Hiring full-time social worker, city code writer listed as key priorities during Edmonds council budget retreat

Consultant Mike Bailey facilitated the council retreat.

Hiring a full-time social worker. Ramping up sidewalk projects. Focusing on overdue infrastructure repairs. Rewriting the city code.

Those were among the priorities that Edmonds city councilmembers identified during their remote budget retreat held vis Zoom Wednesday, July 29.

The nearly four-hour discussion was facilitated by consultant Mike Bailey, a former finance director for the cities of Redmond, Renton and Lynnwood.

Much of the retreat focused on reviewing the budget process, roles and responsibilities for municipalities, plus best practices for city governments. Then it came time for councilmembers to share their priorities for developing the 2021 budget. The mayor is responsible for presenting a preliminary budget to the council by the end of October, after which the council discusses and amends the budget, and engages the public for feedback. The final budget must be approved by the end of the year.

When it came time for councilmembers to share their ideas, they did so in order of seniority. Then, the process was repeated several times, with councilmembers adding new ideas during each round.

Councilmembers were also asked what areas of the budget they would de-emphasize to fund new programs.

Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas started off, stating that her highest priority would be to hire a full-time social worker for the city. That person would create his or her own department, and the recently hired part-time human services program manager would report to that new employee. Fraley-Monillas noted that Edmonds will be losing the part-time embedded police social worker position that it shares with the Lynnwood Police Department, since the City of Lynnwood is cutting the position due to budgetary concerns. As a result, she said, Edmonds Acting Police Chief Jim Lawless suggested that that the funding for that position be added to help fund a full-time social worker position, “so the cost would be minimal.”

“Jim Lawless is very interested in doing this and wants to work with the council,” Fraley-Monillas said, adding it’s possible the new social worker position could also do some “community policing social work that would be a benefit to people who need that level of service.”

When asked by facilitator Bailey to explain how the city would benefit from such a position, Fraley-Monillas said the position would focus on a range of issues in the city, including those who are mentally ill, “extremely poor and indigent people who need to know where resources are,” and providing services to those who are homeless.

“I’m sure as most have seen, we have an increase in homeless that are very visible and now they are even in the downtown on 5th Avenue pushing shopping carts,” she said. “So having somebody that can connect with these people would be a benefit to the city.”

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said her top budget priority would be to fix the city’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and the Capital Facilities Plan (CFP) “to de-emphasize the $16 million stormwater project (related to the Edmonds Marsh) and moving it back into parks as a near-shore estuary, so we can actually treat it as a regional park.” In that way, Buckshnis said, “utility taxpayers won’t have to restore the marsh through taxpayer utilities.”

“I want to achieve more sidewalk projects within the city,” said Councilmember Kristiana Johnson when it was her turn to share. “I think if we base it on a priority and a percentage, that would be really excellent,” she said. “People all the time complain about their sidewalks.” Even though the city now has a dedicated sidewalk crew, “I haven’t seen any evidence that we are moving forward,”Johnson said. As for how sidewalk construction could be funded, Johnson wondered if it could come from the parks department, since “the sidewalks do provide a recreation opportunity. Although I doubt if there’s support for that.”

Councilmember Vivian Olson said that she would like to focus on “overdue infrastructure repairs,” noting that a recent leak in Edmonds City Hall “was just a reminder of how many things we’ve neglected.” Olson also expressed an interest in exploring the privatization of aging city buildings — she used the Carnegie Library building that now houses the Edmonds Historical Museum as an example. “These old buildings always cost a lot to maintain and the ones we’re keeping we need to maintain, but the ones that we could possibly privatize, it’s an opportunity to have money coming into the budget that’s used to offset the repairs of the things we’re keeping.”

Councilmember Susan Paine said her top priority is to hire a temporary, three-year position “to help support rewriting a lot of the (city) codes that have been just languishing and need a lot of the knots unsnarled.” While a half-time code writer position was in the budget for this year, that position was put on hold due to the difficulty of finding a half-time employee. With a full-time temporary person “you could actually make some good progress,” Paine said. “There’s been frustration for many, many years about our land use code, building code and some of the other codes.”

To fund this work, Paine suggested “de-emphasizing some of the professional services (she noted public works in particular have many of these contracts), which can get very, very expensive and reducing overtime costs, probably from law enforcement, to make sure that’s in balance,” An emphasize on hiring someone to update the code was seconded by both Buckshnis and Councilmember Laura Johnson is a later round, with Johnson stressing the importance of making that updated code information accessible to citizens.

Like Fraley-Monillas, Laura Johnson said that her number-one budget priority “would be expansion of the human services department,” including adding — “at minimum” — a full-time social worker. “I think the need was already there but especially with all the current and coming impacts of COVID-19 and the economic downturn, it’s going to increase,” she said. The focus of that position, she said, would be on keeping people in their homes and helping those who are “currently unhoused.” Potentially, the city could look at referring domestic violence victims to the new human services department rather than the police department since “women are sometimes not comfortable to work through the police department,” she said. As for funding the social work position, in addition to the cost savings identified by Fraley-Monillas, Johnson suggested using the money saved by not paying half the cost of a police officer at Edmonds-Woodway High School. That position was eliminated by the Edmonds School Board in June.

Councilmember Luke Distelhorst said his top budget item would be to increase community wellness efforts, which includes — in addition to a social worker — providing mental health and addiction services. Distelhorst said that he also had a conversation with Acting Police Chief Lawless about “using some current police funding for these services.”

Other ideas suggested by councilmembers during the Wednesday budget retreat:

  • Reallocating staff to community policing along Highway 99 “to allow for police to be up there on a. continuous basis to get to know the residents and the businesses and the process and what’s occurring up there.” (Fraley-Monillas)
  • Continuing work on the 4th Avenue Arts Corridor (Kristiana Johnson)
  • Putting more time and effort into addressing the parking issues in the downtown core, “where it’s been such a challenge.” Among the considerations:  one-way streets or angled parking or a small parking garage. (Olson)
  • Purchasing land, particularly in the Lake Ballinger area, to help support open space for recreation as the city becomes more dense due to population growth. (Paine)
  • Hiring a full-time communications and engagement person. That was proposed by Councilmember Luke Distelhorst, who is employed in public information with Community Transit. The city currently has a part-time position, which isn’t enough hours to meet the needs of the city, the council and the citizens, Distelhorst said.
  • Updating the city’s strategic plan “to get our projects and priorities in order and coordinate that with the public.” (Kristiana Johnson)
  • Pursuing protected historical status (state or national) for the Edmonds movie theater. (Olson)
  • Providing funds for the city’s safety office to purchase personal protective equipment, such as masks, for city workers. (Paine)
  • Expanding and preserving city infrastructure to increase connectedness and safety citywide, including trails, sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks and four-way stops by schools. (Laura Johnson)
  • Multimodal city infrastructure, “making sure that all neighborhoods have…the connectivity so people have easy access not only for recreation but for going to the store, going to school, for gong to whatever else they are going to in the city.” (Distelhorst)
  • Watershed planning for both Perrinville and Shell creeks. (Kristiana Johnson)

At the end of the retreat, Council President Fraley-Monillas cautioned councilmembers to be focused on low-cost or no-cost items as 2020 budget discussions get underway. “Many of these ideas, we won’t be able to afford in the coming year,” she said.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

25 Replies to “Hiring full-time social worker, city code writer listed as key priorities during Edmonds council budget retreat”

  1. I love the comment at end of the article from council president Fraley-Monillas

    ‘Excellent, these were all very good ideas, and I thank you for your time here. Just as a side note though, remember that we are not going to have the money to go forward with pretty much the vast majority of what you came up with. So make sure to think of ideas that won’t cost any money. Let’s end with a closing song of Cheap Thrills by Sia.’

    Haha.

    Seriously though, I agree that getting a full time social worker to replace the part time one that we loosing is a good priority. Plus working to help businesses succeed through the COVID crisis, as well as maintaining sidewalk infrastructure. Speaking of free though, it would be serious mistake to pass up the free money offered to us to build bike lanes.

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    1. For the families living along the proposed bike route whose homes will devalue from the loss of on street parking the money is hardly free. From the rules of life: “There is no free lunch”. I know the others argument, There is is no satisfice too great for someone else to make. Maybe the City can reimburse each home owner for an estimated loss of value, say 100K each?

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      1. That seems like a purposefully over the top sarcastic analysis. I drive on 100th a lot, and I would guess that at the very least 70% of the parking spaces are always empty, and honestly usually more. Really, the most busy area is near the cemetery.

        I think there is plenty of room for a reasonable compromise. With so much blank empty unused space, there is a lot of room to use that road more efficiently. Maybe parking on one side of the street instead of both? That would leave room for the bike lanes, plenty of parking, and ample sized road lanes.

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        1. No sarcasm at all concerning your selfish analysis. You want the homeowners on that street to give up something without out fair compensation. Those homes will lose value. That’s not reasonable compromise. Ask them what they think. There is no free ride, even for bike lanes.

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        2. I understand your position Allen, but am hoping that there is room for compromise.

          If parking is consolidated on one side of the street, than there is still parking, and the unused parking that I see 70% empty most of the time on 100th could benefit everyone in the city. When the city asked banks and local businesses if their unused parking lots at night could be used for public parking. They did not have to agree, but chose to help, and that has ended up being an enormous benefit for our city. I think the same question of consolidated parking should be put to the residents along 100th. They have an opportunity to do something of great benefit to our city as well.

          The parking situation downtown is very tight, and it is not something that we are going to have a lot of money to address anytime soon. When I ride my bike to popular parks, I require one less parking space that would otherwise be required. Having accessable biking is an important part of alleviating that stress, and the fact that we have free money to add bike lanes to help is even better. It would be a tragic thing to miss out on.

          Plus the safety aspect. 100th can be a little dicey with so many cars turning, and the hills there sometimes put bicyclists in a vulnerable spot. A bicyclist was killed in front of my friend’s condo in Woodinville last week. A place where I had ridden to 2 weeks before.

          If we can consolidate parking in a way that does not hurt homeowners, supports biking to reduce parking pressure, makes the road safer, AND have it all paid for; it is a great issue to at least have the homeowners there consider.

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  2. Most of these priorities are good ones for our city. I totally agree and want to thank Council member Paine for pointing out the need for the city to Purchase land, particularly in the Lake Ballinger area, to help support open space for recreation as the city becomes more dense due to population growth. Currently residents living in the Lake Ballinger area have to drive to other parts of the city or use other neighboring cities parks for recreation activities. What are the options for those who don’t drive?

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    1. Regarding parkland acquisition in the Lake Ballinger area: Why not improve what Edmonds already has? The Interurban Trail is barely maintained by Edmonds Parks and portions are lined with overgrown weeds, bushes growing halfway out over the pavement, and a weed/covered chain link fence. Some sprucing up would improve safety and appeal to families.

      Secondly, MLT has an ambitious plan to improve Ballinger Park alongside the trail. How about if Edmonds chips in some targeted funding for that MLT project rather than buy new parkland? Ballinger park could become the “go to” park for Edmonds residents on the east side of 99.

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  3. I am very concerned about Distelhorst’s suggestion that the city could provide mental health and addiction services. This is NOT the role of a city government. These services are regulated by the state. Is the City of Edmonds really going to go to the expense and risk of licensing itself as a mental health or addiction service provider? Has it even looked into what that really means?
    Also, people who provide domestic violence services are trained specifically in that area. Johnson’s idea to just have them go through a city social worker does not seem very well thought out.
    It worries me that strong statements are made without the knowledge or understanding to back them up.

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    1. I 100% agree.

      Not that addiction services are not a noble goal, but it would be a terrible thing for the city to try to get into right now. I definitely appreciate and commend anyone who would dedicate so much time and effort into public service.

      HOWEVER, there have been a string of questionable decisions and suggestions from Distelhorst lately. Especially the completely unnecessary and wasteful decision to forgo confirming Lawless as the police chief. Given Distelhorst’s appointment to the council instead of election, I feel like he is trying extra hard to provide bold and ambitious ideas, and prove his worth.

      I guess my suggestion to him is that many of the community see his dedication, and appreciate his service. Maybe slow down and think through the viability of these ‘bold’ ideas a little more and consider what is practical and achievable. Public service is not a sprint. It is a long slog filled with often incredibly boring meetings as well as meaningful pivotal decisions that contribute to the strength, vitality, and hopefully appreciation of the community at the end.

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      1. Hey! The article is over-paraphrasing what I said (as well as what others said), my point was that those are topics that need to covered under the social worker/human services department, with referrals. The city is obviously not going to be a provider. That would be inefficient and costly.

        You can check out the 4hr-long meeting video for better context of the summaries above! It was not a slog, nor incredibly boring. 😉

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        1. To clarify, what was listed summarized very brief ideas that weren’t fleshed out at all — in fact the facilitator encouraged the councilmembers to provide ideas for the “what” but not to go into the “how.” I’m sure there will be much more to come during the actual budget discussions later, if and when any of these ideas are actually pursued. And yes, go watch the last hour of the meeting if you want to see the full discussion.

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        2. Some of your comments in the article were in quotation marks which led me to believe you actually said them! Did you say that you talked to Lawless about using police funding for these services?

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        3. Thank you for your comment Council Member Distelhorst. I appreciate your response, and I will definitely check out the video when I have more time to do so.

          I understand that it is important in brainstorming sessions to come up with a wide variety of ideas. Especially since there can always be follow up new ideas or compromise solutions that can come from not narrowing oneself to the basics. In this budget constrained environment, I think we will have to be a little creative in how we meet our priories. I have been an advocate for getting a full time social worker, and I hope that the council moves forward with that. Especially since we already were paying for a part time worker.

          For bike lanes, it would be good to send a survey to residents along the routes to gauge support.

          Also, I wanted to note that the opiod crisis and drug addiction are definitely serious problems that I don’t want to downplay. However, we are going to make some hard choices, and with a likely crime wave heading North from the Seattle disaster, we have to be careful to keep our PD supported and prepared.

          I do wish that you would at least consider an expedited review and confirmation of Police chief though, which ideally would result in the permanent appointment of Chief Lawless . Chief Lawless has shown incredible leadership and communication with the community during this COVID crisis. He has also proposed excellent and meaningful ideas for addressing social injustice in our city. There is a lot of support for him in the community, and it would be a sad loss if we no longer have him as chief.

          Thank you again for your service and your time.

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        4. Hi Councilmember Distlelhorst,
          The video of the July 29th Special Meeting is not available on the City’s website and a citizen told me he had heard that it was not videotaped. That would be unfortunate. Can you inquire and find out whether citizens will be able to watch the video, if such exists. Thanks!

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  4. I appreciate the Council focusing on the most basic needs; this has come to include City Code. The City is getting tripped up by City Code when trying to carry out simple business.

    At the July 28 Joint City Council meeting, the Planning Board (PB), packet page 128, shared ten different areas they would work on in Planning Code. They voiced they are good at it, enjoy it, and see it as a necessity. The PB video presentation begins at 1:06:48. http://edmondswa.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=3258&Format=Agenda

    Like the rest of the nation, Edmonds is part of an economic depression and a health crisis. Remember these comments in My Edmonds News? Matt Richardson, February 28, 2020, at 8:25 am: “I think these plans will change. Markets are turning. If the Trump boom ends from here, Edmonds strategy will focus on maintenance of what we already have over vitalization of the highway 99 corridor. I remember Teresa asking during the mayor’s debate what each candidate would cut, and each had pretty good answers (such as parks). Mike said he’d hire more cops where asked if he’d cut anything.”

    Roger Pence, March 19, 2020, at 9:57 pm: “Mr. Richardson, you should’ve stopped after your first paragraph. The rest of what you write is just over the top speculation.”

    Matt Richardson, March 20, 2020, at 11:57 am: “Thanks Theresa. Here’s me praising a young man for getting ASE certified *before* the recession, citing the precarious market and how mechanics will be in demand. Car salesman will not be in demand… I see an FDR-style response to this market correction, and it will be long and prolonged… at 4:56 pm People are still paying to the BID? What does the BID do if you don’t pay?”

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    1. I don’t know Edmonds’ books specifically, but I know generally that municipal and state debt is already a crisis across the country. Paying pensions for police [for example] is predicated on the stock market doing better year over year no matter what. “Defunding the Police” initiative have the added beneficial effect of book-balancing and I think that this is an aspect of that insanity.
      https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizfarmer/2020/07/20/stock-market-public-pensions/#37303fc1446f
      Public pensions will need to be renegotiated, but there isn’t the political courage to do that here. Police are our mayor’s priority ironically, which is okay so long as it’s balanced with BLM platitudes.

      Stocks and Real Estate are going to crash. Half of all renters are eviction-ready.
      https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2020/07/28/report-more-than-40-of-us-renter-households-are-at-risk-of-eviction-infographic/#45176110164e

      On this course, the eviction protections we are seeing today will evolve into universal housing, the stimulus checks will evolve into Universal Basic Income, people’s 401k’s and IRA’s will be appropriated by the state. #USSA Trump is great on everything >except< the economy. I don't see any other change in course other than print $, because pretty soon municipalities, states and the Fed won't be able to borrow it anymore. The only thing with any hope of righting this is to jack up interest to 20 points, sell the balance sheet, strategic (including local) bond bankruptcy.
      https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/bst_recenttrends.htm

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    2. The following is from the October 1, 2019 City Council Meeting Minutes:

      Ken Reidy, Edmonds, asked why a high priority item and something budgeted for on multiple occasions, the code rewrite, not been executed. He asked for a full disclosure of all public funds spent on the code rewrite since 2006 and an accounting of what the use of that public money has accomplished.

      The City has refused to provide the information requested. I would like to know what other readers of My Edmonds News think of the City’s choice to not provide information requested by citizens.

      As hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent over the years on what has been a failed effort to rewrite the code, I returned to Council on October 15, 2019 and made more Audience Comments to provide more details regarding the code rewrite. I concluded my October 15, 2019 comments by referring to decision package 40 in the 2020 budget for $25,000. I requested the Council look closely at who should be doing the code rewrite. I said that the City Council are the policy makers and should be very involved in the process. I questioned whether $25,000 was enough money and said I was uncertain about what happened to the $85,000 in 2015 budget.
      As usual, no information was provided about what happened to the $85,000 in the 2015 budget.

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    1. Thank you CM Distelhorst, everyone in our community will all just have to really, really hope that there will be no cuts or shifts away from the Edmonds PD budget. With a very likely crime increase coming from the Seattle defund disaster, that would be one of the worst things we could do.

      Since we were already paying for a part time social worker, we should be able to move that to full time without having to resort to the self damaging move of reducing the EPD funding. This is a critical time for the EPD to get the support that they need, certainly not the opposite.

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      1. When AOC and Sawant talk about “take back the money they are using on tanks and stuff” they are not talking about Edmonds. It would be interesting to show a breakdown of the EPD 2020 budget. I have a feeling if people see the amount of money that is left after personnel, property and vital equipment the Defund talk would dry up.

        Meaningful cuts to the police around the country would mean firing people, since that is where the vast amount of the budget goes. Being unionized that usually means last in first out, most cities police departments would see a reduction in diversity on the force. Is that not the opposite of what we want?

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  5. Stop using the excuse of drugs and economic status and people experiencing homelessness as an excuse not to have proper human services and social workers in Edmonds.

    What are those quotes about leaders and or communities being measured by the level of people they serve?

    And the quotes throughout religions about serving those most in need?

    Yes, Edmonds needs to address social work and human services needs, and the positions need to be convenient in Edmonds.

    However, due to confidentiality and HIPPA laws, it may be in the City’s best interest to have Snohomish county oversee these positions. It is highly problematic for citizens to approach the new city human services person with questions, as everything goes on the public record.

    Citizens are insecure in the areas of medicine, shelter, food, safety, etc. Everything is public record, phone numbers, emails, names, addresses, etc. The County has a different level of confidentiality working in county established social services. So, yes, Edmonds citizens have a right to have the ability and access to convenient, confidential service in their own community and yes the city should be contributing a financial share and providing a location to Snohomish County for these services.

    The Budget Meeting was listed prior to the meeting as a virtual online meeting, giving the reasonable expectation that if citizens were unable to view it live, they would be able to view the meeting at a later date. The video feed is not yet showing on the Edmonds meeting page. There is a responsibility to release the video feed.

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  6. Yes, Lori. I agree. The video is not public so how can we see what people said?
    I am really worried that Distelhorst having conversations about behavioral health services without understanding HIPAA or what all this really entails. Edmonds really needs to think through this before they use police dollars for it. Further, he seems not to have a clear understanding of the needs in the community. He pushed forward the CARES dollars for residents in a way that is in English only and requires computer access. How many of the City’s most needy wont be able to get this? Hasty decisions will lead to problems.

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    1. Hey Sam, The city has contracts with three agencies (Homage, Washington Kids in Transition, Wellspring) that work with vulnerable populations in our community. They are connected and well versed in languages spoken, outreach, help with the application process, etc. In the first round where there were funds to help up to 100 families, the city had 133 qualifying applicants (this was presented to Council and available in minutes). Council should get another presentation on this in August. In the meantime, you can always get in touch with me here: http://edmondswa.gov/city-council/edmonds-city-council-position-2.html

      🙂 Luke

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  7. When the amount of money was increased, and a fee for services was added by the organizations, I didn’t see a bidding process as I thought required. This enables a fair process and brings out the most appropriate organizations for the services and populations.

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  8. As to Lori’s point and Distelhorst’s comments above, it would be great if the RFP for organizations could be shared with the public (maybe in the next Council meeting?) including the language in the RFP for making sure that there was outreach to diverse populations that are nonEnglish speaking. Can the public also get a summary from the organizations on how many of the 133 applicants were nonEnglish speaking? With the Council’s supposed focus on diversity and inclusion, this would be good to know.

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