Council discusses new city jobs, community development projects during Thursday work session

Councilmembers listen to a report from City Manager Scott Hugill, bottom row – far right – during their April 15 work/study session.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its April 15 work/study session discussed in-house jobs and was presented with reports about developments citywide, stormwater programs and a delay in moving to the new City Hall building.

Community and Economic Development Director Christy Osborn provided the council with a year-end review and an update on active development projects in Mountlake Terrace. There are currently approximately 30 significant projects at various stages in their process throughout the city, she said.

Development activity has “been up” when compared to the previous two years, Osborn said. “Even with COVID we had a pretty significant year…in part with the impending light rail project,” she added. “We really haven’t skipped a beat, other than just trying to facilitate our lobby being closed and thinking of other ways to serve the community and the customers that are doing business in the city currently.”

The City of Mountlake Terrace’s website has an interactive location map of development projects and their status.

Among the significant projects Osborn highlighted in her presentation to the council were several from Sound Transit supporting light rail construction, including the temporary bus loop and parking at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, the 222nd Street Southwest vacation and conditional use permits along the I-5 corridor.

Also noted were the many townhome and residential developments throughout the city, mixed-use projects such as the Atlas 236 and Terrace Station, construction at the Civic Campus, the Premera Campus renovation and the city’s Lake Ballinger waterfront restoration project.

After the presentation, Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto noted, “That’s a lot of projects going on, so you guys are really busy.”

Councilmembers continued discussions about possibly hiring two in-house custodians and two additional city staff positions — for community relations and an associate planner.

Staff had previously recommended that the council approve creating two in-house custodian jobs following 14 years of contracted custodial service at city facilities. The city currently contracts with outside firms for cleaning at the police station, operations facility and Recreation Pavilion. Using city positions for the work would be more expensive than outsourcing it, but staff have said that the contracted work provided is often substandard and also results in a lot of service provider turnover.

During its last discussion, the council requested additional information from staff including the impact of the proposed custodial positions on the city’s financial forecast, possibly refilling a position in community relations following a retirement last year and addressing the backlog of development permits.

When the COVID-19 pandemic led to restrictions on business and social activities last year, the city anticipated an economic downturn which led to reduced staffing levels through furloughs, layoffs and holding vacant positions open. However, Mountlake Terrace actually saw an increase in sales tax revenues ,which staff attributed to residents shifting to online shopping and vigorous development activities in the city. Those income streams, along with funds made available under the federal CARES Act to offset some city expenses in response to the pandemic, have resulted in the city’s general fund remaining on target with pre-pandemic forecasts.

City Manager Scott Hugill told the council that staff is continuing to recommend hiring two in-house custodial positions to improve the quality of service at the Recreation Pavilion and also provide service at the expanded Mountlake Terrace Police Station and new City Hall. And as a result of the council’s previously expressed priorities around community relations and development activities, along with a healthy financial forecast, staff is also recommending that funding be provided for both a community relations and an associate planner position.

The associate planner would help with current development projects and processing permits, which would also allow for other community and economic development staff to focus their efforts on long-range planning tasks.

As in-person activities are able to resume, staff said that the need for marketing and outreach will continue to grow and determined that filling the community relations vacancy was a high priority. The position would focus on community engagement through increased use of social media, production of digital content, help with planning and staffing city events, and managing relationships with local stakeholders.

The increase in the city’s budget for each recommended program would be approximately $89,000 for the two custodial positions, nearly $84,000 for the associate planner and roughly $79,000 for the community relations role. Hugill said those cost estimates and their impacts on long-term budget forecasts were constructed in a “conservatively safe” manner. Using those cost projections, “You’ll see that by the end of 2026 we still have over $4 million in the ending fund balance, which is significant,” he said. “We haven’t had that level of an ending fund balance since before the last recession, so we’re doing well.”

As a result, Hugill said the recommended positions are not in competition with one another for funding and the council should consider whether to fund each program independently. He then asked councilmembers to give him a general indication of their feelings on those recommendations. A majority of the council gave either a thumbs up and/or their verbal support to further exploration by staff of developing ordinances for each of the potential city job positions discussed.

In other business, Stormwater Program Manager Laura Reed presented a 2021 program update. The department’s goals continue to remain protecting water quality, reducing flooding and repairing or replacing aging infrastructure in Mountlake Terrace.

Its programs for educating and involving the public “had to get creative in 2020,” she said. “I think that some of the things that have been most successful in this past year are starting a stormwater scavenger hunt and also our adopt-a-drain program.”

Reed also highlighted two natural yard care webinars held this spring and said each one had 44 participants and more than double that number of subsequent views since being posted online afterward. “So they’re really reaching even more people than we could’ve with a live event and so that’s very satisfying,” she added.

There are also ongoing efforts to keep people from dumping hazardous chemicals down storm drains and involvement with invasive weed control on Lake Ballinger. Additional programs include developing a Lake Ballinger-specific curriculum for schools, a campaign encouraging businesses to close their dumpster lids to prevent rainwater from draining contaminants outside of the containers and an Orca recovery day community planting and involvement event being planned for this fall.

“We had a real uptick in the number of spills that were reported and investigated,” in 2020, which was almost double to the previous year, said Reed, who attributed the “lion’s share” of those 51 spills to mostly originating at various developmental projects throughout the city. Reed added, “It shouldn’t be too surprising considering that we have had so much construction this past year and on top of that we have Sound Transit running through.” She noted that “Sound Transit is very good at reporting their problems and fixing them as they go along.”

Tools that Mountlake Terrace uses to combat spills include a hotline for reporting such incidents, crews that respond to those calls and investigate them and enforcement if needed to prevent further deterioration and pollution at the source.

In other business, the council will vote Monday night on an amendment that will allow for a delay in changing references to the physical address from the interim city hall to the new Civic Campus — which includes noticing city council meetings and the delivery of summons and claims.

Last month, the council passed an ordinance to use the new address in city materials. which was to become effective on April 30. But construction delays at the new city hall have pushed back moving into the building until May and staff has requested the previous ordinance be amended to extend the effective date of the address change until May 31, 2021. Once the move actually takes place, city council agendas and any other public notices before the end of May will be posted at both the new city hall and on the front door of the interim location at Redstone Corporate Center II.

The ordinance would also end the practice of having a printed meeting packet in the lobby of city hall for two weeks following a meeting and those would instead be made available upon request.

The city council will hold its next regular business meeting April 19, beginning at 7 p.m. It will include a presentation to review public input received about the Recreation, Parks and Open Space (RPOS) Master Plan as well as the Veterans Memorial Park Plan. See the agenda here.

At Thursday night’s work/study session the council also heard South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue’s annual report and a presentation the Alliance for Affordable Housing’s report regarding affordable housing options in the area. Those reports will be included in a separate article coming soon.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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