In introducing his draft 2019-2020 biennial budget to the Mountlake Terrace City Council last week, City Manager Scott Hugill pointed to the importance of both investing in infrastructure and encouraging new development to ensure the city has a tax base to provide essential services for its residents.
“Mountlake Terrace is a family town,” Hugill told the council during its Oct. 1 business meeting. “We’re not a college town or a tourist town. That’s how we started, that’s what we are today, that’s what we will be in the future.
“That means to grow our economy, we have to increase housing and opportunities for those families,” he continued. “While we maintain our investments in parks and recreation and safety, we need to create restaurants and shops and jobs and infrastructure to move the community to and from those jobs — both here and outside the community.”
Noting the difficult financial situation the city has faced during the past 30 months, Hugill thanked the community “for supporting two ballot measures in two years — the levy lid lift and city hall — as well as their attendance and participation at numerous workshops, open houses, completing community surveys and all of that.”
He also thanked the council, noting that the last two years were filled with difficult decisions given the city’s financial situation. And he thanked city staff for their hard work during lean budget times.
Hugill then ran through a list of the city’s accomplishments, including the reception of over $8 million in regional, state and federal grants during the past two years for Ballinger Park and Main Street.
“We will continue that during the next biennium,” Hugill said.
In addition, thanks to voter support, the city is now working on a design for a new city hall and an expanded police station, he said. And it has conducted outreach to the development community in an effort to rebuild the permitting process “so it can provide efficiency and predictability for applicants.”
The city has also focused on “developing a workable code and identifying a way to achieve the community’s vision in a manner that’s economical for construction,” Hugill said.
Priority one for the budget, Hugill said, is “life, health and safety,” which includes 28 commissioned police personnel. Previous budgets had similar numbers for police, but many of those positions were vacant due to budget cuts, Hugill said. “Starting this year we have fully funded and filled 28 commissioned personnel — this budget continues that,” he added.
Recreation and Parks will be fully funded again, “thanks in large part to the levy lid lift,” he said. The budget also includes major investments in streets and sidewalks, and improvements to the building and construction inspection with online permitting and technical review committees “to help developers get through the permitting process.”
In addition, based on council discussions last year, the budget includes funding for the Snohomish County Health District, Hugill said.
Using development revenue, the city is able to fund through the proposed budget contracts for building inspections and plan review to supplement work from in-house staff, he said. The city also is investing in electronic content management so it can better respond to public records requests and reduce storage requirements for paper records as it prepares to move into the new city hall.
Hugill then addressed the council’s goals, starting with protecting and enhancing the city’s financial health and stability. “In the budget you will see that we have to address our growing expenses,” Hugill said. “Even with the levy lid lift, that bought us four years. Right now, looking at your six-year financial forecast, you will see that our ending fund balance begins to decline rapidly.”
This is in large part because of the city’s payroll, which is now $10 million annually, he said. “A conservative 1 percent cost of living adjustment on that $10 million equates to $100,000 in additional expense in year one. In year two, another 1 percent COLA means we have to come up with $200,000. Year three, it’s over $300,000,” he said.
The city doesn’t have the funds to cover even a 1 percent cost of living adjustment, Hugill said. “That’s why this budget does not propose any new permanent positions.” There is a proposal for a temporary position to help with records digitization, “but we don’t have the revenue to be able to afford new police or any other positions,” he added.
The budget does include dollars for marketing, both on the radio and in print, to assist with economic development, “to get Mountlake Terrace out there in the development community,” Hugill said. “Word is already getting out,” he added, pointing to the Roger’s Market property that just sold for $8.2 million and the property at Terrace Station “selling for record numbers.”
To capitalize on this increasing demand, the draft budget includes dollars to update the city’s development code after any action the council takes on the Town Center plan later this year. It also provides dollars for building and plan review, “so we can expedite developers’ applications,” Hugill said.
In addition, the budget includes funding “to work on the community’s image,” the city manager said. “Regularly in our community satisfaction survey, the community regards our image as relatively low,” Hugill said. Two code enforcement positions — who work to ensure local property owners comply with codes regarding the appearance of their properties — are funded in the current budget and will continue in future budgets. This will help the city market to private investment, he said.
Another council goal is improving the downtown Main Street Revitalization Project. Construction for this project, 10 years in the planning, will begin later this year and is estimated to take about 18 months, he said. Because property owners along 236th Street Southwest won’t have to pay for those improvements, it will be “a huge incentive” for development, he added.
Another key focus for the next two years is construction of the Civic Campus project, because the city has to leave its temporary city hall headquarters in two years.
The city will also continue to seek state and federal funding for roads, parks and utilities. “Again, we don’t have dollars to do seal coats, chip seal or a lot of other road work,” Hugill said, so funding for those projects will have to be found.
He noted that on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 10 and 11, city department heads will make individual 2019-2020 budget presentations to the council, starting at 6 p.m. each evening.
In closing, Hugill told the council “to take a moment and just celebrate what you’ve accomplished in the last 30 months. Again, 30 months ago, I wasn’t sure that this organization was going to be what it is today if that levy lid lift had not passed. We were going bankrupt and had to say no to a lot of things — not a popular decision. But now we’ve corrected that, thanks to you and the organization, and we’re on a better track.”
— By Teresa Wippel