City council reviews mid-biennial budget modifications, need for additional parks staff

Mountlake Terrace City Councilmembers meet via Zoom during their Dec. 16 work/study session.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council discussed mid-biennial budget modifications and also the need for additional parks and recreation staff at its Dec. 16 work/study session.

Mid-biennial budget modifications for 2021-2022 were reviewed by the council. The proposed adjustments were made in order to maintain a balanced budget, and support reserves used to mitigate unforeseen needs or events that are consistent with the city’s six-year financial forecast.

Proposed 2021 budget amendments for the general fund include an increase of more than $2.9 million in revenues, primarily from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, and an increase of $647,679 in expenditures. The expenditures cover staffing positions that were either added or brought back after being previously furloughed, the extended leasing of interim city hall because of delays experienced at the Civic Campus project, and an additional transfer of $300,000 to the recreation fund necessitated by decreased revenues during the pandemic.

The proposed 2021 budget amendment for the capital improvement fund includes an increase of more than $3.7 million in revenues and $4.9 million in expenditures. The increases in both funds are due primarily to grant and capital contribution revenue and associated capital projects.

Modifications proposed to the 2022 budget include amendments to the general fund for an increase of more than $2.8 million in revenue and $726,070 in expenditures. The added revenues are again primarily from ARPA funds and the expenditures account for staffing needs.

The proposed 2022 budget amendments for the capital improvement fund include an increase of more than $2.6 million in revenues and $3.8 million in expenditures. Both are again due primarily to grant and capital contribution revenue and the associated capital projects. Finance Director Crystil Wooldridge noted that many of those projects identified have already been approved by the council, “and now we’re paying for the costs of those projects. So we need to make sure that we’ve appropriated those funds by year end so that that fund has an adopted budget.”

The council reviewed the Recreation, Parks and Open Space (RPOS) Master Plan that was recently recommended by the Mountlake Terrace Recreation and Parks Advisory Commission (RPAC). It helps to create a set of goals, policies and objectives that can guide staff and the council when considering future development, redevelopment and enhancement opportunities of city parks, open spaces and trails, along with recreation facilities, programs and services.

Community feedback was gathered over roughly a year-and-a-half in a variety of forums. Preferences identified included adding more walking/biking trails, picnic areas/shelters, and indoor aquatic space. People also commented they were concerned about trash, maintenance and the expressed a desire for natural vegetation management including the removal of invasive plant species.

An analysis of the city’s park locations and the availability of nearby access to those determined there are three primary areas in Mountlake Terrace where property needs to be acquired for parks.

Key project recommendations identified in the RPOS include:

– Ballinger Park Master Plan projects such as a splash pad, trails, viewing platform

– Veterans Memorial Park Plan projects for upgraded trails, a playground, restroom, vegetation

– Playground upgrades to replace aging equipment at Firefighters Park, Terrace Creek Park, Bicentennial Park and the Recreation Pavilion

– Sport field improvements at Ballinger Park, the Evergreen Playfields and Forest Crest Park

– Land acquisitions to fill gaps in neighborhood park availabilities

– Restroom upgrades at a variety of parks and facilities

Total costs for the various projects recommended are approximately $74 million, nearly half of which would go toward replacing the Recreation Pavilion. The city council would ultimately have to approve each project and its associated budgetary needs.

Councilmembers said they were excited about the plan and also appreciated the community outreach efforts and input gathered throughout the process. Several noted they looked forward to holding future discussions about budgeting for the various projects and upgrades identified.

The Mountlake Terrace Planning Commission will consider the RPOS in January for its recommendation to the council.

The council also discussed the need for more parks and facilities staff to help meet the department’s increasing workloads. Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz said hiring a park project manager would be of great assistance for supporting the design and construction work required for several major projects scheduled over the next few years. The position would also lend a hand with park planning and code updates along with identifying and/or administering funding sources such as grants.

It was noted that the department has been relying on help from city planners and staff across other departments but doing so is untenable moving forward, as those departments’ own lists of upcoming projects and workloads have grown.

“We do realize as a staff that we bring some of this upon ourselves because we really want to upgrade our parks facilities’ infrastructure and follow through on council goals and objectives and make Mountlake Terrace a better place to live, work and play,” Betz said. “But to continue trying to work and upgrade our infrastructure and keep up with a rapidly developing Mountlake Terrace, we need additional resources to make that happen.”

Park Services and Property Management Superintendent Ken Courtmanch advised that hiring two additional full-time maintenance workers is necessary in order to help maintain parks and facilities. The total park acreage in Mountlake Terrace has grown over the last roughly 15 years, but the number of maintenance employees hasn’t kept pace. In addition, many of the city’s buildings have been in service for 40 or more years and much of its parks’ equipment is 20 or more years old, both of which require additional upkeep to maintain. In addition, the city has built new facilities including city hall and the operations facility.

The aging parks and facilities “makes basic maintenance very difficult and very time consuming,” Courtmanch said. He added that as a result, the existing such staff is “working in a reactionary mode” simply to keep equipment functional. In addition, with a limited staff size it can make scheduling difficult, especially when someone goes on vacation: “It makes it hard to maintain continuity and integrity of operations at times, it also amasses quite a bit of overtime over the years which is hard on staff as well,” Courtmanch said.

Several councilmembers said they recognized the need for more staffing and that adding the positions should be a priority. The main concern they voiced was fiscal, noting that while there may be money in the current budget and in projections over the next several years, it would be disappointing to fund those positions and then be forced to downsize by laying them off in the future.

When calculating the costs of those positions in the financial forecast, “we are good through 2027 with those additions,” City Manager Scott Hugill told the council. “I don’t want to find ourselves needing to lay off staff – so I’m right there with you,” he added.

In other business, Hugill recommended the council approves contracts for next year with the Johnston Group to provide federal lobbying services and Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs (GTH-GA) to supply those services at the state level. It was noted that both firms have been instrumental for many years in helping the city procure several millions of dollars in funding for various local projects.

If approved, the Johnston Group will be paid $56,700 in 2022 and GTH-GA will receive $48,000 for its work.

A commissioner on RPAC resigned in November, creating an interim vacancy. Following recent interviews with three candidates, the city council’s subcommittee recommended Molly Luna be appointed to fill the remainder of that position’s term, which expires on June 30, 2023.

The city council will hold its next regular business meeting Monday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. It will include a public hearing on adoption of the mid-biennial budget modification ordinance. See the agenda and information for watching/participating online here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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