Letter to the editor: What are true costs involved in Gateway Connector project?

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Editor:

The 1/31 MLTnews story only mentions 56th and 236th as being part of the Main Street project, probably because neither the original $10.5 million figure or the updated $12 million number included any mention of the Gateway Connector.  The inclusion of the Gateway Connector (GC) as part of the Main Street Revitalization was also not mentioned in the original MLTnews story of 5/08/13 about the funding source for design work on that Connector.

Perhaps that was an oversight of whoever was interviewed at the City or maybe not. The 7/05/13 story reporting on the $2 million state appropriation describes it as “a $12 million ‘Main Street’ project to upgrade 56th Avenue West and 236th Street SW within the city’s Town Center district.” Yes, that same story goes on to explain that “pre-engineering and survey work to determine a possible route for the Gateway Connector” is included within the “design work.”

But pardon an outsider’s confusion; can whoever follows up, the City or Mr. Dekoekkoek, please clarify how the design work for the GC became part of the TBD’s responsibility to fund, but the balance of the $4.8 million project (MLTnews-11/19/12) is not?  A breakout of sources and uses for the GC similar to the one provided in the 1/31/14 story on Main Street would help.

Big picture – if revitalization really means fusing the GC to the Main Street project, we are over $8 million short, not $3.3 million. For taxpayers to understand what’s going on, why isn’t it reported as such? To realize their expanded vision, is the City Council going to raise our car tab fees another $20 per year without asking us?

Leonard French

3 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t think it’s wrong to plan to send one’s child to college without having a fully funded account to accomplish that goal, college still being a few years off. Most people rely on continuing revenues going forward to fund something for which payment is not yet needed.

    Similarly, the Gateway Connector road, still in the planning stages, has not yet been funded, although there are historic and likely future, not-yet-existing sources to pay for it.

    Consider:

    1. Significant increases in aggregate property tax valuation in 2014 v 2013. Part of this goes to the City. I can’t find the source (saw it on Councilman Wahl’s FB page a few weeks ago and missed it today) but I think there was $30M of MLT new construction in 2013. Property taxes on something I did in town quintupled when I was done building. That’s not a one-time increase. That’s each and every year going forward.
    2. The City has, IMO, been very successful in identifying outside sources of funding for other projects. Granted, the failure of the transportation package to pass last year was problematic, although some version of that package is likely to make it through the Senate this year and, if not, next year. No reason to believe that they won’t fund part of this with similar outside money.
    3. Since you brought up the 11/19/12 mltnews.com reference, note that the funding sources are fairly broad and include contributions from impact fees on the developers (Dustin mentioned

    http://mltnews.com/city-mlt-preparing-main-street-revitalization-project-work/#comment-34703

    this yesterday). I know, personally, that development of commercial property is funded partly by owner payment for improvements to public property. Been there, done that.
    4. The completed Gateway Connector project will have numerous businesses and other entities contributing to City revenues in the form of fees, taxes, and assessments. It’s reasonable to consider cash flow of new ventures as a way of paying for those ventures. Businesses don’t expand unless they think the expansion will produce enough new revenue to justify the cost. The City shouldn’t be any different, although perhaps more conservative in this regard.
    5. Yes, the City might raise fees, sell debt, or otherwise do something that helps pay for it that might end up costing you money. MLT has a representative democracy and not every little item has to be dealt with via citizen referendum. If you don’t like what Council is doing, vote them out. It’s not necessary that Council asks permission – only that it deliberates in public.

    Finally, I suspect that the $4.8M cost of the Gateway Connector project includes design, which apparently is included in the Town Center cost increase to $12M (I think. Maybe.). Assuming that is correct, you should subtract the design expense from the $4.8M figure if you are going to add it to the $12M figure. Very recently

    http://mltnews.com/city-mlt-preparing-main-street-revitalization-project-work/#comment-34700

    you insinuated that the City might be spending dollars twice. To be fair, you shouldn’t be permitted to insinuate costs are being incurred twice without being asked to show your math, Mr. French.

  2. Leonard, as I said in my comment yesterday, send an email to the Economic Development Director, Dave Baron, at DBaron@ci.mlt.wa.us with your questions. He’s always very responsive and happy to provide information. Then maybe you can report back and write another Letter the the Editor with your findings.

  3. The math is pretty easy. Round the design work cost for the Gateway Connector to $150,000, then subtract that from the total unfunded sum of $8.1 million. That is $3.3 million still needed for the Main Street Revitalization and $4.8 million for the Gateway Connector. That leaves $7.95 million, which I round to $8 million.

    The point of my letter, however, was to focus attention on all the numbers associated with the now expanded downtown dreamscape and how far we are from securing the necessary funding to finish any of it. Neither “increases in aggregate tax valuation” or future “city revenues in the form of fees, taxes, and assessments” were included as sources in the 1/31 story – unless you count the 20-year revenue stream from $20 car tabs of $5.7 million. It is easy to presume that city taxpayers are going to fund the immense shortfall even if the exact mechanism remains unclear.

    Perhaps substantial latecomers fees on future development, which are often assessed elsewhere, should be a source of payback for all of the capital costs associated with Downtown Revitalization, but that has never been the practice here. As Stephen Barnes emphasized in his recent council campaign, current taxpayers are expected to just shut up and foot the bill because asking development to shoulder more of the cost of development would deter what council wants no matter the price – more downtown development.

    Mr. Kramer alludes to one facet of all this which is certainly true. This council is not in the habit of asking permission to implement their visions unless, as in the case of City Hall, the law requires it. Even then, as the many instances of questionable campaign math, tortured rhetoric, and city hall boosterism attest, Downtown Revitalization is not a game played on a level field.

    A Bob Smith comment from July 8th, 2013 pretty well summed up many folk’s skepticism concerning how the city’s vision operates and how they do their math.

    He quoted the famous movie line, “If you build it, they will come.” He went on, “The ball players in the ‘Field of Dreams’ were illusory as well. Although the ‘delight’ of the city Council at $2 million in federal funds (sic) no doubt is very real.”

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