With an eye on budget woes, Edmonds City Council OKs property tax increase, agrees to mayor-proposed task force

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis (Photos by Nick Ng)

Meeting until 11:30 p.m., the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night took several steps aimed at addressing the city’s challenging budget situation, including unanimous approval — following a public hearing — of a 1% increase in the city’s property tax, plus agreeing to use 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.

The council’s action will increase the average homeowner’s property taxes by $35.49 annually. The council also unanimously approved a 1% increase in the emergency medical services (EMS) property tax levy — which will cost an average residence $2.40 annually. The EMS revenues may be used only to provide emergency medical care or emergency medical services, including related personnel costs, training, equipment, supplies, vehicles and structures.

The property tax increase was accompanied by promises from councilmembers to ensure the city helps those who need tax assistance, including seniors, those on limited incomes and residents with disabilities. You can learn more about property tax deferrals and exemptions on this Snohomish County Assessors webpage.

In addition, several councilmembers said that approving the property tax increase is just one step toward addressing the city’s budget woes, and pledged to take a close look at the 2024 budget to find cost savings.

Edmonds faces an ending fund balance of $6.64 million this year, requiring the city to dip into its reserves. The council held a special budget workshop last week to discuss possible solutions, including Mayor Mike Nelson’s proposal to transfer to the general fund budget $6.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and $2 million from the building maintenance fund. The mayor has also proposed installing red-light cameras at six of the city’s most traffic crash-prone intersections, which he said will address traffic safety but is also projected to generate millions of dollars in revenue from violators.

In addition, the budget workshop included a conversation about whether the council should declare a “fiscal emergency,” as outlined in the city’s Fund Balance Reserve Policy approved by the council in 2019. Just prior to the workshop, the mayor sent a statement to the media blasting the council for considering such an idea, calling it a “scare tactic and political stunt.” His remarks angered some councilmembers, who said that collaboration — not conflict — was key to solving the city’s budget woes.

The idea of a fiscal emergency came up again at Tuesday night’s council meeting, with councilmembers considering two separate resolutions aimed at allowing the city to use general fund operating reserves for 2023 general fund expenses. The main differences between the two proposals: The first resolution, proposed by Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, included references to the city declaring, recognizing and approving a fiscal emergency.  The second resolution, prepared by City Attorney Jeff Taraday, eliminated the term fiscal emergency altogether and instead referred to a “structural budget deficit.”

Councilmember Dave Teitzel

The council had a lengthy debate over which resolution to use. There was also a revelation that prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson had proposed forming a task force of city councilmembers and staff to examine options — other than his draft 2024 budget — to address the revenue shortfall. Councilmember Dave Teitzel then made an amendment to Buckshnis’ resolution to create by Oct. 31 a budget task force, comprised of three councilmembers and selected members of the city administration, “to identify solutions to the structural budget deficit (the gap) in the proposed 2024 budget.” These solutions, the amendment stated, “should not include as an option use of all remaining ARPA funds to close the budget gap” — a concept that some councilmembers have opposed.

Teitzel’s amendment was approved, but a vote on Buckshnis’ amended resolution failed to pass following a 3-3 tie vote, with Councilmember Jenna Nand abstaining.

That led Buckshnis to propose amendments that removed all references to the term “fiscal emergency” from her resolution. Following the last-minute wordsmithing, councilmembers agreed by a 5-2 vote to place the amended measure on a future council consent agenda, giving them time to read the final version prior to approving it.

At the end of the discussion, Council President Neil Tibbott called the mayor’s offer to form a task force “a generous and collaborative effort.” Councilmember Chen added that the task force is a good next step. “Our true intent is to solve problems,” Chen said.

The council also held a public hearing about city revenue sources. Prior to opening it up for public comment, Administrative Services Director Dave Turley explained the city’s revenue situation, noting that 25% of city’s revenues come from property taxes but those have remained “extremely flat.” In the past, the city has been able to rely on sales and use taxes — which make up about 21% of city’s budget — but those have also been anemic in recent months. In addition, real estate excise taxes are lower than in past years.

During the hearing, Edmonds resident Darrol Haug — who also sits on the Edmonds Economic Development Commission — shared that Shoreline has a citizen-based effort to create long-term revenue forcasting. Haug noted that not all sales tax revenue is created equal, adding that the sales tax from one mid-size car equals 8,000 Dick’s hamburgers.

Councilmember Jenna Nand

Councilmembers’ discussion about city revenue sources led to a long debate about the mayor’s proposal to install red-light cameras at six intersections identified by Edmonds police as dangerous areas for pedestrians and vehicles. Councilmember Nand asked Turley how the city came up with its estimated revenue from the cameras and whether the city had anticipated how the possibility of thousands of violations monthly would impact Edmonds Municipal Court. Turley explained that the city is starting with five school-zone cameras in January, with warnings issued that month and tickets given in February. After that, the same vendor that installed the school-zone cameras would install the red-light cameras. Revenue projections are based on the $130 fee that Lynnwood assesses violators and assume the red-light cameras would be online for half a year — with a $130-per-ticket fee based on data Lynnwood generates. Lynnwood generates $3.5 million in red-light camera revenue annually.

Nand reiterated her belief that many drivers dislike red-light cameras so much, they will avoid driving through Edmonds as a result

In other business, Nelson proclaimed October as National Arts and Humanities Month, which was followed by a report on the Edmonds Creative District.

It’s been five years since the city was certified as the state’s Creative District, and Edmonds is now applying for recertification.

Arts and Culture Manager Frances Chapin told the council that the certification “clearly points out the economic impact of the creative sector.” There are now 13 certified creative districts statewide, and eight more pending.

The Edmonds Creative District has a 21-member advisory committee that includes a range of arts and cultural representatives in the city. They are working to define the Creative District’s goals for next five years, with core values and guiding concepts that include:

Collaborative – City departments and local businesses/nonprofits

Inclusive – Envisioned as a “hub and spoke” model, the CD is a central catalyst tied to other parts/neighborhoods of the city

Intentional visibility of arts and culture – The community intentionally incorporates creativity as a priority in programs and projects

Also on Tuesday night, there was a budget request from Community, Culture and Economic Development Department Director Todd Tatum, who made his case for $183,000 to fund a grant specialist. According to the proposal, the new position would focus on “preparing grants for multi-modal infrastructure and on preparing a cross-department grant-writing work plan to support the city’s most strategic initiatives.”

Councilmember Buckshnis said that given the city’s budget troubles, she would prefer hiring a consultant for grant-writing assistance rather than adding a new position. Councilmember Dave Teitzel added he’s unsure whether he will support the request and wants to ensure the person will brings in enough money to justify it. Councilmember Nand asked Tatum if it would be possible to reclassify the grant specialist position to one that is more entry level so it could be offered at a lower salary range. Alternatively, she suggested the position could be shared and co-funded with other cities to save money.

The council was considering a special meeting next Monday, Oct. 30 to further discuss the budget, but agreed to forgo that meeting now that a budget task force is being formed. There is no council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 31 as it’s the fifth Tuesday of the month.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Very interesting our city government eschews any responsibility to cure the budget deficit. Instead the solution is shouldered by we citizens and the Federal Government. I sense all politics and no fiscal management. New leadership, please?

  2. Meh. Raising taxes is a non-event anymore. Besides not knowing where my money is actually going, things keep getting more expensive. Kinda par for the course.

  3. So the city is going to hire another new person to help thousands of people apply for tax exemptions or deferrals? What is next more park employees to maintain their yards? Government is getting to big and has its fingers in to many things. We need limited government that manages our tax dollars not a government that is always trying to force new things that require bigger government to propose engineer and maintain at a ever growing tax burden to citizens.

    1. I did not watch the meeting but reading this article I don’t see anything about hiring a new person to help with the tax deferral/reduction process. I see a proposal for a grant writer. There are people in the accessors office who assist with the tax reduction process. As far as the grant writer? Edmonds should take this year off from hiring into any new positions. Stabilize outgoing expenses.

      1. Not sure Connie W but I do watch it every week and I think something was mentioned about the Edmonds Waterfront Center?? Doing taxes for some or a group. I have forgotten which group of people are able to utilize this service. Perhaps someone else knows the answer.

  4. With Mayor #DropTheMike Nelson’s spendaholic demeanor along with his frivolous spending, the freakin’ potholes are not getting filled!


    …Just sayin’

    1. The council amd City are only proposing a property tax imcrease of a little under $40 a year, and of course people are whining and complaining. That’s like two or three trips to Starbucks. It takes money to run the government… buck up and deal with it.

      1. The $40 applies to only about 10% of total property tax. The other 90% will very likely also have an increase.

        1. O.k. ..I need a bit of help understanding this..
          In the first paragraph, I did not understand the 5 years ” banked assessment” statement.
          Does that mean that the tax increases were stashed away in a bank…for 5 years…
          Or, does that mean that the past p. tax increased portion wasn’t actually added because of covid..etc.??For the last 5 years?
          My apologies for the ignorance, just trying to understand what exactly that means ..

        2. From Department of Revenue, if it helps:
          What is banked capacity?

          Beginning in 1986, the Legislature allowed local governments to levy less than the maximum increase in property taxes allowed under law without losing the ability to levy higher taxes later if necessary. This provision encouraged districts to levy only what they needed rather than the maximum allowable. Prior to that, districts that took less than the maximum, at that point 6 percent annually, permanently lost some of their levying capacity. Therefore, districts tended to use it or lose it. The banked capacity concept allowed districts to be more fiscally conservative without being penalized.

          The effect on the tax bill for an individual property depends on a number of factors, including the value of the property. The amount of tax paid to the district using the banked capacity may rise, but there could be corresponding reductions in the levies of other districts. This is because state law limits overall property tax rates applied to individual properties. The amount of property tax that you will pay depends on the value of your property in relationship to the total assessed value of property in the tax district.

          You can see more here: https://dor.wa.gov/forms-publications/publications-subject/tax-topics/banked-capacity-qa#:~:text=What%20is%20banked%20capacity%3F,higher%20taxes%20later%20if%20necessary.

      2. Im afraid I lack your Olympian view about the rest of us crawling around down here who don’t spend money at Starbucks, but do feel a bit raw about a city which has spent itself into the red, added 47 employees, and is considering a multi- million real estate venture, blithely raising taxes. You have perhaps missed that for some, it’s the principle of the thing, not the putative $40.

        1. Principals are great, but you still have to keep services running, salaries paid (including police, public works, parks dept., etc.). That takes money.

          And $40 a year at Starbucks is not “Olympian”, come on. My obvious point is that we’re talking about minor annual tax increases, and Starbucks is as good a comparison as any.

  5. Dipping into fiscal reserves is allowed (to a certain defined limit) but it should set off some significant warning bells. Do you continue to bail as a ship is taking on water or do you plug the hole? Hire a grant specialist to help bail or tighten the spending belt? Rely on citizen taxes to help bail (again)? Hopefully city government will earn the distinction of being a “Creative District” without sinking the take-home income of its citizens.

    1. The Mayor, (please vote), is using Edmonds as a CEO would his business, whereas the residents are the customers. A CEO wants growth, infrastructure and revenue but not status quo. Taxes being raised today are paying for projects planned and begun years ago and there are more projects requested that have not yet been ‘planned’. Those will be released as soon as this new tax covers past spending.
      Change is inevitable, and keeping Edmonds as is has been may be impossible as those who run it don’t have the love for it, it’s quiet simplicity, and may even feel evy at Lynnwoods revenue growth(mentioned), from tickets. It’s difficult for me to be against ticketing speeders so I won’t be, but change for the sake of change, for the sake of growth, for the sake of importance ,is an evil Edmonds needs to vote out lest we become the next Kirkland with all its crime tagging along with its growth.

    2. Rather than add another person to the payroll (which we apparently can’t afford), how about having existing key staff members learn something about grant applications (job enrichment?). Maybe a local course or an in-house course. It ain’t rocket science!

      1. Amen. Pay for a course for existing employees that they can take on their own time. I was able to take similar kinds of courses and receive accreditation while employed by corporations. We all considered these company paid for courses an employee perk. Definitely a morale booster and a welcome opportunity to enhance your skill set.

  6. I can’t wait to see the fur fly when a bunch of disgruntled Creative District visitors contact Jessie Jones over Edmonds’ camera ticket traps. I’m all for these babies, for the fun factor, and we can use the cash just like Lynnwood.

  7. Interesting discussion at the Council meeting about what to call the current city financial situation, whether to call it a “fiscal emergency” or as the city attorney has suggested a “structural budget deficit”. Here’s some alternative wordsmithing to describe the current Edmonds city financial situation:

    Runnin’ on empty, Looking For loot, Chasing chips, Diggin’ For Dinero, Plowing for pennies, Got less dough than a Pizza Hut, Got less green than a golf course, Got less Jack than a deck of playing cards, tapped-out, strapped for cash, cleaned out, as poor as a church mouse, in the red, dirt-poor, down on one’s luck, low on funds ,strained at the moment, badly off, hand -to mouth, hard up, scarcity of cash, depleted ,prioritizing expenses, in need, and or on the rocks.

    1. I approve of the Property Tax increase it’s been years since we had one here in Edmonds. I think it is a very small amount and all homeowners can easily afford this amount. For those who do not own property it is good too in that they don’t pay it, but they too benefit by our local government not being quite as strapped. Red light cameras I agree with those too and if they weren’t so expensive, I would put them everywhere until people get the message. The $ we receive is secondary and our courts won’t be flooded. People won’t take the time to challenge the inevitable. Anyone that doesn’t come here because of Red Light cameras and ticketing probably isn’t going to lay down any cash anyway and they can just drive on by on the Interstate where our State Patrol is also strapped for cash. Fact. Arts folks first continue to provide the parking area… Also be sure you work on those spokes all over OUR city. I love the Arts, but I expect spread with this too. Lastly stop the walk-in passport and do the appointments for those again. The Judge said that was part of the problem with backlogs, remember? I do. I enjoyed the meeting, all of it, I wanted to call and say who is ordering Pizza!

    2. HaHA Brian. I like Got less green than a golf course the best of all of these!
      I think with some good governing here and patience with all of our wants is the key to having a workable budget. Alarmists to me are just that. I can sort of see why we need a Grants person. I do think the consultant idea from Diane is the best idea to see how that will work before adding yet another salary here. If it helps, then ok next year maybe. Also, we do not need an environmental position to tell us what we all already know about the environment all over the world. Simple. Those who can and want to will do all they can. Those that can’t, won’t. This has been the story since An Inconvenient Truth. The assumption that we are naive is insulting to many and might just backfire in the faces of those who want to try to force or shame others. This is human nature. It’s not nice to fool mother nature or human nature. It clearly doesn’t work. Last I checked this was still a Democracy??

  8. Comment on Forest’s comment. If the $40 was just to keep basic services going; Hell Ya’. Do you s actually read all the articles in MEN and do you know that the Mayor and His Minister of Shows and Neighborhood Carnivals wants to take the whole city, you and I and all of us, into the land development business and has already tentatively spent 100K to do it. Enough already.

  9. Speaking of the tax increases and promised help from council, here is something that may be of help to some seeking property tax relief. The Senior Citizen qualifying income level is increasing from $55,743 to $75,000 in 2024. So that is 2023 income for 2024 tax. The Edmonds School District will also be putting a levy and bond on the ballot in Feb.2024 as well. The tax information will hopefully be helpful to some to gain relief and folks should be aware with all the current tax increases and upcoming tax proposals.

  10. Branding- Brands are an effective way to communicate a vision. It seems like with these proposals, The Edmonds Creative District is going to be mostly in the downtown core area. Then, the brand for the Highway 99 area is to be mostly the “Red Light Camera District”. I guess the thought is that the Highway 99 area has always been a great money producer, and anyone who says it’s not mostly about the money deserves a four Pinocchio’s rating, thus other neighborhoods can enjoy the benefits. The comparisons with Lynnwood are curious. Maybe rework a new slogan with: “Edmonds-Have a Lynnwood type of day”. Surely, the city can have some bumper stickers and T-shirts printed up?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.