MLT City Council approves contracts for COVID-19 relief funds, OKs Ballinger Park restoration project

Councilmembers listen to a presentation from Stormwater Program Manager Laura Reed, lower right.

Although originally scheduled to hold work/study session Sept. 3 with no action taken, the Mountlake Terrace City Council instead unanimously approved three items Thursday night and canceled the business meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Councilmembers gave City Manager Scott Hugill the go-ahead to sign contracts with local nonprofit organizations that will assist residents who have been hurt financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Households can soon begin applying for help to pay certain unmet bills and food delivery for those who are either homebound or at higher risk to travel.

The program allows residents who meet financial criteria to receive a one-time grant of up to $500 that can be used help pay bills such as child care, medical bills, car repairs, and water and sewer. “We know folks are struggling to get by during these challenging times and hopefully these grants will help our residents catch up a bit,” City Clerk/Community Relations Director Virginia Olsen said in a city announcement of the program Friday.

Next week, a postcard will be mailed to MLT households with information in English and Spanish about applying for the grants. Information about the relief program can also be found online.

Service providers are Washington Kids in Transition, which will distribute $10,000 in funds to residents for help with unmet bills; and a three-way partnership of organizations — the Foundation for Edmonds School District, the Mountlake Terrace Community Foundation and Calvary Fellowship — that will distribute $40,000. Three-fourths of the funding that the partnership receives will also go to households for bill relief and the remaining $10,000 is earmarked for food delivery efforts.

Hugill told councilmembers that the city’s contracts with all of the nonprofits will require oversight measures that include meeting every two weeks to show how the funds are being distributed and what the qualification criteria are. The funding is open to households impacted by the pandemic, he said, and that while the organizations typically help residents with low incomes, that is not necessarily the case with this program. To avoid duplication the nonprofits must maintain a database to share information on approved applicants.

The city is providing the funds from its share allocated under the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act. Councilmembers had previously identified, in June, their priorities to provide assistance for people unable to pay essential bills and make food delivery available to those who are in need due to medical conditions. Under the federal program, money is available to the city on a reimbursement basis from the State of Washington as long as the expenses are directly connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other business, the council Thursday night approved a restoration project for Ballinger Park and Hall Creek. The project’s goal is to rebuild habitat and address ecological health in the park.

Laura Reed, the city’s stormwater program manager, told the council that the plan would help provide an improved habitat for native species of plants and animals, which would also benefit park visitors with improved access to more natural areas.

The project, to be done in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers, calls for changing Hall Creek’s path within the park to improve refuge areas for stream life, removing invasive plants and replacing them with native fauna, and construction of boardwalks to protect the restored areas. It will also create important habitat for native animals such as birds, fish, turtles, salamanders and frogs.

“This is a project for people who enjoy parks, it’s not just a habitat project,” Reed said. When finished, it will include educational signage for schoolchildren, dog owners and people who fish. Reed said she had previously observed the results of a habitat restoration project at Jackson Park Golf Course in Seattle. “It is really amazing,” she said, how many species start showing up when provided with a more natural environment.

Design, engineering and construction costs for the project will be shared, with the Army Corps paying 65 percent and the city paying 35 percent. The cost to the city is anticipated to be just under $2 million and construction is set to begin in 2022, with completion later that year.

Reed, who is managing the project for the city, said that while the project is small compared to what the Army Corps typically works on, it is big for Mountlake Terrace. “It’s a really rare opportunity and in fact it’s been a really good working relationship with the Corps,” she said. “I think they understand that we are a small city, that we are very cost conscious, and they have been working with us to try to make sure that we use every dollar in a really effective way and get the most out of it.”

A former golf course, the 55-acre Ballinger Park has been allowed to return to a more natural condition since the course closed in 2012. The city council in 2015 approved the park’s master plan, which includes substantial ecological restoration for Hall Creek, ponds and wetland areas within its boundaries.

Several on the council expressed their enthusiasm for the park project. Councilmember Bryan Wahl said, “It’s a jewel of Mountlake Terrace, I think that Ballinger Park in general and what we’re doing with Hall Creek and for the environment and for open space is exciting.”

“That really is a project that we are going to be proud of, I can’t wait for that to be done,” Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright said.

The council also approved a change to the city’s recreation program refund policy. Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz told councilmembers that after transitioning to a new registration software provider, it was discovered the policy for refunds did not adequately consider account credits. The new policy is meant to ensure that any credits don’t linger and are promptly handled. It provides direction to both city staff and customers for requesting a credit or refund from a cancelled recreation program.

Previously the city would refund the money directly to people, but with an online registration and payment program customers may occasionally have a credit on their account. The amounts were typically small according to the city.

The new policy will not allow refunds for account credits of less than $5 due to customer cancellation. Betz said that is due to administrative costs charged to the city for all refunds on credit cards. If the program is cancelled by the city then refunds are automatic regardless of amount.

Customers’ account credits will now be kept on file for a period of one year and beyond that time any unused funds will be subject to a service charge of $10. Betz said the city will make three attempts throughout the year to contact a customer to issue their refund, but afterward any funds left after the $10 administrative fee will be considered unclaimed property, which can then be submitted to the Washington State Department of Revenue.

– By Nathan Blackwell















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