Council committees address Perrinville Creek flooding, hiring and biennial budgeting

From a sewage treatment plant employee shortage, to shifting city budget writing to every two years. From leaks that jack up your water bill, to how to solve the Perrinville Creek flooding. Edmonds city councilmembers Tuesday night met in committees to dig into the nitty-gritty of trying to run this city.

Public Safety & Personnel Committee

Jessica Neill Hoyson

Edmonds, like many employers, is suffering through a worker shortage. Human Resources Director, Jessica Neill Hoyson told the Public Safety and Personnel Committee that finding qualified employees is “challenging.” Edmonds currently has 14 job openings posted, half of those in the wastewater treatment plant.

The city is still searching for five treatment plant operators. One new hire is in training, and the department may resort to some ‘temp hires’ to keep the plant running, said Hoyson. Councilmember Laura Johnson wanted to know if those temporary employees could become permanent. Hoyson’s response: “They may not have the full skill set we need but could be directed to handle some smaller assignments.”

City of Edmonds Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The city is completing a $26 million overhaul at the plant. Edmonds is in contract negotiations with the union representing the facility’s staff. There’s been friction in those talks; Hoyson told the committee that we are trying to “iron out some of the issues that will make us more competitive” and address the recruiting challenges. She did not specify those items.

Edmonds is getting closer to hiring two new department heads. Mayor Mike Nelson has now interviewed three finalists to become economic development and community services director; next stop – interviews with the city council. The public works director slot is also still open – there are five finalists for that position.

 Finance Committee

Clockwise from upper left: Council President Vivian Olson, Councilmember Will Chen, Councilmember Diane Buckshnis and Finance Director Dave Turley.

 A discussion about changing the city’s annual budget process to a biennial budget sparked sharp exchanges in the Finance Committee. Finance Director Dave Turley told committee members Diane Buckshnis and Will Chen, and Council President Vivian Olson, that a two-year budget would free hundreds of hours of work that staffers now put in wrestling with a budget every year.

He cited neighboring cities – Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline among them – that already run on a two-year budget– “every single one of them said they would never go back to an annual budget,’ insisted Turley.

That didn’t fly with Buckshnis, who argued that “when we go into biennial budgeting, council loses oversight and we have too many items in the fire right now with our capital projects” to do that. Wait two years, until inflation slows and uncertainty in the stock market eases, she said.

Chen also said that a biennial budget was a no-go for him. “I think Edmonds residents are very, very tuned in on every issue; going biennial kind of puts that in the background; citizens will have less exposure to our finances,” he said.

 Council President Olson suggested that Turley and his staff could take the next two years to put things in place going toward a biennial budget. It will not happen this year. Under state law, Edmonds would have to change its budget process before June 30. Olson warned there are too many other big issues to take the budget idea to the full council this year.

An $8,000 residential water bill triggered the next topic. Last year, one Edmonds family didn’t realize they had a leak until they got their bill. Edmonds sells water to 14,000 homes and businesses; most monthly residential bills run $75-$100. If the customer can show that they took reasonable steps to fix the problem, the city has a policy of taking $1,000 off huge, accidental bills. Turley asked Finance Committee members if that policy should remain, or should the city do more — or less — to help? Councilmembers want to make sure help is still available, but Will Chen also wondered if Edmonds could install a “smart system” to quickly monitor any leaks. Turley said he will review the policy and bring it up next month.

After a state audit criticized how Edmonds used some of its 2020 pandemic relief funds, Finance Committee members wanted to know if Edmonds would have to repay any funds. Turley said no — that the audit only reported that Edmonds appeared to violate its own rules about accounting for the funds; there was no state or federal violation. Edmonds is reviewing the grants given to 74 business, worth $574,000. Many of them, said Turley, had been unable to provide accurate reporting of financial losses during the first two months of the pandemic; but he added, they certainly qualified for financial support during the rest of 2020.

 Parks and Public Works Committee

Perrinville Creek flooding. (2020 City of Edmonds photo)

The Parks and Public Works Committee is debating how to proceed on plans to control flooding on Perrinville Creek between Talbot Road and Puget Sound. Heavy rains and sediment washed out the stream several times in December 2020 and January 2021. A city diversion dam failed, pushing water over Talbot Road and flooding three properties.

Crews work to address flooding in 2020. (City of Edmonds photo)

Parks and Public Works committee members heard consultants from Environmental Science Associates of Seattle (ESA) on a design proposal contract to plot a new stream bed route, with much larger culvert openings. This would be interim work while they finish a final plan. They proposed three new stream configurations to allow the creek to handle the water and not affect spawning salmon. Edmonds must sign a contract with ESA by June, so the work can begin this summer. But, again, Council President Olson warned that the next two regular meetings have very full agendas ,and she wasn’t optimistic about getting it before the full council. “It is a priority, I don’t think anyone is questioning that,” she commented. The committee asked the consultants for a new presentation to give a bigger overall picture of the full project.

— By Bob Throndsen

7 Replies to “Council committees address Perrinville Creek flooding, hiring and biennial budgeting”

  1. I I acknowledge CW Olsons comments, however from a residents viewpoint this resolution appears to have been way in the background ever since it happened. I would hope the Council does not allow the resolution to linger into the next flooding.

    Ignored

  2. Two-year budgeting is a must. It will pave the way for Budgeting By Priorities to more fully engage the public and lessen the role of various interest/stakeholder groups. Much of the work that depts do every year can be done for 2 years without impacting the desire of council to review major budget issues as many times as they wish. That process is always available.

    The fact remains that we will always have a wish list that exceeds our revenues. Without a planned way to engage ALL the taxpayers through the BBP concepts we will not achieve community consensus on revenue and expenses.

    Taxpayers should spend a few minutes and go to the City of Redmond’s web site. I just a few clicks on “budget” type links you will see a much improved budgeting process. Our finance dept should be praised for their desire and plan to make our budgeting process less expensive and more useful to not only council but to the public.

    After just 5-10 minutes on the Redmond site, report back to us what you have learned. Two year budgeting can start now and still preserve all the points council has suggested are needed. Let’s get it done.

    Ignored

  3. Darrol, typically I agree with your view of all things Edmonds. However, in this case I’ll need to side with councilmembers Olson, Buckshnis, and Chen. The city isn’t ready to go to biennial budgeting, particularly after last year’s fiasco. We need to stabilize our process BEFORE we entertain two-year budgeting cycles. For instance, we need to establish the CIP/CFP before we determine the budget. We should have a clear process of when and who can distribute reserve funds to cover revenue shortfalls (last year’s budget reached into our reserves to balance it). How will inflationary pressures affect city expenditures? And if the State audit of how we may have inappropriately distributed CARES funds is upheld, how are we going to cover the liability? Now is not the time to be thinking about going to a two-year cycle.

    To your point about Budgeting by Priorities – wholeheartedly agree!!! But again, this should be enacted and demonstrated BEFORE we discuss going to the two-year budget process. Let’s learn to walk before we run.

    I too would encourage everyone to look at the City of Redmond’s web site. Well done with great visibility on how they are spending taxpayer money for the betterment of their city. I would suggest that this view is not necessarily a view of their budgeting process, but rather an artifact of the results of whatever underlying process they use. Regardless, we should strive to be as transparent as they are.

    Ignored

    1. Jim, all the things you mention have merit. Much of the city budget is “last year plus a percent” Much of it is people costs. Those can be budgeted for 2 years with little or no impact on the items you mentioned. What I understand from the from the training sessions council has had at their retreats is that we need to go to a 2 year budget and it should be done in a none election years. If true then if we miss this cycle we will have to wait 2 years before beginning any form of BBP. Not positive about that but that is my recollection. Last years process was strange and council revisited several issues later. Any budget process can have methods for reviewing projects. We do that today when we have cost overruns or other unforseen issues. My hope is we do what is required to get to Budgeting by Priorities as soon as possible. If we were on BBP last year that would have taken all the drama out of the budgeting. Citizen engagement is key to a good process. As you point out with your look at Redman, a much more open process. We could use that and reduce the drama. We have some good art places for drama and council could use and even enjoy more disaplinned public input like that which is shown in Redmond.

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  4. I find it interesting that the Public Safety and Personnel Committee didn’t have any public safety related issues on their agenda to talk about. I guess Edmonds is safe and sound. Although if one were to judge us by reading the Edmonds Police Blotter, it may suggest otherwise. Are we in denial?

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    1. I think that will be settled this next council meeting. Maybe why it wasn’t brought up at the last meeting. And yes many here are in denial at what can and will happen to this city. Particularly the Bowl. Many are angry here that there is no money for these things the entire city needs. I might say that really maybe its not denial but naivete. You live so with no problems, I am talking generations and plenty of money and no need to see or care really about the rest and this is part of the outcome. I will add we do not need a bi-annual budget. WE need transparency and until we are sure we always know as tax paying citizens what is going on a bi-annual is ridiculous.
      What kills me is talking about water bills. Not the leaking etc. I get that. But our Edmonds combined utility bill I get and have for years is actually 60 $ max its the sewer and all the other charges that make it for me about 360.$ And I have no leaks and brand new copper plumbing under my entire home. Don’t know but I called years ago and they said no its the sewer ete etc not the water that is the main cost. So that is my take on it.

      Ignored

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