Council OKs 2023 budget, honors retiring parks employee, gets an earful for directing staff

While there will be a meeting Tuesday, Dec. 20 to approve the final written ordinance, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday unanimously passed the city’s 2023 budget.

Before getting down to budget business and other city matters, the council honored longtime Edmonds Parks and Recreation employee Rich Lindsay, who is retiring after 51 years. Lindsay started as a parks seasonal worker in 1971, advancing to senior maintenance worker and then maintenance lead before being appointed parks manager in 2001.

In reading a proclamation honoring Lindsay, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson pointed to his “never-ending passionate support” of the city’s parks and recreation facilities, and his mentorship of youth for hundreds of volunteer projects. Lindsay was also instrumental in starting the Letters to Santa mailbox outside the Edmonds Log Cabin, and he and his wife answered letters for years.

In 2018, Lindsay was awarded the Washington Parks and Recreation Association Ron C. Davis II award, which recognizes unsung heroes.

After Nelson finished the proclamation, he presented Lindsay with a Lindsay Way sign.

Moving to its full agenda, the council approved — after a public hearing —  a 2023 utility rate increase that includes a 5% hike in sewer rates and a 4% increase in both water and stormwater rates. The monthly equivalent increase for a single-family home is $5.50. The vote to approve was 6-1, with Councilmember Diane Buckshnis voting against.

Prior to the final vote, Councilmember Dave Teitzel had moved to cut the rate increase by 50% to acknowledge the inflationary pressures residents are facing; however, other councilmember argued that lowering rates in 2023 would likely mean double-digit rate increases in following years. Teitzel’s motion failed 3-4, with Councilmembers Neil Tibbott, Vivian Olson, Susan Paine and Will Chen voting no.

Public Works and Utilities Director Oscar Antillon told the council recently that a utility rate study was scheduled for this year but the department was unable to complete it. A study will be done as soon as possible next year, he said. One of the main drivers is an increase in the cost of water the city purchases from the Alderwood Water District — projected at 11.25% next year. In addition, the city recently conducted a study of its Yost and Seaview reservoirs and determined that both of them will need seismic retrofit (at an estimated cost of $14 million) or replacement (estimated at $22 million).

In addition Tuesday night, the council approved a one-year contract with Lighthouse Law Group, which provides city attorney services for Edmonds. The Lighthouse contract was set to expire at the end of December and a council work group was established to research a one-year extension through 2023 while it looks at whether to renew a longer-term Lighthouse contract or seek out other options, including other law firms and the possibility of hiring an in-house attorney.

Lighthouse, which has provided city attorney services for Edmonds since 2011, has always billed the city at a flat monthly rate, regardless of the number of hours worked. Edmonds is the only city in Washington state that has flat-rate city attorney services; it’s traditional for firms to charge by the hour.

The council had originally favored staying with the flat rate for 2023, with costs estimated at $696,000 for 2023. However, there were worries about a “look back” element in the draft Lighthouse contract. If Edmonds chose to move away from Lighthouse, the “look back” would have allowed the firm to retroactively bill the city a maximum of eight months of hourly billing — resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra charges.

While the hourly rate will be more expensive than the flat-rate option, Councilmember Chen said it will force the city to be more disciplined in its use of legal services. Chen, who served on the council work group that looked into cost comparisons for the various options, pointed out that a flat-rate contract with Lighthouse with retroactive billing would cost the city $921,342 in 2023. But if Edmonds can reduce by 15% the total city attorney hours compared to what’s been used over the past four years, the 2023 contract would be $835,435.

Paine, who also served on the work group, said that operating under an hourly rate would allow the council to better make an apples-to-apples comparison with other potential law firms that charge hourly.

Tibbott moved to approve the flat rate, but that failed on a 3-4 vote. Olson proposed the hourly option, and that passed 5-2, with Tibbott and Councilmember Jenna Nand voting no.

Then it came time to consider the final set of amendments to the city budget, a process that has been facilitated for the past several council meetings by Administrative Services Director Dave Turley. Before getting to work on that, Turley delivered a sharp rebuke of the council’s 5-1 vote last Saturday, which directed staff to post the draft 2023 budget, with council-approved amendments reflected, by Dec. 12, so that residents could get a sense of where the budget stands.

Following that vote, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson took a five-minute recess to speak with City Attorney Jeff Taraday, then returned to the dais and said that he would take the council’s request “under advisement.”

Turley began his remarks Tuesday night by stating that his comments were his own and not coming from the mayor or city attorney, Turley said the council’s request “not appropriate,” adding that the handbook that councilmembers should have received as part of their training “will say that your job is to legislate and create policy. You determine the number of employees that can be hired and their job descriptions, you establish salary and benefit levels, you approve contracts but you do not in any way direct the work of employees, including what you directed me to do from the dais on Saturday. Directing the work of staff is the responsibility of the mayor; it is not your job,” Turley continued. “It is not appropriate and it is highly unprofessional.”

Turley said that “it’s perfectly appropriate” for councilmembers to request information from him, and he has been working days, evenings and weekends to ensure budget-related questions are answered. “Despite this, you apparently felt it was necessary to essentially shame me from the dais by directing me to provide information and you gave me a deadline to do it.”

“I believe a public apology is in order for the way in which you went about it,” Turley added.

At the end of the meeting, Olson said she wanted to acknowledge she heard Turley’s message, adding that “if upon reflection and research I do assess that a public apology is warranted, there will be one.” Teitzel said he felt badly that Turley was offended “and I will apologize for the feelings…that he expressed tonight.”

In terms of budget amendments considered Tuesday night, Councilmembers Chen and Tibbott had proposed removing a human resources manager position — at a cost of $197,000 — from the budget. But after hearing how understaffed the department is with just three employees — one of them part-time — the proposal was withdrawn.

The council also revisited two previous 2023 budget amendment votes and made changes. The first was a decision to designate that the $450,425 allocated for new parks maintenance expenses for the Highway 99 revitalization project and Civic Park come out of the general fund and not ARPA dollars. Councilmember Buckshnis moved to revert to the staff recommendation to use ARPA money for those expenses and that was approved. The second was a proposal from Council President Olson to reduce the $75,000 allocated for an Aquifer Recharge Area Code, as requested by the Olympic View Water and Sewer District, by $67,500. Olson had said the idea was to model the Edmonds code on a similar Snohomish County code, which could save the city money. While her initial request failed on a 2-4 vote, she asked for a revote on a revised amount — a $50,000 reduction. That passed by 5-2 vote with Paine and Chen voting no.

Related to the budget process, the council also had a lengthy discussion and passed some amendments regarding various capital projects listed as part of the city’s Capital Facilities Plan (CFP) and Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for 2023-26. Among them:

– Allocating $400,000 in 2024 (in addition to the $100,000 allocated for 2023) to address erosion issues related to the Shell Creek watershed.

– Delaying until 2026 the start date of the elevated walkway in front of the Ebb Tide condominiums.

– Inserting a “to be determined” placeholder for costs associated with the Edmonds Marsh/Estuary restoration and Willow Creek daylighting.

– Allocating $50,000 to study options for emergency access for the Edmonds waterfront.

– Adding for 2025 consideration of lighting for phase two of the sports fields on the Edmonds School District’s Woodway campus. (Phase one was completed as a joint project with the city.)

The council then approved the CFP/CIP as amended.

Finally, the council was briefed on two requests that were presented during council committee meetings Monday. The first was the approval of a sole-source contract — bypassing the three bids usually required — for a public works truck that can provide snow removal in small neighborhoods with steep hills. The truck can also be used year-round for other purposes.  The $165,000 purchase will be funded through the city’s ARPA funds. The second was related to the city’s contract with landscape architect Walker Macy for the Civic Park project. There is some additional work required, at a cost of just over $100,000, that is covered under the project’s management reserve. However, the budget increase requires council approval and it was granted. The council also approved the extension of Walker Macy’s contract from December 2022 to June 2023. although Parks Director Angie Feser said the work was expected to be completed by spring.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

 

 

  1. Congratulations to Rich Lindsay!

    We met in 2005 when we attempted to convince Parks Director Brian to allow volunteers to just cut the grass as the group O.L.A.E. (Off-Leash Area Edmonds) had organized as non-profit with a mission of stewarding the beach, assist in maintenance work, educating users, and creating a dog-friendly community.

    The request to “please allow us to cut the grass” (the water could not be seen from entry gate due to tall grass and scotch broom trees) was not accepted by Brian as City had no formal volunteer policy, yet.

    But Rich believed in the strength of volunteers and community and said “let’s give these volunteers a chance”. So began the 18 year relationship with Rich. He has spent thousands of hours devoted to our community group and we removed tons of debris over those early years with no cost to the City. Rich help mentor and manage eight Boy Scout Projects to enhance the Beach. He was always available for our projects like our Halloween Howls, getting water to the beach, pouring cement pads for garbage receptacles, installing the two donated fire hydrants, and more.

    BRAVO! The Dog Community (woof) wants to thank-you Rich!

  2. Mr. Teitzel, thank you for the motion of 50% reduction in proposed utility tax increase and trying something. Ms. Buckshnis and Ms. Nand thank you for supporting it. Even though your remaining colleagues voted it down, your intent to help those less fortunate is noticed and appreciated.

    1. I absolutely agree! Apparently, these CM’s do not understand that not everyone in Edmonds is a Millionaire. Or maybe they just don’t care?

    2. I would also add that this council is on the front line everyday. Most answer email, respond to questions, talk, and are engaged with the community. Sometimes, as a result, conflict happens. Ms. Olson and Mr. Teitzel have responded. I appreciate the passion this council has for the community and willingness to respond and listen. Sadly, cannot say the same regarding communication with the executive branch.

      I am glad the council is here right now. Happy Holidays.

      1. The Council as our representatives have no way to assure any sort of compliance from the executive branch to perform their function of implementing the policy that the Council creates. That is the fatal flaw in our system of city government I think. Public outcry ends up being the only way to hold the Executive branch feet to the fire to get the job done for the greater good. Our Councils often end up having to just rubber stamp whatever the Executive branch says is needed or wanted. Our Council people are generally well motivated and dedicated people trying to do a sort of impossible job I think.

  3. I want to thank Rich for all his help spraying trees in front of our condo at 6th and Bell. Always helpful to his Edmonds public, a very graceful person. He understood that his job was to fix things (trees in our specifics) for the Community of Edmonds that were decisions made by others, but the fix fell to him.

    Congratulations Rich Lindsay you are leaving big shoes to fill

  4. CM Nand is owed an apology for commenters here questioning her reasons for her absence on Saturday. Totally uncalled for.
    The utility rates were raised because “it might be sticker shock next time”. Or it might not but until there is a study we all get to pay both the increased rates as well as higher dollars due to the taxes which the City says are at 17%. (All other utility taxes are capped by the State at 6%). At some point it just isn’t sustainable. Guess we will await that while those whose budgets are stretched will have to humble themselves before the City, produce financial information to the City and maybe qualify for some relief. Affordable housing? You betcha. Not mention was the astronomical cost over runs for the new treatment plant, as well as why reservoir repair/ replacement hasn’t been included in the budget until now. But what would I know.
    May Rich have a wonderful retirement. He has certainly earned it.

    1. Not sure what the beef is regarding the questioning of a councilmembers absence from an important budget meeting. State law addresses this issue.
      RCW 35A.12.060
      Vacancy for nonattendance.
      “In addition a council position shall become vacant if the councilmember fails to attend three consecutive regular meetings of the council without being excused by the council.”

      Hence, it seems to me to be a legitimate inquiry to see if a councilmembers absence is excused or not. Apparently in this case it was.

  5. Mr. Turley is correct in stating the Mayor, not the Council, directs the work of staff of the City. It is a boundary that makes the election of a good Mayor so vital to success of a City. Nonetheless, I am not sure the Council owes anyone an apology. It should have been proposed as a request to post the draft budget for public review, not a directive. It is a good idea for transparency and should have been done at the Mayor’s directive in response to a Council request. Everyone should take a chill pill and move on. There is much more serious business for both Council, Mayor and staff to focus on other than hurt feelings.

    1. I understand the points made on both sides, and I can see the need for a boundary. That said, it seems the Council could create a policy that declares the city shall, within 48 hours of the council’s voting on amendments, post the proposed budget and all such amendments for public comment and review. I don’t know that the mayor and staff would be any happier with that, as it would put them in a crunch every year, but it would be the council staying in their “legislate and create policy” lane as stated.

    1. I have to question that as well Mike. That definitely is excessive! I would think half of that amount would more in line with the position.

    2. The article states currently 2 full time and 1 part time and now $197k for a new manager, that raised an eyebrow over here as well, so is that a 25% + increase in the Human Resources budget? Presenting or debating the “ask” in terms of how much is currently being spent might be helpful for us playing along at home. Maybe that happened I did not see the meeting.

  6. Since we have so many employees getting their delicate feelings hurt, maybe we need to hire an on staff personal counselor to help them deal with all this awful unfair pressure. Here’s a guy making over 150K a year plus great benefits who demands an apology from people doing a generally thankless full time job (hour wise) for about 1/4 time pay. How about just give us all a break and man up a little here?

    1. As an aside to this snarky comment, I think it’s fair to say that both CMs and Directors can use more precise dialogues that give results that are better than this.

      1. Ultimately, aside from a temper tantrum, I don’t think you can blame the “hired help” (Directors). Edmonds Mayor, who has questionable leadership capacities, should encourage better dialogue between CM’s and the administration.

      2. Granted my comment was a little snarky and it was meant to be so. I’m really tired of people on big public salaries (that most of us lowly tax payers could only dream about) portraying themselves as victims over what amounts to nothing. The “tantrum” comment sums it up perfectly in my view.

  7. – Regarding Council’s allocating $50,000 to study options for emergency access for the Edmonds waterfront as reported within this article in MEN, it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that any ‘new’ study for potential emergency RR crossings will come up with anything more than the last study, [in which this writer participated], AND was incredibly thorough, AND detailed, AND expensive, AND thoroughly reported to Council as well as the public. We all remember where THAT ended up — along with all the other ‘studies’ undertaken via Council budgetary process.

    1. Thanks for the comment, my thought exactly, what will we learn from another $50k study regarding emergency access and you answered the question with first hand knowledge. Sometimes I feel like the allocation of funds for studies allows folks to feel like they are doing something to move forward on action items when in reality nothing will be gained, only dollars spent, but the study allows folks to say “we are working on that”.

  8. There must be something in the water on the dais. Regardless of who is up there, they seem to adopt a free spending attitude with our money. What’s more troubling is that there is no accountability on how the money is spent or if desired results are being achieved. By all accounts, the results from this year’s budget cycle may be worse than last year (if that’s possible). I don’t believe the community fully understands what the Council approved and the degree that our financial reserves have been depleted as a result. Our budgetary process is broken. It’s time to have a citizen’s budget commission comprised of individuals with financial and budgeting experience to help guide the administration and Council for future budgets. In these uncertain financial times, we’re headed in the wrong direction.

  9. Our whole city government process is broken and it can’t be fixed by elections alone; just patched up for another two years, every couple years. Look at these Council meetings. After amending the amendments three times nobody knows what they are even voting on half the time. We vote in things like one lane Connectors onto a marine sanctuary or tree laws that do nothing but get a bunch of trees killed off. On the Connector issue we vote in more funds to study something that has been studied to death already. We largely ignore smart citizens who understand budgeting and good environmental practice and give good input to our planning board to push the latest hot political theory of the day that’s just sure to solve everyone’s problems, save the homeless, and solve climate. We flub up a simple hunt for a police chief and manage to get ourselves sued over it. We hire a city attorney repeatedly just because he’s cheap and available. This is all bad folks and it will not get much better without some system established to actually hold people accountable for the jobs they are supposed to do for us.

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