City Council discusses water rate hike at Jan. 11 study session; public hearing on townhome project Jan. 16

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The Mountlake Terrace City Council will hold a public hearing Tuesday night, Jan. 16, on a subdivision proposal for the 14-unit Tamblyn Townhomes project in the Town Center.

The meeting is on Tuesday because Monday, Jan. 15 is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and a federal holiday.

The council learned more about the subdivision project — for property at 230th Street Southwest and 58th Avenue West — during its Thursday, Jan. 11 work/study session. It calls for subdividing two single-family lots — totaling 16,552 square feet — into 14 units of “flex-space” townhomes.

In addition, the council heard about a proposal to significantly increase the city’s water rates starting this year — and then each year for the next 10 years — to cover an existing $280,000 defiicit, as well as build up the city’s capital improvement reserve fund.

These increases would represent a total cumulative hike of 196 percent by 2027.

The Tamblyn Townhomes project proposal consists of two buildings, with seven townhome units in each, served by a 24-foot-wide access driveway off 58th Avenue West. Parking spaces are provided in each townhome garage, and accommodations for six angle-in parking spaces along 230th Street Southwest are proposed to compliment on-site parking.

Associate city planner Nicholas Holland told the council that a pedestrian activity area would provide a walking route along 58th Avenue West and 230th Street Southwest. The applicant has proposed to include landscaping within the frontage area, as well as some on-site plantings, to visually enhance the project.

The city’s Planning Commission has reviewed the project and recommended it be approved, Holland said.

The Jan. 11 discussion about proposed water rate increases came when consultants provided an update the city’s water system plan — a process required by state law every 10 years — as well as a financial plan for funding required improvements.

The council at its Jan. 16 meeting will vote on whether to authorize sending the draft water system plan to the Washington State Department of Health and adjacent water systems for review and comment. The city will hold a public meeting in early February to review water system plans and goals — including the proposal to increase rates — with final plan approval expected in the spring.

As part of the Jan. 11 report, the council heard that based on industry standards, a total of 6.8 full-time equivalent staff is needed to meet the city water system’s desired operations and maintenance schedule; the city currently has just four full-time staff for that work. Without additional staff, maintenance will continue to be deferred, and that often can accelerate the aging of the infrastructure, the council was told, because equipment  wears out faster without the additional preventative maintenance.

A similar recommendation was made to the council in 2009, but no staff were added to address it, said Peter Dressel, the city’s public works operations manager.

Courtney Black, with consultant FCS Group, presented a 10-year financial program that outlined the dilemma the city is facing: As of the end of 2017, there is a projected revenue deficit of almost $280,000. “Rate increases are needed,” Black said, to address the existing revenue deficiency, return the city’s fund balances to their policy-based minimums, and meet capital funding requirements.

The largest rate increase — a recommended 34 percent — would come this year, to offset the current rate deficiency, repay bond debt and start rebuilding reserves. That represents a jump in the  current average water-use bill of 600 cubic feet per month from $26.80 to $35.91.

After that would come an 11 percent per year from 2019-2023 and 7 percent increases from 2024-2027. These increases represent a total cumulative increase of 196 percent by 2027.

Without rate increases, consultants forecast an annual cash deficiency for the city of more than $6.2 million per year by 2027.
There is also a proposed increase in connection fees for new residences.

Councilmember Kyoko Matsumoto asked if it would be possible to bill monthly rather than the city’s current practice of every other month to lessen the impact. Finance Director Crystil Wooldridge replied that such a change would create significant extra work for staff, but noted that the city could provide a budget payment plan for customers — similar to what other local utilities offer — “so they could spread it out over a 12-month period.”

Councilmember Bryan Wahl agreed that he is interested in “softening the blow” to ratepayers. “It’s a substantial increase,” he said.

“It’s going to be a hit,” agreed Councilmember Doug McCardle. “It’s going to be expensive. But at the same time, it changes the culture of the city.”

McCardle added that since he’s been on the city council, “we’ve never had the money to do what needs to be done, because we’ve never set aside money to get those things done.”

“People are going to be mad,” he admitted. “But in the long run, when the time comes and we need to replace a water main, we can do it,” without being required to go for another bond and acquire additional debt, he added.

Councilmembers also had a lengthy discussion Jan. 11 about another item that will come before them at the Jan. 16 council meeting: whether to

The draft plan would be done by the end of July, giving the planning commission, council and community time to review and discuss it prior to the council’s adoption of any Comprehensive Plan amendments by the end of December, Hugill said.

Councilmembers Wahl, McCardle, Ryan and Sonmore expressed support for the idea, but Mayor Jerry Smith said he would like to see the work be completed sooner. He asked whether the process could be accelerated so that a plan could be finished by March.

“I don’t like July,” Smith said. “I’m ready to get started building. We’ve got to stop dragging our feet.”

The mayor also asked whether the city’s newly hired Economic Development Director Christy Osborn could handle some of the work.

Hugill noted that staff has many priorities, including working on a plan for the newly approved Civic Campus project. In addition, he said, the Town Center update must comply with the Growth Management Act, and the process takes time.

“Some of it we do have expertise to do,” Hugill said. “However, we don’t have the time available to do that right now. You hire a consultant because they have the time to do it.”

Under new business Jan. 11, Councilmember Doug McCardle proposed establishing a new Town Center Task Force that would focus on bringing together “community wants, needs and desires that match with development feasibility” regarding the Town Center vision. The group would be tasked with evaluating existing codes and standards and making recommendations for revisions. McCardle said he sees the group as “a catalyst to get things done faster.”

You can see the full agenda for the Tuesday, Jan. 16 council meeting here. It will begin at 7 p.m. in interim City Hall, 6100 219th St. SW, 2nd Floor.

— By Teresa Wippel

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