In a continuation of its Tuesday night business meeting, the Edmonds City Council Wednesday made relatively quick work of approving the city’s 2022 budget on a 4-1 vote, then talked at length about the city’s 2022-2027 Capital Facilities Plan and Capital Improvement Program.
Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson thanked the councilmembers, Administrative Services Director Dave Turley and city staff for their hard work in putting the budget together.
Council President Susan Paine said she appreciated the level of public engagement that this year’s budget drew, “probably more than ever before. The fact that we got through our budget in six weeks, shouldn’t be seen as remarkable, with the level of participation that we had over this time,” she said.
Paine added that past city budgets had been finalized in the middle to late December, “often with budget amendments coming in on the day of the final meeting. In my opinion, that is unfair to our colleagues and residents.” Now that the budget has been approved, Paine said she hopes that council meetings can be wrapped up for the year on Dec. 14.
Many of the amendments proposed to the budget Wednesday were from Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis and Kristiana Johnson — who were absent — so the items were not vetted. Councilmember Vivian Olson did attempt to bring forward a few of the proposed items from Buckshnis and K. Johnson for discussion, but they failed for lack of a second.
Buckshnis has been unavailable this week due to a family wedding. Kristiana Johnson told councilmembers during Tuesday night’s meeting that she couldn’t attend if the meeting were continued to Wednesday, and suggested that the meeting instead be continued to next Tuesday, Nov. 23.
Olson was the lone no vote on adopting the budget. She reiterated in an email Thursday morning her stance that the budget was being approved too quickly, and that budget deliberations should include the participation of councilmembers who were elected by the voters. That would mean including incoming Councilmember Will Chen, who will be seated at next Tuesday’s Nov. 23 meeting, following vote certification that same day. (He will replace apppointed Councilmember Luke Distelhorst, who lost in the August primary to challengers Chen and Janelle Cass.)
She also said Thursday she was concerned that while the city currently has healthy budget reserves, this budget commits the city to ongoing programs that it may not be able to afford down the road, due to inflationary pressures or other unforeseen circumstances.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Olson noted that the city was spending half a million more dollars than was originally proposed in the budget, and asked Turley if he could address where that money is coming from.
“I do think this is a very sustainable budget,” Turley said. “If you’re looking to the future, our sales tax and some of other taxes are probably going to come in higher than what we’ve projected, which will provide a little additional cushion.”
Turley added he has heard concerns from residents about the budget including $7 million in expenditures compared to revenues. He explained that the city has $7 million in its budget that is being spent on Civic Field renovations alone, “and the reason it looks like we’re overspending our budget is because these are revenues that came in this year or even last year. The bond proceeds that we got this year for $4 million for public works and $1.6 million for Civic Field, came in this year. So they’re going to show as revenues this year and show as expenses next year,” he said.
“So we’re not overspending our budget, it’s a timing thing that people don’t understand,” Turley continued. “When they look at the budget in the book, you’re looking at a one-year snapshot of revenues and expenses, and so to have a more complete picture you need to take into account the revenues that were received in prior years.”
Turley said he has also reeived questions about why the city is spending down its fund balance. “Yes, we’ve actually built up several million dollars worth of fund balance in excess of required reserves,” he said. “In the private sector, we’re used to seeing profits in a business and they go into your equity section and more profits is better for a private sector business. That’s not the way government works. What we do is we tax people, we collect taxes and what we’re supposed to do with those taxes does provide services and benefits to our citizens.”
In the eyes of most government accountants, he added, “we’ve actually built up probably more more profit over the years than we should have, and it’s absolutely time to spend those for the benefit of our citizens.” He said he thinks that spending down that fund balance is “entirely appropriate at this time. I think the economy as far as we know in the next couple of years hasn’t given me any worries…to worry about being conservative and even with the excess we have budgeted this year, we don’t even come close to tapping into our restricted reserves.”
Olson asked about the $1.5 million in additional expense the city will incur related to its contract with South County Fire, noting it isn’t reflected in the current budget. Turley replied that the city a few years ago increased its budget for fire services to accommodate retroactive charges from the fire authority related to labor contracts, and said the city has “some cushion” as a result for additional fire expenses, to cover at least half of that $1.5 million.
Of the budget items that were discussed Wednesday night:
– Olson’s proposal to remove a $150,000 rooftop solar grant program for low-income households and instead offer a lower-cost gas blower replacement initiative. Olson said her suggestion was “not at all a statement about not supporting the idea of promoting solar.” She pointed out that the average cost of a rooftop installation was $18,000 and the proposed grant amounts are for $5,000, “and I think coming up with the additional $13,000 to be able to move forward and actually get the rooftop installation is actually going to be a huge barrier, and I would anticipate that it would not be well utilized.”
“So any climate benefit you are going to get is zero, if there are zero takers,” she added.
Instead, Olson proposed allocating $85,000 for a gas blower replacement initiative, which would pay residents and landscape businesses to turn in for destruction their gas-powered blowers and be reimbursed for a corded electric or battery-operated blower. This would reduce both emissions and noise pollution, she said.
Distelhorst said that while he supported the idea, he would like to see future work on the concept, possibly as part of changes to city code. Councilmember Laura Johnson agreed, suggesting the idea should be part of a larger city program. Councilmember Paine concurred, and also suggested that the council keep tabs on whether the solar rooftop program is being used.
Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas suggested the council could do both the rooftop solar program and the gas blower replacement, and made a motion that the city create a program for people to turn in gas blowers for electric blowers, at a cost of $85,000.
But after Councilmembers Distelhorst and Laura Johnson said the gas blower replacement idea should be further researched, Fraley-Monillas withdrew her amendment.
Olson replied that the program actually was well thought out and had many details that were submitted as part of the proposal. She then withdrew her proposal to substitute the gas blower turn-in program for the rooftop solar program, and instead include it as an addition to the solar grants, at a cost of $50,000. But that motion died for lack of a second.
Another Olson proposal that was discussed was elimination of a $270,180 police department request to make safety improvements to the police campus boundaries to encourage pedestrian travel around the perimeter rather than through it. (The proposal was seconded by Distelhorst for the purpose of discussion.) Olson suggested there may be less expensive ways to address issues for increasing safety and reducing vandalism, but a bigger issue, she said, is that “there have been community conversations about whether our public safety complex or city hall are in the best part of town right now, and this is another investment in that area for that campus.
“I just feel like this is $270,000 we can save in the budget, and we need to be saving some money,” Olson said
Fraley-Monillas said that the police department has been asking for the campus security improvements for years and she believed the proposal was a idea worth supporting. Paine agreed it was important to address safety issues for both police and pedestrians. Distelhorst and Laura Johnson said that they at first questioned the safety perimeter idea but after further review chose to support it. In the end, Olson’s proposal failed on a 1-4 vote.
Regarding the 2022-2027 Capital Facilities Plan and Capital Improvement Program, after discussion the council approved a staff recommendation to have the city attorney draft an ordinance for final approval at the council’s Dec. 14 meeting.
At the request of several councilmembers, staff spent quite a bit of time addressing residents’ concerns regarding the Edmonds Marsh restoration project, and whether that project would be better served being defined as a stormwater project in the public works department budget or as a marsh restoration project in the parks department.
Public Works Director Phil Williams said that he and Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Angie Feser have spoken quite a bit about the issue. “We both see it, and I would hope the council…would see it, as a city project,” Williams said. “It is a large effort and it’s going to take extensive cooperation from a lot of different departments to pull it off — that’s both in the fundraising and the project management side of things.”
Each department has areas of specialty where it might be more appropriate for one of them to take the lead, “but always working together and always seeing it as a city project, not a department project,” Williams said.
The public works department doesn’t have any money in the 2022 budget related to marsh restoration, “so you’re not really approving any expenditures related directly to the marsh restoration project,” Williams said. He noted also there are unresolved questions about the Unocal property next to the marsh, which is undergoing environmental cleanup. (The property will be transferred to the Washington Department of Transportation once the Department of Ecology certifies that the cleanup is complete. And once the state transportation department takes over the property, the City of Edmonds has first right of refusal to purchase it.)
Once that issue is resolved, city administration and the council can come together to figure out the appropriate next steps, he said.
“I just never saw it as a public works project, never saw it as a parks project, it’s just a city project,” Williams said.
Feser explained there is an existing marsh restoration and preservation fund, which currently contains $844,000, to be used toward marsh restoration and as a match for grant funding as well.
Edmonds Marsh restoration would involve daylighting Willow Creek and re-establishing barrier-free fish access, with the cost estimated at between $13 million and $16 million. This project also dovetails with the Marina Beach Master Plan to develop the park. Feser noted there has been a lot of discussion around Marina Beach Park and how that relates to marsh restoration, especially in light of recent grant awards of $1 million for that project. The plan for Willow Creek daylighting “ties into and is able to accommodate all of the marsh restoration effort,” Feser added.
Council President Paine asked if the location of marsh funds — public works or parks — would have any impact on the city’s ability to get grants for the project. “Absolutely not,” Williams replied, adding that staff have asked that question of grant funders and “they look at it as a city application.”
The project goals “are clearly environmentally and habitat related,” Williams said. While it’s a fact that the project “does some stormwater urban drainage from developed portions of the city,” he added, “it’s not going to dominate how the design is done.”
Williams also said it isn’t the intent to use stormwater rates to pay for marsh restoration. “That was never the intent,” he said. There will be match dollars required from the city — probably 25% — but that money could come from anywhere, not necessarily stormwater funds, he said.
Councilmember Olson asked Williams if some of the money could end up coming from ratepayers even if it wasn’t the city’s intention to fund marsh restoration that way, and he said it was possible that could occur, depending on how much grant money the city receives.
At the end of Wednesday’s meeting, there was praise from the mayor and councilmembers both for Public Works Director Williams, who is leaving the city for a job in Redmond next week — and for Councilmember Luke Distelhorst, who was also attending his last meeeting.
“The imprint of your work on the city will be recognized for decades,” Paine said of Williams.
“Your expertise has definitely help shape our city for the better,” added Councilmember Laura Johnson.
Williams acknowledged the team effort of public works staff, noting “it takes a lot of dedicated people to keep a city running from an infrustructure standpoint, and I think we’re blessed with wonderful employees throughout our department.”
Distelhorst was lauded for his dedication to public service while serving on the council for the past two years.
“I will miss your passion,” Mayor Nelson said. “But I know this is not the last we will see of you. I know we will see you in some other way, in some other capacities, always involved in our community.”
— By Teresa Wippel