Letter to the editor: Informed voting more important than ever

Editor:

As ballots are marked, primary consideration should be given to Edmonds City Council candidates’ fiscal acumen, accountability and responsibility.  The Edmonds “City Council Mission and Purpose” states that council is the legislative body that establishes city policy and represents the city on boards and commissions, among other duties. As such, councilmembers must be able to understand budgeting processes, oversee and advise on projects involving huge dollar amounts, be accountable to our citizens and transparent on how moneys are spent, work closely and in collaboration with the Edmonds’ financial department and, finally, make the best use of our tax dollars.

The numbers are significant. Edmonds currently has projected expenditures of over $109 million dollars in the 2019 budget (see the City of Edmonds Washington 2019 Adopted Budget Summary). Councilmembers are elected for a term of four years. We are therefore entrusting councilmembers with management of over $400 million with very expensive project focuses in the 4 year term. Money management and responsibility to taxpayers on project expenditures is essential.

As an example of just how important this can be, consider funding issues involved in the ill-fated and much-opposed “connector” project.  Many Edmonds’ citizens recognize that we “dodged a bullet” with the elimination of that project. Councilmembers need to have the fiscal expertise to evaluate funding sources for major projects. The mayor and some on the council implied that federal funding was nearly in place.  In fact, that was not accurate. Consider what one Edmonds’ citizen wrote about connector funding:

“…the city has spent significant dollars ($250,000 are allocated in the 2019 budget alone) on a project that relies heavily (65%) on federal funding.  However, available federal funds for such projects has decreased (from $1.5 billion in 2018 to $900 million in 2019), up to half of these funds could be directed to projects in rural areas, and federal funding tends to be 50% of a project’s costs.” (Rebecca Elmore-Yalch in MEN 6/4/19)

Or, consider the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) program. Although some in the city espoused the belief that the MFTE program would cost taxpayers “nothing,” a closer and more responsible examination of that program showed that there is a substantial tax shift to Edmonds’ residents. No real cost/benefit analysis of MFTE’s was done before the city/council adopted this program. In this case, it was incumbent upon council and the city to provide a complete financial picture of all costs and municipal burdens to our citizens on the issue, not to mention transparency on what the program will actually cost us in increased city infrastructure, police and emergency services, impacts on traffic safety and density  In other words, we count on our council to responsibly review the fiscal impacts of these types of programs.

These are just two recent examples of how critically important it is to elect to council candidates who have fiscal expertise and who recognize their duty to be responsible stewards of our tax dollars. There will be many more projects and expenditures in the future, including the Creative District, parking, infrastructure improvements and maintenance. Please make your vote count toward fiscal accountability on the council.

Cynthia Cooper
Edmonds

5 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Informed voting more important than ever”

  1. I concur with the sentiments expressed in this “Letter to the Editor”. In fact, this is something that has concerned me about Council candidate, Diana White. She casually mentions in her recent mailer that she is “fiscally responsible”. In fact, the Seattle Times, the Everett Herald and many Edmonds citizens disagree.

    Diana White’s actions as the president of the Edmonds School Board demonstrate lack of leadership, judgment, and fiscal management which should disqualify her from serving on the City Council. (Ms. White is running against Susan Paine for City Council Position #6) In August of this year, Ms. White voted to approve a teacher contract with double digit pay increases when the district’s own budget projections showed the district would quickly find itself in the red based on that negotiated contract. The result? Teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.

    Others agree. The Seattle Times called out the Edmonds’ school district specifically for this fiscal mismanagement when it recognized the dangers of giving teachers these double digit raises at the volatile time after the education bill in response to McCleary was passed. It cited several reasons that it believed the board’s actions, under the leadership of Diana White, were fiscally irresponsible:
    1. Property tax levies were set to go down
    2. Not all of the money was available as some was mandated for reduction in class size (8/17/2019)
    The Everett Herald weighed in with its article entitled, “Layoffs, larger classes balance Edmonds’ budget.” (8/18/2019).

    Ms. White’s response has been to blame others and to fail to take responsibility for her actions. In her letter to MEN of August 19th, 2019, she attempted to justify her actions by blaming State Superintendent Reykdal’s guidance as coming too late. As one Edmonds’ citizen put it in a response in MEN, “The board should not have needed “guidance” to realize that the raises given were unsustainable. It was your responsibility to understand your budget, just as it will be if you are a member of the City Council. I believe Edmonds deserves better.” (Bob Chaffee in MEN 8/20/19). In that same letter she opined that the teacher contract was set to expire in 8 days and, because of that, the “wise decision” was to sign off on the contract. That was not a wise decision, Ms. White. Given what you knew at the time, you should not have voted to ratify the contract. Instead you should have exercised leadership and renegotiated that contract. You and your board allowed most all of the McCleary money to be allocated to the current teachers, without regard to the future, gambling on the fact that the legislature and taxpayers would pony up once again with more money. That is not good fiscal management. Taxpayers, after substantial property tax increases, deserved to have that money spent wisely.

    I have been a lifelong advocate for public schools and teachers. If you want to see a more detailed account of what actually transpired, please refer to MEN, June 14th, 2019, in which the mishandling of the McCleary dollars is discussed.

    Edmonds’ voters should take into account Ms. White’s actions as Edmonds School Board President when marking their ballots. Edmonds needs Councilmembers who can exercise leadership and fiscal stewardship. Susan Paine is the more qualified candidate.

    Ignored

  2. Thank you for your letter to the Editor. It certainly is easy for some to spend other peoples money. Here are some random thoughts. My concern was when I saw the word “parking,” let us hope that we never see any kind of parking structure in Edmonds which leads to more visitors, and more traffic. I am also amazed how much money we spend for studies. And lastly, a cost estimate for a project can be significantly higher than first thought, that is a problem. I have a novel idea, how about when a resident turns 65, there are no more property taxes. Then we can afford to remain in Edmonds until we die.

    Ignored

    1. I agree with this letter which is why I hope we have 4 new council members next year. This city has relied on bonding way too much. While interests rates are low that does mean we will always have room in the budget down the road that the money will be needed for. Essentially with bonding you are earmarking money in future budgets and locking down future generations to pay for something they had no say in.

      Furthermore, there was talk in July at a finance committee meeting of bonding for maintenance repairs by the same bond pushing council member. These are needed often times yearly which if we bond once we will likely do it every year which will make these pile up to a huge bill in future budgets. This is why I believe we need new blood and new ideas especially in position 4 where we Edmonds citizens have a chance to change our city’s idea of financing with someone who understands we must do what we were taught growing up. Don’t spend more than you have and know you will have. Please join me in voting for Jenna Nand in position 4

      Ignored

  3. While democracy allows for the free exchange of ideas, the task of spending tax dollars should have as much focus as political speech. I have noticed on the occasions when I have attended Edmond’s city council meetings that are public meetings, there has been a lawyer there to clarify legal items. I do not recall the presence or statements from a city auditor about the status of money that is available and what will be required, or what other fiscal matters have impacted the finances that are needed to proceed.
    Debt is not an easy item to disregard since the work it took to acquire profit(outside the stock market and other vehicles for creating money), debt is a burden left too often for the next generation. Federal debt also impacts local economies, and while the stock market `appears’ to be stable, the national `debt’ which many ignore and dismiss, is at its highest in 7 years.

    Ignored

  4. Thank you Cynthia for your comments. If readers would look at all the discussion on this link you will see “some things never change”

    https://myedmondsnews.com/2011/05/councilmember-diane-buckshnis-my-perspective-on-the-levy/

    Diane’s discussion is very good and much of it is true today. We will always have budget issues because our wish list is larger then what we are willing to pay for.

    With the elections soon over! The current council will start to talk about the budget in earnest. Some who are part of the budget process will try to get the projects that have a special interest in supporting funded. Stay tuned and watch and read what happens. A careful read of the proposed budget already gives us clues to some of our financial challenges.

    Cynthia’s key point to me is look at what the candidates are saying about what they are proposing to do once elected. Most of the candidate’s statements do little to show what are the costs of the “ideas” they are proposing and they has been almost no discussion on how to pay for their “ideas”. Is that because they are bad at financial management or they just do not want to talk about costs and sources of revenue to pay for the ideas. You can decide, I already have.

    Cynthia’s other points are interesting and bring to mind the need for more citizen involvement early and often as we sort out want we want to do and how we want to pay for it. The current council must create a budget by a specified time and that will probably happen. Just pay attention to what gets included, what assumptions are made for future budgets and make your views knowing during the budget process. The new council can amend the budget they inherit but that will take some time for them to catch up on the issues. What will be exciting for all for all of us will be how the newly elected begin to reconcile their “promises” with the financial realities.

    Opinion: mine and way more than a statistically valid majority who answered question for the Strategic Action Plan, is we need to finally do what council approved in 2013 and in 2015, the action items that deal with major budget issues like roads, parks and the budget process in general.

    Yes we need council members that can do their financial jobs well, time will tell if we elected the best ones or if we can train them to do what the majority want on budget issues.

    Ignored

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