It was a night of budget details for the Edmonds City Council Thursday, as councilmembers during a special meeting had a chance to ask questions about the 96 budget proposals submitted by city staff for 2022.
The meeting started with Administrative Services Director Dave Turley outlining the next steps for the budget, asking councilmembers to submit all amendments to him by Nov. 9 so he can compile. This will give councilmembers a week to review before the final budget vote, which is currently set for Nov. 16, Turley said.
Councilmember Vivian Olson made a motion to push budget approval back to Nov. 23 — the original approval date listed on the council’s extended agenda — but that was defeated on a 4-2 vote, with Diane Buckshnis voting yes. (Councilmember Kristiana Johnson was absent from Thursday’s meeting.)
Buckshnis said she had not heard any reason for what she described as “the aggressive budget schedule,” or why the timing for approval is earlier than in the past. (In recent years, the council has approved the budget during the month of December.) “I think the 23rd is even too quick because we have not even had a healthy discussion from the administration about the financial situation and the strategic outlook,” Buckshnis said.
She then added that once a new councilmember is seated in Position 2 — which is set for the Nov. 23 meeting after the general election votes are certified — “I will push through a (budget) repeal,” with the goal of giving councilmembers more time. Current appointed Position 2 Councilmember Luke Distelhorst will be replaced by either Janelle Cass or Will Chen depending on the outcome of the Nov. 2 general election.
“First off, I don’t appreciate being threatened,” Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas replied to Buckshnis. “Threats are no way to run any group of people.” The idea of having a new councilmember come in to deliberate on budget proceedings is concerning, she said, adding that Distelhorst has spent two years working with the council. “To try and cut him out of the process and try to put somebody else in…who has never been part of a city council before I think is fairly inappropriate.”
Council President Susan Paine said that the city has been transparent about the budget schedule. “We have a lot of great discussions by our commuinty and we have a lot of great emails going around and back and forth. It looks like everyone is very prepared for this whole process,” she said.
The council then got down to questions for department heads, who were present throughout the meeting.
Among the Q&A covered Thursday night:
Police Chief Michelle Bennett was asked questions related to budget decision package 15, which includes $73,500 for a range of police community engagement programs. Council President Paine asked for more details about a police bike program. Bennett explained that the department doesn’t yet have the staffing for the program, but she would like to begin maintaining the six bicycles the department already has as well as provide training and purchase uniforms for officers. Also related to this package, Councilmember Laura Johnson asked about what type of groundwork the department is developing in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to ensure the correct approach is taken to the community engagement work. Bennett noted that new Community Engagement Specialist Tabatha Shoemake is already working hard to set up a range of offerings, which include a volunteer program, a community academy, a youth explorer program and a volunteer reserve officer program, but acknowledged the importance of having DEI methodology in place as that work unfolds.
Councilmember Distelhorst asked about decision package 71, which would involve the addition of 10 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the city, at a cost of $260,000. Specifically, he asked if staff had given thought to ensuring those stations are equitably placed throughout the city. Public Works and Utilities Director Phil Williams said that no map exists yet for where those stations would go, but will put a plan together if funding is approved. “That (electric vehicles) is where our transportation system is headed,” both in the short term and long term, Williams said, noting the city hasn’t added any new EV charging stations since 2011.
Also on package 17, Diane Buckshnis asked Williams about a comment she heard from a scientist that it might make sense to delay adding the stations to take advantage of newer technology. Williams said the level 2 chargers the city will add are the standard used throughout the U.S.
For decision packages 35 and 26, dealing with the purchase of new vehicles for the parks and public works departments, Laura Johnson asked if staff had considered purchasing used vehicles instead when possible. “We have not seen a great deal of benefit in buying used vehicles,” Williams replied. “If we buy them new we know are coming with no defects.” The city also gets a long service life out of the vehicles it does purchase, he added. Administrative Services Director Turley said that the city is able to take advantage of joining with other jurisdictions, via state contract, to bargain on the purchase price of new vehicles, which saves the city money.
For decision package 61, which includes the implementation of green stormwater elements, such as rain gardens, Councilmember Fraley-Monillas asked if the projects would be spread throughout the city. Williams replied that the focus would be on the Perrinville Creek area, given the significant flooding problems that are occuring there, but that other neighborhoods could be considered as well. That project, budgeted at $435,000, will be mostly paid for through American Rescue Plan Funds the city has received.
Paine then asked about the benefits of decision package 16, which would make the city’s half-time public information officer/communications strategist a full-time position, at an additional cost of $69,000. Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty replied that a part-time position doesn’t provide enough hours for work to be completed in a timely manner and also doesn’t give the position an opportunity to work with the city’s department directors on developing communications strategies.
Decision package 23, which allocates $120,000 for a consultant to develop an ADA Transition Plan for the city’s parks, was the focus of a question by Distelhorst. He wondered if the plan’s scope would include not just what’s inside the park, but how those with disabilities can access the park. Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Angie Feser said the scope would be related to park amenities, but acknowledged Distelhorst’s request to add accessibility to the parks — such as nearby sidewalks or public transit — if there is room.
Laura Johnson asked about package 54, which allocates $300,000 to design work for a regional stormwater facility at Mathay Ballinger Park, to address water quality and flow control improvements aimed at improving the health of nearby Lake Ballinger. Johnson said she had some concerns about the project’s impact on the park, which is the only park facility serving the Lake Ballinger neighborhood, adding she was worried about possible closures during construction. Williams said the public works department will work closely with the parks department during project design, and added, “I don’t think it’s our intent to shut the park down during the construction process.”
Police Chief Bennett addressed questions from Vivan Olson about decision package 14, which proposes $71,650 to create a public safety marine unit that includes reinstatement of the police dive team, to assist with search and rescue, recovery, evidence search operations. Olson wondered if it might make sense to involve other agencies in cost-sharing for the unit, including South County Fire — which already has a boat stationed on the waterfront — along with the Port of Edmonds and possibly the state ferry system. Bennett said the main focus of the proposal at this time was to fund the acquisition of working dive equipment for use in areas such as evidence searches in the water.
Luke Distelhorst asked Acting Development Services Director Rob Chave about decision package 20, which would provide $150,000 to establish a rooftop solar grant program for low- and moderate-income residents. Distelhorst wondered if the city was planning to bring in partners to assist in the program, and Chave said that the city will work to access as many resources as it can.
Laura Johnson asked for more detail about decision packages 42 and 51, which would fund a request by the public works department to cover $40,000 in overtime for street/stormwater division staff who are called upon to provide traffic control, road closure signage and related activities for community events. Public Works Director Williams noted that taking on those increasing duties does take staff away from regular maintenance work and he felt it was important to include the overtime funding in the budget.
Councilmember Buckshnis asked about the budget for decision package 53, which includes $550,000 in 2022 for lower Perrinville Creek restoration — most of that coming from American Rescue Plan Act funds. Public Works Director Williams explained that it’s not certain exactly how much the project will cost, since the city hasn’t yet entered the design phase. “We’re currently negotiating with three property owners to try to get to an agreement that would allow us to work in that area,” he explained. That would permit the city to build a new channel for runoff “that would have higher capacity at a grade sufficient to keep velocities high enough that all of the sands and gravels and rocks that come down that drainage now and plug everything up could be kept in suspension — and make it out through a new fish-passable bridge or culvert underneath the railroad tracks,” Williams said.
Decision package 38 calls for $270,180 to add a perimeter around the public safety complex campus to ensure the safety of pedestrians who now walk through the parking lot in the same area where police department vehicles come and go. Councilmember Olson asked Chief Bennett how imperative the project was, in light of other priorities. Bennett replied that adding such a perimeter has been a request of police for many years, not only to protect community members but to ensure safe transport of subjects being brought in for police processing and to ensure evidence is secured. In addition, numerous police employee vehicles have been subject to vandalism, including nails in tires and broken windows.
There was also a fair amount of discussion Thursday night about sidewalks and sidewalk safety. Council President Paine stressed the importance of making the repairs to downtown sidewalks, which often pose tripping hazards. Paine also said that when it comes to new infrastructure development such as new parks and sidewalks, it’s critical “that we start with the areas that don’t have infrastructure there currently.”
“Sidewalks build communities and it makes it really friendly,” she added.
At the beginning of the council meeting, during public comment, Council candidate Will Chen shared a message he had received Thursday morning, calling him “a walking coronavirus” and telling him to “get the f-word out of our city and country, you piece of sh– Chinaman.”
“The reason I’m sharing this message is because I believe in our community,” Chen said. “I know that these sentiments do not reflect our community. I have been and will continue to advocate for our community no matter the negativities and hatreds of some. I will continue to stand against hate of any form and I will continue to advocate that hate has no home anywhere in our community.
“We must come together no matter our political views or theories on certain policies or politics. We are so much more alike than we are different. We are better together.”
— By Teresa Wippel