2024 budget deliberations: Councilmembers say no to red-light cameras; cut climate action, grants manager positions

L-R: Councilmembers Vivian Olson, Dave Teitzel and Diane Buckshnis listen to testimony Tuesday night. (Photos by Nick Ng)

Expressing concerns about the city’s precarious financial situation, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night voted to cut several items from Mayor Mike Nelson’s draft 2024 budget. Among the cuts were proposals to hire two new full-time staff — a grants manager and a climate action manager. The council also voted to eliminate a proposal for red-light cameras at several crash-prone Edmonds intersections, although expressed support for revisiting the concept after further study.

The climate action manager position was supported by a number of residents who had offered testimony during recent council meetings. Those speaking stressed the need for someone to oversee the city’s efforts to reach its 2023 Climate Action Plan targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Edmonds.

“While this is a worthy proposal, the city’s financial condition does not support addition of a new FTE (full-time equivalent employee) for this purpose at this time, at an annual cost of $145,000,” said Councilmember Dave Teitzel in proposing to eliminate the climate action manager from the 2024 budget. Addition of the position should be revisited in mid-2024 after the city’s budget position becomes more clear, he added.

Edmonds faces an ending budget fund balance of $6.64 million this year, requiring the city to dip into its reserves. The city council earlier this month approved a resolution declaring a fiscal emergency and authorizing the city to use general fund operating reserves for 2023 general fund expenses. 

Supporting Teitzel’s motion, Councilmember Diane Buckshnis noted that the State Department of Commerce will be offering grant money next year that could support a climate manager position. Teitzel also suggested there are several things that the city can start doing now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including possible legislation restricting the use of gas furnaces and hot water heaters in Edmonds homes.

Councilmember Susan Paine

“I am really disappointed to see this come forward,” Councilmember Susan Paine said of Teitzel’s proposal. She added that she had identified a funding source in the city budget for the climate manager position, which she had hoped to introduce later in the meeting. “I think this is short-sighted,” she added. “We are in a climate crisis.”

Councilmember Will Chen attempted to table a vote on the amendment so that Paine could share her proposal, but that measure failed.

Councilmember Vivian Olson said she was “very hopeful” that Mayor-elect Mike Rosen’s administration would find ways to focus on climate action with the existing staff. “At this point, we are really weighing — are we taking on a new FTE or are we retaining the ones we have and having people keep their jobs,” Olson said, referring to the city’s budget crunch.

The final vote on eliminating the climate action position was 5-2, with Councilmembers Paine and Jenna Nand opposed.

To address the budget situation, Mayor Nelson in October proposed transferring to the general fund budget $6.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and $2 million from the building maintenance fund. But councilmembers had expressed concerns about the $2 million transfer, noting that the funds — which are aimed at addressing the city’s significant deferred maintenance backlog — had been generated through bond proceeds that the city will be paying interest on. Councilmember Olson on Tuesday night moved to remove that proposed transfer from the draft 2024 budget, and councilmembers approved that motion unanimously.

Nelson, who lost to Rosen in last week’s general election, wasn’t present at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The council also approved a Teitzel proposal to eliminate a new $183,000 grants manager position. This motion was also opposed by Paine, who noted that the money the position would bring in would help fund it. Nand attempted to delay a vote on the measure but that failed, as did her effort to budget $100,000 to hire a contract grant specialist for a year.

Olson said she would support hiring a contract grants manager position later if there was money available.

L-R: Police Chief Michelle Bennett and Assistant Chief Rodney Sniffen

When it came time to discuss the red-light cameras — included as a 2024 budget proposal for $180,000 but with revenue estimated at $3.5 million based on fines issued — Edmonds Police Chief Michelle Bennett came before the council with Assistant Chief Rodney Sniffen and Commander David Machado. Bennett delivered a presentation explaining that the city was looking at three to five intersections for a red-light camera pilot program that would begin in May. The intersections were among a group of six identified by Verra Mobility, a consultant that analyzed traffic data on behalf of the police department.

They included Highway 99/220th Street Southwest, 220th Street Southwest/76th Avenue West, 220th Street Southwest/9th Avenue South, 212th Street Southwest/76th Avenue West, Highway 104/Dayton Street and Highway 104/100th Avenue West. All six have high traffic volumes — the greatest being 220th and Highway 99 and 238th and Highway 99 at 20,000 cars per day each — and experienced numerous accidents during the 2020-2022 time frame. The analysis also included input from Edmonds police officers tasked wth investigating the collisions, Bennett said.

Accident data for the top crash-prone intersections in Edmonds.

Bennett stressed that she viewed the red-light cameras as a public safety issue, not as a revenue generator, and has talked with the mayor in past years about introducing the cameras. This seemed an appropriate year to pursue the idea, she said, since the city already had an approved contract with Verra Mobility to install school zone cameras — and the contract allows for the addition of red-light cameras, pending council approval.

The goal of the cameras, she said, is to reinforce safe driving behavior. Bennett then shared empirical data showing that road crashes are a primary cause of death and disability — and red-light running is a common cause of crashes at signalized intersections.

“The goal here is not to ticket anybody,” Bennett said. “The goal is for people to follow the law.”

Bennett also showed a chart indicating that the City of Lynnwood has seen a 114% decrease in accidents in the past 10 years at its red-light camera intersections.

Red-light camera accident reductions in the City of Lynnwood.

In introducing the measure to delete the red-light cameras from the 2024 budget, Councilmember Teitzel said that supporting data related to the advantages of red-light cameras “shows conflicting results” and more research is needed to demonstrate the benefits in Edmonds. In addition, Teitzel and Councilmember Jenna Nand expressed worries about the increased amount of staffing that could be required — in both the police department and the courts — to process the violations.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis added that the issue deserved thoughtful consideration from next year’s city council, with more opportunities for residents to weigh in. Some residents also complained about the public engagement process related to the proposal. A public hearing was scheduled Tuesday night but no presentation was released in advance for people to review so they could comment on it.

During the public hearing, resident Ken Reidy said that any red-light camera proposal should be a legislative matter coming from the council, rather than a proposal made by staff.

Councilmember Will Chen said that while he was skeptical about the city’s estimate of revenue generated by the cameras, he supported them because they would contribute to public safety. Councilmember Paine argued for retaining the cameras in the budget, noting that the council had “heard from over a dozen neighborhoods that traffic safety is a neighborhood need right now…and this does offer some immediate results for these neighborhoods.”

The final vote on the axing the cameras from the 2024 budget was 5-2, with Councilmembers Chen and Paine voting no.

Among the other budget cuts made by council Tuesday night:

– $65,000 to fund an electronic gate in the public works yard.

– $50,000 for a study on emergency waterfront response.

– $50,000 for real estate consulting professional services in support of parkland acquisition efforts.

The council has added a special meeting next Monday, Nov 20, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. to continue its discussion on budget matters. That’s in addition to its regularly scheduled meeting next Tuesday, Nov. 21.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. I am thankful that the Council voted to remove the Red-Light Camera proposal from the 2024 budget. As I said during the Public Hearing, it is unfortunate the Police Department was allowed to be the legislative lead on this matter. State Law says, “the appropriate local legislative authority must prepare an analysis of the locations within the jurisdiction where automated traffic safety cameras are proposed to be located”. The Edmonds City Council is our local legislative authority.

    Edmonds citizens who question Red-Light Cameras were put in a position where we could choose to remain silent or choose to oppose our Police Department over a legislative matter. I support our Police Department and it was very uncomfortable to voice opposition last evening.

    In doing so, I pointed out that the City of Lynnwood Red Light Camera Accident Reduction information provided last evening was misleading.

    The following is taken from Lynnwood’s 2017 report:

    “*Number of Accidents reported reflect collisions occurring within the intersection. Prior year reports included accidents occurring upon approach, but not necessarily within, the intersection. Due to the subjectivity of what constitutes an accident occurring ”upon approach” we will now only be tracking accidents within the intersection for the purposes of this report.”

    Lynnwood’s data tells us Red-Light Camera Accidents have increased 220% in the five years since they changed their reporting.

  2. Comparing the 2023 adopted budget to the latest 2023 numbers presented as part of the 2024 budget proposal, I see a couple of anomalies that appear to provide a better explanation for the apparent budget shortfall than the reported concerns about staffing levels or overspending.

    In the 2023 adopted budget, the beginning and ending fund balances for 2021 are $15,650,898 and $17,722,411 respectively. These are stated as actuals. However, in the proposed 2024 budget, these numbers have been restated downwards by $1,807,092 to $13,843,806 and $15,915,319 respectively.

    What was the reason for these numbers being restated?

    Also, it seems that the current financial situation really began in 2022 with a significant shortfall in revenues between the time that the 2023 budget was adopted and the time that the 2022 finances were closed. This seems to have been largely due to the zeroing out of the Interfund Service Charges line item which was estimated at $3.9 million in the 2023 adopted budget but appears as zero in the 2024 proposal. I don’t know what that line item represents or why it would have been zeroed out but this appears to be a unique occurence.

    If we wish to understand the current fiscal state of the city, I proposed that we need to understand the reasons behind these two major adjustments which together account for $5.7 million.

    1. Two things. Until the water level at the Edmonds shoreline changes significantly, I’m not going to go all chicken little over the variations in weather. Regarding a grant securing position, I recommend it be a modest salary plus commission comp plan. You know, like in the private sector? That will attract a top sales professional rather than just another government drone, and bring in waaaay more grant money.

      1. Good thought. I have never heard of that compensation model for a government FTE, but it might be an option for a contracted grant writer. I’ll look into it.

        1. The Association of Fundraising Professionals prohibits grant writers from receiving a commission. Professional grant writers are very well paid and they earn it. Expectations and metrics are very clear. Way more involved than simply writing. It is possible to get volunteers but difficult and success rates mixed. It seems that to adequately address role and compensation there should first be a job description and established metrics

  3. Looks like over the 2 years 63 million people traveled through those intersections and there were only 50 accidents. Or the chance of there being a accident at one of those intersections is one every 3 months. The info didn’t give the reasons for these accidents, how many were from running red lights? How many were from taking a left across traffic or a right into traffic? Anyway I don’t see the need for these cameras but I will agree with the chief we just want people to follow the law.

      1. I added the number of people that daily go through the intersections listed times 365 days in a year times 2 years. I checked the math seems to be correct.

  4. The police department being involved in the revenue producing business is very unsavory.Some of the data in the police chief’s report seemed to be subjectively biased,or anecdotal.Nobody wants to see their local police have a credibility problem.Saying 8 months ago that they were not interested in red light cameras but changing their story coincidentally because of financial crisis for the city.The public hearing without the provided information beforehand was inadequate.The police should be focusing on traffic control speeding in a wider range of the city instead of trying to monetize a few intersections.

    The request by the mayor to transfer 2.2 million from the deferred maintenance bonded fund to the general fund would have been a very poor decision. Thankfully Council acted appropriately. This will mean that additional decisions will have to be made to cover the budget shortfalls.

  5. I appreciate having a city council that can disagree but still listen to one other and work together. Productive discourse is great. Entrenched voting blocks, like we had in the past, are not. Thank you to our council members for tackling tough issues. I appreciate your service and professionalism.

  6. It is encouraging to see a majority of our city council finally recognizing what their job is supposed to be and actually doing it. Two and sometimes three CM’s still don’t get it most of the time and one is coming on board, who will tend to almost always vote in concert with at least one of the others along ideological lines; so it is definitely too soon to be really stoked about this seeming sudden change for the better.

    If we are hiring competent and up to date Directors, why would we need a Climate Action Manager to tell them what they should already know about going for the best climate action administration practices that we can afford? This is a window dressing position that was rightfully nixed in the bud. Even the pursuit of Grant funds for such a position seems ill advised to me, let alone paying someone big bucks to do it.

    Saying no at times to Mayors and Police Chiefs is a good thing. And, there is no such thing as more than 100% of anything. 100% is always ALL of anything and stating more than 100% is always a tactic designed to impress, rather than actually presenting known truths about anything.

  7. It is unfortunate for the City to not prioritize a Climate Action Plan staff member. As a waterfront town, Edmonds has much to lose if emission targets are not met, but how can we complain about any costs down the line from climate impacts through coastal flooding or storm damage if we were not doing everything possible to reduce our own city-based emissions? The future costs of climate change to a town like ours could be overwhelming.

    The article mentioned potential legislation to restrict the use of gas furnaces and hot water heaters in Edmonds homes. That would be great, but Edmonds residents might find the details of installing heat pumps and other new energy efficient electric appliances in their home difficult to navigate, including upcoming IRA rebates and current tax credits. A city staffer to call for advice would be beneficial to making it all work. There are new programs and money coming up on the horizon, but without a staff member to help the city pursue these opportunities, Edmonds could miss out. I recently made my home fossil fuel free, but there was a huge learning curve. It would have been great if the city had contact person that would have made good information available to me.

    1. Those impacts are going to happen whether we meet our city goals or not. Should we put our money toward getting rid of greenhouse gas emissions or adapting to a known future? Sure glad you can afford to make the switch but most of us can’t afford it but we pay for your rebates just the same, a person to help navigate the system again only helps the rich people that can afford it. Forcing change threw legislation again only hurts the poor. Sounds to me like you care more about greenhouse gases than you do your fellow citizens.

      1. Hello Jim,

        I am sorry that you assumed I was a wealthy person. I am not. I am just extremely frugal, and I budget for those expenditures that are most important to me. Reducing my emissions is one of my highest priorities, so I cut in other ways to make sure I can make that happen when possible because my grandchildren’s future is really important to me. I choose to live simply in hopes that we can repair the climate for them and all the children who face such an uncertain future. I don’t know your circumstances and so I don’t judge why your opinion differs from my own. I hope that you can see we just have different priorities.

      2. To say that “Those impacts are going to happen whether we meet our city goals or not” implies the complacency that you voice is widespread. You might think you are merely being realistic, but self-fulfilling prophecies don’t prove that alternative futures weren’t possible. And to believe that it is cheaper to adapt to a “known” future is wishful thinking. Edmonds has a beautiful Waterfront Center. Does your concept of adapting to a known future mean we tolerate repeated flooding, or do we spend money to mitigate that risk? Even if you believe the fight against climate change is already a lost cause, there are still policy–and budgetary– decisions to be made.
        Individual actions do make a difference, but actions coordinated by City, County, State and Federal policy can make our children’s and grandchildren’s futures more bearable and leverage our individual decisions. We sink or swim together.

        1. Thanks for the response don’t want to accuse you of being rich but you can afford it unlike 50% or more of our population. That’s rich to me. I don’t want to deture people from being good stewards of our environment that includes greenhouse gases. I do have a problem with government taxing me to give subsidies to rich/frugal/30% of the people at a cost to those less fortunate. The world is not going to end tomorrow likely it will go on for millions of years no matter what government does to prevent it. Fossil fuels are a limited resource so our continued use of it will come to a end it is not a emergency. It is a understanding other sources of energy needs to be made and long term impacts of global warming need to be addressed such as sea level rise. The idea we need to punish people for living their lives just to fulfill our need to virtue signal about things we don’t control is in my mind criminal.

        2. Pete that’s a fact sorry if government isn’t going to save you. I encourage people to be better stewards. But it seems to me the loudest voices are among the biggest abusers, the cost to them is nothing but the cost to the rest of us taxpayers is becoming ridicules when in reality no amount of tax dollars is going to change anything but make the poor poorer and those poor will suffer even more because we didn’t build the infrastructure to protect them from the affects, we spent the money on a lost cause preventing it. The world will not be lost because because of global warming. Someday we won’t be using much fossil fuel for things because we won’t have it to use wonder if the cooling at that point might cause another ice age seems that before of this man made rise in green house gasses we were near a global temperature lower than anything we have seen in the last 10 thousand years did I mention that was about the last ice age. Careful what you wish for. I hope for better people I hope our future is bright but don’t piss on me and tell me it is raining.

      3. Actually, the Inflation Reduction Act Tax Credits (available now) and the upcoming Rebates (available mid-2024) will help low income people electrify their homes. The Washington State Dept of Commerce is working on the specifics now.
        I completely agree with Arlene that a “navigator” of some sort will help people choose the right equipment and find the rebates that will help them do that.
        The benefits of home electrification are many – improved health (nearly 13% of childhood asthma is due to “natural” gas, see https://rmi.org/gas-stoves-health-climate-asthma-risk/#:~:text=New%20peer%2Dreviewed%20research%20from,gas%20stove%20in%20the%20home.), safety, lower fuel costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

        1. Nancy So when half the people live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford a 400 dollar expense how much extra a month do you think they can pay for the upgrade? Myself I have to think about what I can cut back on next year just to afford to keep a roof over my head, should I have to go to the food bank just to be able to afford to upgrade? Funny many of these programs have much higher incomes to qualify, do you know how low your income needs to be to get food stamps or health insurance? We don’t have the money for anything extra so unless your program is giving out free upgrades low income isn’t affording it, again programs that only benefit the rich and penalize the poor by making them pay more to give rich people rebates. 50 cents a gallon on gas ring a bell? Higher taxes so the city can go green ring a bell? Frankly your privilege is showing.

        2. Mr Fairchild. The IRA rebate amount to the low income resident of Washington will be 100% of the project cost, up to a maximum amount for each type of project. (For example, a panel upgrade max rebate is $4000). The State Dept of commerce is running listening meetings to get input on the design of the rebate program. I participated in one this month. Next session is Dec 5th. There is no launch date for the program because the program isn’t fully designed yet. The expected launch dates keep slipping. Track this program at the Dept of commerce web page for Home Energy Rebates. It has info on the definition of low income, the types of projects expected to be eligible, etc.

  8. Two things I am concerned about from this story – 1) How is there a 114% decrease? Would that not mean there are less than zero accidents in those areas (a math question)? & 2) Why is our mayor missing consecutive council meetings? Did he take his ball and go home?

  9. We also got a chuckle out of the 114 percent decrease reported last night. Suspect it is more like a 14 percent decrease. Would need to have the numbers to get the right calculation. That said, the Council asked some good questions and probably came to the right decision. There are lots of national studies on this from nhtsa as well as good localized studies which include the economics of the matter as well as success or failure rates and analysis. Definitely a big decision requiring the right information. And agree with Ken Reidy that the research should come from the right source so the decision is fully transparent

  10. Nelson is suddenly missing in action at successive Council meetings and we pay him over 100K per year for his services. Maybe it’s time to consider going to a full-time City Council and a part time hobby Mayor? We’d probably get better CM’s and better Mayors in the process. Who’s watching the Mayor right now; is he coming to work everyday; has he contacted his successor to facilitate the change in management coming up? We are wasting thousands of dollars on crappy, self serving government management and people want to hire more of these people. Does a reasonably intelligent adult really need a Climate Action Manager to tell them their gas furnace is worn out and it’s time to replace it with a heat pump? Is this Action Manager more qualified to tell a citizen the in’s and out’s of purchasing a new appliance than the appliance sales and service experts are? This is all like a bad joke on the poor dumb taxpayers in town.

  11. There are different ways of thinking about the “rich” and the “poor”.
    I look at from a global perspective…it’s the”rich” of the world who are spewing carbon and methane into our global atmosphere. A good example is commercial air transportation, look at the 1000s of airflights everyday , which create enormous amounts of green house gasses.
    Then look at ,say, Bangladesh, a country of 140 million people that live at sea level. I wonder how many Bangledesh people are flying commercial flights on a yearly basis ?
    So when sea level rise happens and more severe storms happen and severe flooding happens , which it is; it’s going to be countries like Bangladesh that bear the brunt of climate change. Even though Bangladesh and other “poor” countries put very little carbon into our atmosphere compared to “rich” countries.
    This is a global problem. It is ultimately up to the “rich”
    countries , the ones causing climate change, to change our ways for the betterment of the whole planet.
    Thank you for your understanding and for doing your part, within your means.

    1. Bill You are right some places are more susceptible to a warming planet Bangladesh certainly is a vulnerable area they are 40th in c02 emissions and their biggest industry is clothing which is the 3rd largest greenhouse gas industry. They also receive about 450 million dollars of US taxpayer money a year. Our consumerism supports many poor countries just think if we all pulled back and stopped buying but the minimum what that would do to the global economy Bangladesh might become even more poor wonder how they would feel about that. Just think if we stopped with all this tourism how many countries would suffer from lack of tourists? Yes getting rid of all those planes would be a big reduction in greenhouse gases but if the trade off for us doing the right thing is global depression is it really the right thing? 2 sides to every coin. In general the poorer you are the smaller your carbon footprint. Solar panels have a carbon footprint new heat pumps have a carbon footprint electric cars have a carbon footprint some of these things will take years to break even especially when you are replacing perfectly good things with new ones. A new electric car will never be better than keeping that old gas powered vehicle running.

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