City council hears Tuesday from those advocating budget priorities

Members of the Edmonds-Woodway High School Eco Warriors club make their case for a Climate Action Manager, which has been proposed as part of the 2024 budget.

City budget priorities were a main focus at Tuesday night’s Edmonds City Council meeting, as councilmembers heard from commenters on a range of topics they believed deserved council consideration — from ADA accessibility to climate change — and also received additional staff presentations on budget requests for 2024.

In a related matter, the council unanimously approved a 4% cost-of-living adjustment for the city’s non-union employees. This amount was slightly less than the 4.6% that had been initially recommended as part of the 2024 budget, Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson noted.

Councilmembers met an hour earlier than usual Tuesday — with a 6 p.m. special meeting focused on the city’s utility rate study and recommended rate increase, plus a presentation on design work needed for repairs at both the Yost Park and Seaview reservoirs. That was followed by a 7 p.m. business meeting that included the first of four public hearings on the proposed budget, along with departmental presentations on their 2023 accomplishments and budget requests for 2024.

The proposed rate increase for water, sewer and wastewater in 2024-26 was first discussed during the council’s parks and public works committee meeting in September. While no action was taken Tuesday night, the recommendation calls for a 9% per year increase in water rates, an 8.5% hike in stormwater rates and a 10-10.5% increase in sewer rates. Under the proposal, the average residential bimonthly bill would climb from $261.49 in 2023 to $286.33 in 2024.

Minor cracking in a wall in the Seaview reservoir. (Photo courtesy City of Edmonds)

The council approved a contract amendment of $422,634 for design work related to repairs for the Yost and Seaview reservoirs — for a total of $675,575 in design costs. Both reservoirs have structural and non-structural deficiencies — ranging from roof loads that are not up to code to corroding hardware. Repair work is expected to begin in 2025.

Related to budget priorities, councilmembers heard from two groups of advocates during Tuesday’s meeting. First, six members of the Edmonds-Woodway High School Eco Club presented the council with a petition with 260 signatures supporting the addition of a Climate Action Plan manager — stating such a position will help protect their future. Mayor Mike Nelson has proposed allocating $149,623 for the position, with the goal of making progress on the city’s 2023 Climate Action Plan goals.

Second, four people spoke — both in person and remotely — requesting that the city do a better job of accommodating the needs of those with disabilities, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Edmonds resident Dean Olson — a 30-year advocate for disability accommodations and diversity — asked the council “to create an aggressive, multi-year ADA budget,” stating the issue has been ignored for too long.

Civil rights attorney Conrad Reynoldson noted that the U.S. Department of Transportation has funds for ADA sidewalk improvements that the city can apply for. “Accessibility is not a luxury, it is a fundamental right,” he said. “It is both a legal and moral imperative that we maintain the integrity of the ADA and ensure that Edmonds remains a safe and inclusive space for all residents.”

Some public commenters expressed their worries about the status of the budget, stating the need for close analysis and possible belt tightening. The city is projecting an ending fund balance of $6.64 million this year, significantly lower than in past years. That means that the council during its budget discussions will be considering proposals for increasing revenue. Among them: Using federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars or tapping in to the city’s “banked capacity” from five years’ worth of property tax increases. These are tax increases the city chose not to assess at the time, but were “banked” and therefore available for future use.

Resident Darrol Haug suggested the council hold public meetings on the use of the city’s remaining ARPA funds, so that citizens could weigh in with their ideas. He also said he was hopeful that the council will have a more robust discussion of budget issues during a workshop scheduled from 2-5 p.m. Thursday in the third floor Brackett Room of Edmonds City Hall.  Learn more here.

Resident Joe Scordino said the city is in “a budget crisis” and it’s time to take new approaches to addressing it. Pointing to the use of community volunteers to help restore the Edmonds Marsh, he said city should be “thinking outside the box” when it comes to spending, and should also be considering cuts to travel and a hiring freeze.

In other business Tuesday night, the council:

— Held a closed-record review of a rezone proposal for 9530 and 9620 Edmonds Way, which would change the zoning of the property from Multiple Residential Edmonds Way (RM-EW) to Community Business Edmonds Way (BC-EW). The council voted unanimously to direct staff to prepare an ordinance that would approve the rezone, and bring it back to a future meeting for consideration. No project has yet been proposed for the property. The staff report noted that the rezone of the site, “which has adequate public services and facilities, will encourage development on this undeveloped site with a density appropriate to its location, as well as creating more opportunity for diverse housing types.”

— Approved a motion by Councilmember Vivian Olson to send to the Edmonds Planning Board for review a proposed property purchase that would expand the footprint of Mathay Ballinger Park in southeast Edmonds.

Due to the lateness of the hour, consideration of the last agenda item — the proposed 2024-2029 Capital Facilities Plan and Capital Improvement Program — was postponed to a future meeting.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

 

 

 

  1. Kudos to the members of the Edmonds-Woodway High School Eco Club for collecting and presenting the council with a petition with 260 signatures supporting the addition of a Climate Action Plan manager!

  2. I really appreciate hearing from students. They will be inheriting our planet and our mistakes. I ask the City Council to support their requests.

  3. For those who want to add a climate action manager for the city I ask what are you willing to give in a tight budget year. Department cuts, more taxes, less money for policing, cuts on other environmental concerns like streams. The adults in the room always understand there’s no free lunch. So what are you willing to give up? This is a great opportunity to educate these fine young students about the real world.

  4. Very true Brian. Our Mayor and some of our Council Persons answer to the problem of the inflationary cost of labor skyrocketing is to hire more expensive labor to solve that problems. If you watched the meeting last night, you would know that the current Mayor Administration’s plan to finance much of next year is to use ARPA money to pay for our fire service and raise taxes and utility rates as much as possible. One really intelligent comment came from the Public Works Director stating that his department is already trying to do climate wise things and does not need a Climate Manager to tell them to do it. He inherited the waste plant debacle and is doing his best to solve it. He and Chief Bennett are the bright spots of our current city government in my opinion. In a nutshell our short term financial plan is to use ARPA funds to cover the general fund shortfall and depend on lots of juicy grants to fund our long term needs along with borrowing money, of course. This isn’t a budget plan; it’s a wing and a prayer.

  5. I wanted to support the ask for more attention to ADA. Also, what is up with the budget? When I left Council nearly eight years ago, I think we figured an appropriate minimum reserve of at least 6 million, plus a one month operating reserve of then about 3 million. Surely one or both of those numbers would have needed to increase over the last 8 years, unless the government finance folks have drastically changed their recommendations.

    1. Lora, you asked ‘what’s up with the budget’? The City had a net addition of 47 employees in the Jan-Sept 2023 period. In addition, revenues are under running the budget forecast. Do you get the picture?
      Personally, I am interested in what the Council’s discussion will be at their 3 hour meeting today (Oct 19th) about the budget. I think it is one of their most important public meetings so far this year.

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