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    6. It still would be helpful for the Councilmembers [Buckshnis, Nelson, Fraley-Monillas and Johnson ] to give us their Rationale for voting “FOR removing lobbyist funding from the budget.”

      What is their alternative plan?

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      1. Mr. Williams, great question. The lobbyist was hired several years ago specifically for the waterfront bridge (which I oppose) because his speciality is transportation.

        Our city and most neighboring small cities historically have received federal transportation dollars without a federal lobbyist. For example, the Puget Sound Regional Council receives $260 million annually from the Federal Govt. to give to local transportation projects in the four county region which includes our City.

        Or we do what most folks do, we ask our congressional representatives to help us get funding.

        Our city staff, our state representatives, and our state lobbyist (which I support) have been very helpful in getting state funds for our city projects.

        I am not aware that the City has received any federal dollars to date for the work of the city’s federal lobbyist.

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    7. Mike,

      Thanks for your thoughtful and well-reasoned answer.

      There some oversights, but they won’t be belabored here.

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