MLT council OKs ‘banked’ 1 percent property tax increase; defers decision on Evergreen Playfield turf

Mountlake Terrace City Councilmember Bryan Wahl (top row far right) makes a point as other councilmembers and staff listen during Monday’s meeting via Zoom.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council unanimously approved a 1% property tax increase at its Nov. 16 meeting, although the collection will be banked. That means it won’t be levied next year, but could be collected at a later date.

The good news is, the average property owner will see a tax reduction of approximately $33 in 2021, City Manager Scott Hugill said. Those savings will come from the voter-approved tax levy from 2016, which provided for annual rental costs of approximately $430,000 at the temporary City Hall building. Those payments will expire when construction on the new civic campus is finished next year.

The city anticipates the tax increase, when collected, will generate approximately $48,000 in additional revenue for city services. Both the city’s proposed biennial budget for 2021-22 and its six-year financial forecast included the property tax increase, which is tied to inflation, and 1% is the maximum amount allowable under state law.

The council also approved a 1% increase — roughly $12,000 total for the city– in the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) levy, which goes toward emergency medical and fire services in the city.

No resident comments about the tax proposals were submitted during the public hearing portion of the meeting.


The final public hearing about the proposed 2021-22 biennial budget also concluded without comment. Councilmembers delayed a vote on budget approval until their next meeting on Dec. 7  to allow more time and opportunity for people to weigh in on the matter. The budget ordinance can be viewed here.

The proposal, which Hugill had previously characterized to the council as “a relatively flat budget for the next two years,” aims to still provide the public with essential services while addressing economic uncertainty amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’ve continued to monitor our revenues and expenditures throughout the pandemic to make sure that we can deliver to you a budget that is balanced and accomplishes your goals going forward into the next biennium,” Hugill told the council. The budget is divided into three primary areas that includes funds for general government operations, utilities and capital improvement projects for infrastructure.

During discussions, Councilmember Bryan Wahl continued to voice his support for exploring possibilities for increasing the city’s economic development budget and marketing efforts. “I wanted to encourage us to be ready to increase that in the middle of our two-year process depending on how the economy goes, as far as the pandemic and recovering from (it),” he said,

Finance Director Crystil Wooldridge presented the city’s third-quarter financial report to the council. She said that the city’s funds are “still trending fairly well with our six-year financial forecast.” Sales tax collections and property tax revenues are up compared to this time last year, but money generated from recreation program fees and gambling taxes remain way below projections due to decreased capacities and closures during the pandemic. Income from fines and forfeitures is also down compared to budget forecasts.

The city has so far been “doing a good job of keeping our costs low with the control budget the city manager has in place,” Wooldridge said, which has helped with pandemic-related revenue shortfalls. But she warned that the financial impacts of the pandemic are not fully known and will need to be monitored, especially those areas that have seen decreased income. It’s possible the city may need to examine a mid-year budget amendment in 2021, “if they (revenues) continue to come in under our projections,” she said.

City Recreation Supervisor Kevin Witte, right, discusses the crumb rubber infill design for Evergreen Playfield #1.

In other business, the council temporarily put a hold on its full approval of the Evergreen Playfield #1 turf field design. Councilmembers asked for more time to gather additional public input and research data about any health or environmental effects that could potentially result from — or be associated with — the synthetic turf materials proposed for the project.

Currently, the design submitted for approval by the Recreation and Parks Department would use a standard sand and crumb rubber mixture. Department staff had removed an alternative coated crumb rubber known as “Cushion Fall” from consideration because it would cost approximately $55,000 more than the standard crumb rubber. The project’s total costs are now estimated at almost $1.8 million.

Many sports fields in the surrounding area, including Mountlake Terrace High School, use a standard version of crumb rubber. Due to public concerns, over time studies have been performed on the use of standard crumb rubber. Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz said that according to all of the various government and industry studies he’d viewed, standard crumb rubber “doesn’t possess a significant public health risk.”

Councilmember Erin Murray said it was her understanding that “existing studies were limited” regarding the health concerns and that while she was excited about the project, “I think we should be making decisions based on science, not emotion in situations like this.” She felt that additional time and resources would help to better understand the issue and potentially alleviate any concerns.

The council agreed that while the playfield project has long been considered by the city and would be a valuable community upgrade, they also felt a brief delay would be helpful to more thoroughly examine the field materials’ pros and cons before making a long-term decision with possible public health ramifications. They unanimously approved allowing for the permitting process to begin immediately, while holding back on the synthetic turf decision until their next meeting. Betz said he would gather more data before then, adding he didn’t think that the temporary delay would affect the project’s expected completion date of next summer.

The council also heard from City Manager Hugill that following Gov. Inslee’s announcement this week re-imposing restrictions due to spiking COVID-19 infections, the city is evaluating its staffing levels necessary to meet state guidelines while continuing to provide essential services. Staff will also begin work next week on spending any remaining CARES Act funds that are not already allocated for community support programs, internally to help with remote working conditions and online permitting processes.

In addition, a slew of resolutions, agreements and contracts previously discussed at the council’s  Nov. 12 work/study session were unanimously approved by the council during Monday night’s meeting.

Finally, Councilmember Laura Sonmore urged the public for their input on the city’s Veterans Memorial Park online survey. A master plan for the park is currently in progress to help guide future decisions and development. Planned improvements  include an asphalt trail with lighting that is accessible, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, to connect the Mountlake Terrace Town Center with the future light rail station.

— By Nathan Blackwell




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