In-house custodial positions and two reviews of city advisory commissions’ upcoming work programs were discussed at the Mountlake Terrace City Council’s Feb. 25 work/study session.
Members of the Mountlake Terrace Recreation and Park Advisory Commission provided the council with a review of last year’s accomplishments and a preview of their focus for work programs in 2021.
Accomplishments for 2020 included establishing the city’s adopt-a-park program, support for grant applications to qualify for funding, being certified as a Tree City USA and providing input about the Jerry Smith and Gateway Plazas. Volunteer hours decreased drastically and many of the commission’s traditional events and efforts were curtailed by closures, cancellations and group safety measures due to the coronavirus pandemic. Vice Chair Noah Knodle said it “was a very challenging year, but some great stuff was still accomplished.”
The proposed work plan includes addressing recommendations that emerge from the Recreation, Parks and Open Space (RPOS) Master Plan and participating in the process for its update this year. It also calls for continued involvement with volunteers, service organizations, and community partners. Additional efforts include expanding community outreach and supporting recreation and enhancement activities at neighborhood parks, trails, and playfields; some of which depend on a return to larger in-person events.
In light of the council’s ongoing work around a long-term vision for the city, Mayor Pro Tem Doug McCardle asked for the commission to have its own discussions to provide feedback and ideas that can be taken into account concerning parks and recreation activities.
Councilmembers were also presented with the Mountlake Terrace Arts Advisory Commission’s work programs planned for 2021.
Chair Judy Ryan said the proposed work plan continues to build upon accomplishments achieved previously in 2019. The commission’s major event — the Arts of the Terrace juried art show — was cancelled last year because of the pandemic. Upcoming plans for this year include scheduling monthly art exhibits at the Mountlake Terrace Library, conducting an inventory the city’s art collection, promoting and encouraging more live entertainment in the city, exploration of holding summer concert performances in parks, identifying and applying for arts and cultural programs grants, and coordinating with city staff and artists on artwork at the Jerry Smith Town Center Plaza.
The commission also anticipates holding its annual art show again, public health measures permitting. Several of the commissioners said they were looking forward to 2021 and ramping up their activities for the coming year.
As with the previous commission’s presentation, members of the council afterward asked for commissioners to come back to them with ideas and comments for helping guide the city’s long-term goals.
Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz discussed with the council the possibility of hiring two in-house custodial positions for city facilities.
Cleaning services at city buildings were provided, prior to 2007, by as many as six city custodians at the Recreation Pavilion, police station, library, public works operations facility, Fire Station 19 and the since-demolished City Hall. Then as a cost-saving measure, the city began contracting for custodial services rather than using its own employees and at the same time the library and fire districts began contracting for their own cleaning independently.
Betz said that even though contracting for such work has saved money, the city has also consistently struggled to have contractors complete the necessary duties in an acceptable manner, resulting in tasks frequently not being achieved. He told the council that seven different custodial contractors have been used since 2011 but failed to provide consistent quality service as called for in their contracts.
Facility cleanliness is the most frequent complaint that his department receives, Betz said, adding that regardless of the contractor employed, many of the comments remain the same — locker rooms are dirty, trash bag liners not being replaced, and vacuuming and mopping are not being done.
When the city attempts to enforce the contract requirements, it frequently experiences one contractor after another leaving rather than performing the duties. Betz said that is because many of the contractors look to secure the contract regardless of whether they can perform the required work on a consistent basis, and as a result underbid the actual cost of services required. Then once the contract is awarded, the companies will put few hours into actually cleaning the facilities.
That process is complicated by public bidding laws that require the city to take the lowest bidder and also the fact that each facility has their own characteristics and idiosyncrasies, which can limit the number of bidders with necessary experience, he said. Betz pointed to the Recreation Pavilion and police station as providing more difficult challenges and requirements of the cleaning staff.
As a result, city staff is proposing to hire two in-house custodians instead of contracting for the work, to ensure that new and expanded facilities at the Civic Campus are properly cleaned and also improve the care of current facilities such as the Recreation Pavilion. Betz anticipated that if the proposal is approved, the recruitment and hiring process may take up to four to sixmonths to find qualified custodial staff and bring them on board. After projecting for wages and benefits, the high-end total of the proposed positions could result in an annual increase of up to nearly $89,000 for custodial services.
Several councilmembers said they were hesitant about the proposal. Reasons given included waiting to see further effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the city’s budget moving forward, prioritizing potentially adding other staff positions supporting communications and/or economic development first, and exploring making changes to the bidding and selection process for contracting custodial services.
Councilmembers in favor of the idea pointed to the fact the position would provide a livable wage, which could affect the quality of applicants it attracts and subsequently the work performed.
Betz said that in the past, in-house custodians would often go beyond just janitorial work in ways that also assisted maintenance and other positions. He mentioned that some of the maintenance staff is getting close to retirement age and bringing back city custodial positions could also be a way to start potentially identifying replacements to be trained and promoted within the city’s staff.
The council and Betz will have further discussions about the proposal at a future meeting, possibly in March.
In other business, the council reviewed an on-call work order for approximately $132,000 in engineering design services associated with the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) project at 216th Street Southwest and 48th Avenue West. City Engineer Jesse Birchman said the agreement calls for Murraysmith, Inc., to provide support in the design of street and utility work associated with the project, which consists of physical improvements meant to provide safer walking and bicycling conditions for students attending Mountlake Terrace Elementary and Mountlake Terrace High School.
Engineering design work is expected to be done this summer and construction is anticipated to be completed in the latter half of 2021. The city’s street construction fund will provide for the design costs of the work order and staff have recommended it be approved. Councilmembers will vote whether to approve the on-call work order at its March 1 regular business meeting.
Assistant City Manager Stephen Clifton presented the council with an amendment to the professional services agreement with ARC Architects, Inc., for their review. It calls for approximately $10,000 in additional funds for subcontracted work, which includes conducting consulting and inspection services and performing construction administrative support services through completion of the Civic Campus project. Clifton said the money is needed since the project has extended past the originally scheduled January 2021 completion date in the agreement.
He told the council that he felt the sum total of all amendments to date related to building City Hall and expanding the police station “is pretty much in line with what we might expect” for a project of this size and length of time. Clifton recommended the council authorize the amendment and its approval will be put to a council vote during Monday night’s meeting.
Appointments to the Mountlake Terrace Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) for 2021 were reviewed for councilmembers by City Clerk Virginia Clough. The city’s hotel/motel tax comes from its only hotel, Studio 6, and generates approximately $25,000 in revenue each year. Those funds are then allocated to a variety of tourism-related events and services. Past recipients include Tour de Terrace and Arts of the Terrace juried art show.
The city does not determine how these funds are used on its own and presents proposals for their use to the advisory committee, which is made up of hotel/motel representatives and “users” of the money such as local events’ board members. The committee makes then recommendations to the city council for using the lodging tax funds based on proposals they receive.
Members of the five-person LTAC must be appointed each year. It is comprised of two representatives from businesses that are required to collect the hotel-motel tax, two representatives who are involved in activities that are authorized to be funded by this tax, and one city councilmember who serves as the committee’s chairperson.
Councilmember Laura Sonmore will continue in her role as the chairperson. Clough informed the council that one member of the committee who has previously represented the funds’ “users” resigned because she will be moving out of the area. The appointments recommended will have to be approved by a council vote at its next meeting.
The city council will hold its next regular business meeting March 1, beginning at 7 p.m. See the agenda here.
— By Nathan Blackwell