City budget, tree code take center stage during Tuesday Edmonds council meeting

Whether reducing expenses, increasing revenues or finalizing 2024 priorities, the City of Edmonds budget was a thread running through Tuesday night’s Edmonds City Council meeting.

The longest discussion of the evening focused on a set of 28 budget amendments proposed by Administrative Services Director Dave Turley. Some of those items were simple bookkeeping tasks but there were two requests for new staffing that got councilmembers’ attention. The first was a proposal from the community development and economic development department to hire a grant specialist. The new employee would focus on bringing money in to the city, specifically from the federal Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. While the costs for the position were still to be fully determined, the estimated annual salary was $142,450.

Administrative Services Director Dave Turley

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis made a motion to remove that request from the budget amendment package, calling it “budget creep.” Both Buckshnis and Councilmember Vivian Olson made the case that adding staff should be part of the annual budget process, which starts this fall. The council voted 6-1 to approve Buckshnis’ motion. Councilmember Susan Paine — who stated she believed the grants writer would be helpful in finding funding for a range of important projects — voted against the measure.

The second request for new staff was made by Public Works and Utilities Director Oscar Antillon, who asked for an additional mechanic to help service the city’s growing fleet of vehicles. Using the same argument as before about wanting the proposal to go through the city’s regular budget process, Olson moved to remove the position. However, other councilmembers spoke against the measure because they believed there was a pressing need. In the end, the final vote was 2-5, with Olson and Councilmember Dave Teitzel in favor.

Another councilmember who spoke about budget issues was Will Chen, who sits on the council finance committee. Chen expressed concern about the pace of the city’s spending and stressed the importance of maintaining adequate reserves.

There were some significant expenditures on the list of approved July budget amendments, including $1.5 million for the city’s contract with South County Fire. That amount is still an estimate because Edmonds hasn’t yet received a final bill from the agency for its 2023 contracted emergency medical and fire services, Turley said. And there was $2 million requested to cover sludge hauling from the city’s treatment plant. (Half of that will be covered by the city’s partners, which also send wastewater into the Edmonds system.) The city dismantled its aging sludge incinerator and installed a new gasification system, but it has not yet come online. Meanwhile, the city is hauling sludge out of state at an approximate cost of $6,000 per day, seven days per week.

Also related to the budget, the council reviewed its list of 2024 budget priorities — developed after an extensive community engagement process — and approved them after making several amendments.

Urban Forest Planner Deb Powers, right, makes her presentation to the Edmonds City Council. At left is Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin.

In other action Tuesday night, the council received an update on the process for amending the city’s tree code, with Urban Forest Planner Deb Powers and Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin presenting. Powers noted that staff and consultants have been working for months on community outreach, holding a series of meetings, surveys and stakeholder interviews — along with receiving feedback from the Edmonds Planning Board and Tree Board.

With the goal of protecting the city’s tree canopy, the council in 2021 adopted a tree code directed at developers and new construction. The next step is to consider limiting tree removal on private property and to make minor changes to the existing code.

The current effort “is specifically focused on the regulatory framework, not the public education, the programs and the incentives that are in (Edmonds) Urban Forest Management Plan,” Powers said.

The final report on the public engagement work is available on the city’s tree code project update webpage, and Powers said there was “generally there was a very wide variety of opinions.”

Staff has not developed any draft code at this point, she said, but the focus so far by both the planning and tree boards has been to simplify regulations when possible. For example, the current tree code for developers includes “multiple layers of requirements,” including three for retention and five for replanting, Powers said.

As for private property owner tree removals, the tree board “is undecided” on next steps, with the plan to reach consensus at its August meeting.

Noting that tree ownership on private property is “an emotional issue,” Councilmember Olson said she hopes that staff will consider “an approach that 80% of the people can get behind instead of an approach where we have 50% totally mad and against what we are doing.” Citing the importance of incentives to encourage compliance with any regulations passed, Olson added “we’re just setting ourselves up for failure with a very stick-oriented approach.”

Councilmember Jenna Nand pointed to the success of a tree voucher program in neighborhoring Lynnwood, which encourages people to plant trees, and said she hopes that’s something Edmonds can emulate.

The planning board is scheduled to hold work sessions to review draft tree code language at its Aug. 23 and Sept. 13 meetings, with the public hearing occurring as soon as Oct. 11.

In other business, the council discussed a package of minor code amendments that were originally listed on the consent agenda for approval but were pulled over to the regular agenda for discussion. After numerous questions were raised about language changes in some of the amendments, the council voted 6-1 (Paine opposed) to send the document back to staff to address council concerns.

The council was originally scheduled to discuss a resolution to officially communicate its interest in exploring annexation into South County Fire’s regional fire authority. But that agenda item was removed and will be considered at a later date.

The council’s next business meeting will be Wednesday, Aug. 2 — a day later than usual because Aug. 1 is primary election day.

— By Teresa Wippel









  1. I watched the meeting until about 9:00pm. which is the usual bedtime here at “the home.” A couple Kudos based on what I saw and what I’ve heard already thru the grapevine:

    1. Diane Buckshnis for pointing out rather well that a third Mechanic to maintain our increasing vehicle fleet was badly needed and not a waste of our tax payer money at a critical time for budget awareness. She could have cried “waste of money” to make campaign points but, instead, led the charge to spend some money on a demonstrable NEED. That’s leadership and walking the talk.

    2. Neil Tibbott doing the right thing with a public apology regarding collaboration with colleagues and being the stand up guy, I know he is. It takes a real man and a leader to do that.

  2. “Chen expressed concern about the pace of the city’s spending and stressed the importance of maintaining adequate reserves.” Me too Will, for a long time now.

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