MLT council discusses plans for gradual reopening of city facilities, starting with appointments in late July

Mountlake Terrace City Councilmembers discuss plans for reopening city facilities to the public with City Manager Scott Hugill, bottom row-right, during their meeting Monday night via Zoom.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council, at its July 19 meeting, reviewed when municipal facilities might reopen to the public and received the city’s 2021 first quarter financial report.

The City of Mountlake Terrace will proceed toward reopening its buildings for in-person services and meetings in a gradual manner. “As we are working our way through the pandemic, we – like a lot of cities, have a phased approach,” City Manager Scott Hugill said, and “for Mountlake Terrace our phased approach is going to be a bit longer unfortunately.”

While several cities in the area have been able to reopen their facilities using a variety of masking requirements and/or schedule modifications, Mountlake Terrace has not yet opened its new city hall and remodeled police station. The recent move into city hall did not allow staff time to plan for a reopening until recently and some construction work is still ongoing in the buildings.

“We plan by the end of July to be able to open up for appointments with customers in the community for development permits and that sort of thing,” Hugill said, adding that will give staff  “time to put up partitions on our counters in (the) new city hall.” Erecting those barriers will help with distancing safeguards. Hugill noted, “When we do open the doors, we’ll have a sign on the door that if you’re not vaccinated, we ask that you wear a mask, if you are vaccinated it’s your choice, but we still want to keep that separation for employee safety just in case.”

City employees who provide proof that they been vaccinated will not be required to wear a mask and can choose whether or not to do so,” he added.

Hugill anticipated that the council’s new chambers would likely be ready to hold in-person gatherings in September. He said that in the meantime, “The contractor has some additional HVAC work, together with audio and video, and we want to run through a couple of mock meetings just to make sure we get all of the bugs out,” before commencing with official council proceedings on-site.

“If everything goes as it has been going, we should be able to let the public in without social distancing because right now there are no limitations on crowds for indoor events that we can’t meet,” Hugill added.

Councilmember Laura Sonmore said she is hopeful that allowing residents and developers to set up appointments will help to improve their experience during the permitting process and thought it could also prove to be a valuable resource even after the pandemic.

“Development permits are something that we haven’t been able to do electronically, but during the pandemic we were able to push forward a lot of technology that the council’s been interested in,” Hugill said. He also anticipated that new permitting software, which would allow for building and development plans to be submitted and reviewed electronically, will be presented to the council for its approval later this year.

Plans also call for councilmembers to have access to newer tablets and phones dedicated to conducting official city business. “We’re bringing you… into the 20th century and then hopefully soon into the 21st century with all that technology and make it easier for you and the community as well,” Hugill added, citing the council’s recent approval of a new utility billing vendor.

“This (pandemic) has really made us change our way of thinking in doing business,” said Hugill, who noted that the new Civic Campus will also offer public access to its Wi-Fi network. Such access was previously only being considered for inside the city hall building. “But during the pandemic, seeing that people had such a need for connection and not everybody has internet, that we thought we need to be able to provide it outside the building as well – just as the library does,” he added.

Finance Director Crystil Wooldridge presented the council with the city’s 2021 first quarter financial report. She said the report shows that the city remains on target financially for providing the community with cost-effective services, programs and projects. In addition, the city council has adhered to a policy of staying within financial means to ensure those programs and projects can be maintained for years to come. While the city’s recreation department was the first to see a substantial revenue reduction due to COVID-19, those impacts will continue be monitored and an increase in the general fund subsidy may be necessary in the future.

Wooldridge highlighted sales tax collections, which totaled just over $1 million for the first quarter and represents an increase of nearly $131,000 over the first quarter in 2020. Funds generated from development service fees still remained strong. Gambling tax revenues received by the city are still below projections but have started to rebound from last year, when casinos were closed due to the pandemic. It was also noted that income from passport applications and civic fines and forfeitures remain well below budget projections due to safety procedures put in place during the pandemic.

First-quarter operating revenues and expenditures in the city’s general fund saw a slight increase but still remain similar to previous years as a percentage of the overall adopted budget. Wooldridge said the recreation fund has started to see its revenues stabilize and recover somewhat after they decreased significantly last year amid closures related to the pandemic. The general fund’s transfer to the recreation fund for the first quarter this year was $200,001.

Street operations fund revenues and expenditures remain in line with last year’s numbers for the first quarter. Revenues to date have exceeded operating costs in the utilities funds, which include water, stormwater and sewers. It is also anticipated that real estate excise tax revenues are on track to exceed budget projections for this year.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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