Well-maintained city parks and open spaces. Fully-funded city services and infrastructure. A vibrant Town Center. These were main themes that emerged during a Mountlake Terrace City Council retreat that included councilmembers’ visions for what the city will look like in the next 30 to 50 years.
The council also took a look at funding challenges the city will be facing in the next few years and ideas for addressing them.
City Manager Scott Hugill opened the March 7 meeting by asking the council to outline on a notepad “what you see Mountlake Terrace being 30 to 50 years from now. What it looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.”
He urged councilmembers to state their visions with “no parameters,” setting aside whether their ideals met state funding or legal requirements. Once the goals are outlined, the council can “look at reality,” including the city’s long list of unfunded capital projects, staff workload, and financial forecasts, Hugill said.
Councilmember Laura Sonomore, who has served on the council for 20 years, focused on sustainability issues, including a city that would in 30 to 50 years be taking advantage of new technology such as 3-D printers to recycle waste, requiring businesses to recycle their rainwater and promoting self-contained food gardens. Sonmore also listed disaster preparedness as another key element of her long-term city vision.
Councilmember Doug McCardle focused on infrastructure, noting it’s important that the city in the future have “policies and procedures in place to make sure our infrastructure is well-maintained.” In addition, McCardle envisioned a revitalized business corridor along 220th Street Southwest, from Highway 99 to Interstate 5, and ensuring strong relationships with Mountlake Terrace’s state and federal legislative delegations so the city can access money for key projects. And he concluded by stressing the city’s need for “stout finances to cover all city programming including funding for new buildings and for our disenfranchised population.”
Councilmember Rick Ryan stressed the importance of maintaining Mountlake Terrace’s single-family neighborhoods while concentrating growth in areas near the city’s light rail station and Town Center. Ryan also was hopeful that the city would create more partnership with Snohomish County and surrounding cities to address social issues including opioid addiction and homelessness.
When it came time to talk about his 30- to 50-year vision, Councilmember Bryan Wahl spoke about the development of Ballinger Park to become like Seattle’s Green Lake, with a range of water-inspired activities and an amphitheater. Adding to McCardle’s thoughts, Wahl said he would like to see the city strengthen its fiscal policies so that it “addresses the needs of the community without overburdening the taxpayer. Seattle scares me because of the tax burden they are putting on their citizens,” Wahl said.
Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright agreed about the vision for Ballinger Park, stating that since the park will be within walking distance of the light rail station, it will become the city’s “big attraction.” Wright also said that Mountlake Terrace would be the perfect location for a small performing arts center that would bring in tourism dollars, and could also use another hotel
The council’s newest member, Erin Murray, said she envisioned that in 30 to 50 years, Mountlake Terrace will have created a community “that allows us to live, work and play” in the city. Murray also stressed the importance of community safety, “from the crime rate to sidewalks.” And she was hopeful that the city would increase its civic engagement so that “residents understand what our city does and how they can engage in that” — thus leading to a high degree of trust in city decisions.
Councilmember Steve Woodard started his visioning process by sketching a picture that he said represented Mountlake Terrace “embracing our duality. We’ve got an opportunity to build a small city without losing our small-town feel,” he said. One way to accomplish that vision is to use the city’s park system as a connecting point, he said. Other areas where the council could leave a specific legacy, Woodward said, include creating both a youth commission and a diversity commission, and also ensuring that the city documents its history.
After the council completed the visioning exercise, Hugill reviewed the 2019 community satisfaction survey (see a summary of those results here), then shared the city’s six-year financial forecast, which provided an updated forecast to the year 2025.
The biggest issue on the horizon, Hugill explained, was the city’s upcoming contract negotiations with the South Snohomish County Regional Fire Authority. The city has contracted with the fire authority (formerly Fire District 1) to provide emergency medical and fire services since 2005, and the latest contract expires in 2024. Hugill says he expects that costs are going to increase substantially in the next round of contract negotiations, and that the city will have to decide what it can afford and the next steps for providing residents with fire and EMS services.
During the next four years, the council will need to start having a conversation about fire service options for Mountlake Terrace, Hugill said. These could include the city restarting its own fire department, partnering with nearby cities like Brier and Edmonds that also now contract with the fire authority and could be facing the same scenario, or contracting with the City of Shoreline’s fire department, “who might be willing to do this for less.”
“It’s coming quick and it’s got to be addressed,” Hugill said. “I don’t need it solved today but I need you to be aware of it.”
The council also got a look at the city’s long list of unfunded capital improvements related to parks, utilities and streets. Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz noted that many of the city’s aging playgrounds need upgrading, adding that playground equipment is expensive. Public Works Director Eric LaFrance explained that the city has a total of $23.5 million in unfunded street projects. With the passage of $30 car tab Initiative 976 — which is still tied up in the courts — the city is also likely to lose roughly $1.4 million in transportation funds that it was hoping to use to establish a chip seal program for city streets.
Hugill closed the meeting by asking the council to revisit its collective list of long-term priorities, and pick the top issues that councilmembers would like the city to focus on. The list ranged from prioritizing parks, to enhancing city and county partnerships, to upgrading the city’s Recreation Pavilion and library buildings, to fully funding capital improvements, to economic development and Town Center vitality.
The next step, Hugill said, will be for the council’s strategic planning subcommittee to review the list “and start outlining goals and strategies to get there” — then bring it back to the full council for review.
— By Teresa Wippel