When it came to discussing proposed amendments to the city’s already-approved 2022 budget, there was a lot of talk but not much action during Tuesday night’s Edmonds City Council special business meeting.
At the start of the meeting, Councilmembers Laura Johnson and Susan Paine — both of whom have been strongly opposed to revisiting the budget — spent a fair amount of time asking for clarifications and explanations on various proposals. That prompted a frustrated Councilmember Will Chen to encourage the council “to keep your eyes on the ball and stop the filibuster,” adding that city departments are waiting for the council to finalize the budget. “If we keep delaying this, it’s not good for our city,” Chen said.
Councilmembers did approve one budget adjustment: by a 5-2 supermajority vote, required to make changes to the existing budget, the council shifted the status of the city’s new Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) program manager from a full-time permanent position to a three-year contract role. The person hired for the job will provide citywide leadership to advance race, equity, diversity and inclusion goals. While councilmembers said they support the effort, those favoring the contract job said they were worried that the duties for the new role had not been defined well enough to justify making it a permanent position.
The idea for a three-year contract, at $100,000 per year, was proposed by Council President Vivian Olson and supported by Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Will Chen, Kristiana Johnson and Neil Tibbott. Voting no were Councilmembers L. Johnson and Paine. Laura Johnson asked Human Resources Manager Emily Wagener if it would be more difficult to hire a person in contract role compared to a full-time job, and Wagener said it would “be more difficult” to do so. Among the challenges — a smaller pool of candidates and having contract employees leave in the middle of the term because they find something permanent.
Laura Johnson also asked Wagener if she thought the city’s need for the REDI program manager position would be “going away in three years.”
“I absolutely do not,” Wagener replied. “I absolutely think that the city’s Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion goals are important and they aren’t going anywhere. If anything, I think this position will expand as time goes on.”
Paine had attempted to make an amendment to Olson’s proposal, suggesting the job be a five-year, temporary position, but that was defeated on a 3-3 vote (Paine, L.. Johnson and Chen voting for and K. Johnson, Olson and Tibbott against) with Buckshnis abstaining.
During the two-and-half-hour meeting, the council took a vote on just one other budget amendment — a proposal from Olson to rewrite the job description of the city’s full-time public information officer (PIO) to ensure the position creates “fact-based and neutral communications.” (Last week, Olson and some other councilmembers expressed concerns regarding communication from the mayor — distributed by the PIO — that criticized the council’s proposed budget amendments, and those concerns were voiced again Tuesday night.) While Olson’s proposal got four votes, it failed due to lack of a 5-2 supermajority.
After those votes, the council discussed just two other items out of the 34 total amendments that have been proposed: removal of a solar grant program aimed at a low- to moderate-income residents and deletion of $200,000 allocated in 2022 to the city’s human services office budget.
The argument for removing the solar grant program was based on reasoning that there were too many barriers to entry for lower-income households who might not be able to afford their portion of the costs for the program. However, Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin told the council the city’s goal is to cover as much of the installation cost as possible so that it is affordable to everyone.
“If the interest is to drive down that cost burden per installation, we can do that through the program itself when we draft that criteria,” McLaughlin said. The city also hopes to expand it to multifamily projects as well — all with the goal of helping to lower the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.
As for the $200,000 allocated to the human services division, the budget amentment narrative noted that the human services program carried forward into 2022 a total of $409,000 out of its $550,000 budget for 2021, and as a result “there is no need to add additional money.” But Deputy Parks Director Shannon Burley, who oversees the human services effort, said the city has been developing plans on many fronts to use that money, and all of those reflect human services priorities named by the city council last year. Among them: hiring a city social worker, establishing collaboration and support with partner organizations to jointly fund social services, developing programs to keep vulnerable people in their homes, removing barriers that prevent people from securing shelter, and ensuring that cold weather shelters and hygiene opportunities are available to those in need.
Burley also said that Snohomish County is viewing Edmonds and other municipalities as potential partners in creating shelter for those who are unhoused in South County, noting that the city is legally prohibited from removing those who are homeless from public property “without being able to provide adequate shelter and property storage.”
“Those are both incredibly expensive things,” Burley added. “I don’t think any of us feel the city will be able to that on our own. It will have to be in collaboration with neigboring jurisdictions and the county.” The current dollars in Edmonds’ human services budget, she said, reflect the city’s commitment to jointly funding shelter space.
After discussing those two amendments — but not taking action — the council made an effort to extend the meeting beyond 10:30 p.m., but that motion failed to get a majority vote and the meeting was adjourned.
Prior to the 8 p.m. meeting, the council met in its three commmittes, which are work sessions for the council and city staff. There were numerous items discussed but one of them was a conversation in the Finance Committee about how the city could address $75,000 in unpaid dues for members of the city’s Business Improvement District (otherwise known as the Edmonds Downtown Alliance or ED). City Administrative Services Director Dave Turley asked Finance Committee members Diane Buckshnis and Will Chen for guidance on how to approach the debt, which represents roughly one year of the organization’s $80,000 annual budget.
The Business Improvement District, instituted in downtown Edmonds in 2013 with financial oversight from the city, includes an area comprised on the north by Bell Street, on the east by Durbin Street, on the south by Homeland Drive and on the west by Sunset Avenue South and Railroad Street. All revenues come from dues that are assessed to members of the city’s downtown core, currently ranging from $30 to $90 per quarter.
Buckshnis and Chen agreed there was no point in going after the estimated $37,000 in unpaid dues from businesses that have closed. As for collecting the other $38,000 from active businesses, councilmembers agreed with a suggestion from Council President Vivian Olson to form a subcommittee consisting of councilmembers and ED members to come up with options for addressing the issue.
In December 2019, the council rejected a city staff proposal to suspend the business license of any downtown business delinquent in its payments to ED.
Also of interest, during the Parks and Public Works Committee meeting, Councilmembers Kristiana Johnson and Neil Tibbott agreed to forward to next week’s council consent agenda a proposal for the city to put $20,000 toward a Sherwood Elementary School playground renovation project that would expand the school’s current playground — and could be used by the community during non-school hours. The Edmonds School District would provide matching funds for the project, which is also receiving money from the school’s Parent Staff Organization.
— By Teresa Wippel