MLT council reviews 2021 department performance measures, interlocal agreement on affordable housing

Mountlake Terrace City Councilmembers meet via Zoom for their work/study session Thursday night.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council, at its Jan. 13 work/study session, reviewed the performance measures of city departments for July-December 2021.

Generally, the performance metrics of departments increased last year when compared to the previous year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Highlights included:

Recreation and Parks programs attendance nearly doubled as the department continued to re-open programs. It was noted that swim lesson capacities have been especially full and staff has been working to expand aquatic programs and gym offerings as allowed.

– Parks and property management has experienced struggles with hiring employees, which impacts its ability to respond to maintenance and other requests. However, Park Services and Property Management Superintendent Ken Courtmanch said the city council’s approval of the addition of two in-house custodial staff positions has been a “boon” to the department and particularly helpful.

– There were 1,051 volunteer hours logged in parks services last year, which was almost double of those recorded in 2020.

– The Community and Economic Development department greatly reduced the average number of days needed when making a decision on building permit applications. Directory Christy Osborn said the integration of online permitting software has been a “gamechanger.”

– Development activities in Mountlake Terrace remained strong and property values continued to climb citywide.

– There were 154 home-occupation new businesses last year, which was up substantially from 2020.

– Public Works Director Eric LaFrance noted that the use of a sewer line rapid assessment tool has allowed work crews to much more quickly and efficiently evaluate and maintain the city’s sewer mains.

– Nearly a third of the fleet maintenance shop’s labor hours continued to be billed to contracted agencies outside of the department — such as the City of Shoreline.

– Regarding organizational development, the average amount of time needed to fill city positions increased by more than three weeks.

– The number of public meetings held by the city council increased by 10%.

– Filling the vacant community relations specialist position allowed the city to greatly increase its outreach efforts and presence on social media. Community Relations Director Virginia Clough said the top social media posts continued to be public safety and weather-related.

In other business, the council reviewed a proposed interlocal agreement with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) for the creation of affordable housing. Under the agreement, HASCO — as an independent contractor — would perform all the obligations of a housing authority in Mountlake Terrace. All of its housing development projects will still be subject to city planning and zoning ordinances and regulations unless otherwise waived by a city council resolution.

The agreement will allow HASCO to acquire and operate properties within Mountlake Terrace for housing authority purposes. City council discussions last year regarding affordable housing needs both locally and in Snohomish County resulted in a direction for staff to pursue an interlocal agreement with HASCO for the creation of such housing.

Under Washington law, a county-created housing authority like HASCO must get city council approval to operate within a city. However, when the approval is granted on a project-by-project basis, that process can delay HASCO’s ability to pursue properties in a timely fashion as they become available on the market.

The proposed agreement enables HASCO to operate in Mountlake Terrace without additional city council approval. It also identifies aspects of interest to the city, such as limiting the number of properties under HASCO’s public ownership that would be removed from the tax assessment rolls.

HASCO is required to keep the city informed of any potential projects and also about the development and operations status of projects located within Mountlake Terrace. It must also consider the city’s comprehensive plan and long-range planning programs in the planning and location of any housing development project.

The City of Mountlake Terrace will not be involved in the operation of housing developed by HASCO or the determination of rentals and tenant selection. Both parties will maintain regular communications between staff in order to provide information on existing housing programs available to city residents. HASCO is solely responsible for the financing of any housing authority projects authorized by the agreement — unless the city specifically provides for financial support or participation by entering into a separate agreement.

The proposed interlocal agreement is similar to one HASCO executed with the City of Edmonds in 2021. The council will vote on approval of the interlocal agreement with HASCO as part of the consent calendar during its Jan. 18 regular business meeting.

The council also reviewed a professional services agreement for a new hearing examiner. For the past seven years, attorney Jessica Ness has served as the City of Mountlake Terrace’s hearing examiner for civil forfeitures, contested infractions and code compliance issues. However, she notified the city last year that she would be stepping down from that role in order to accept a municipal judge position for the City of Monroe.

And Chief of Police Pete Caw and staff recommended the council authorize, as part of its next regular business meeting, City Manager Scott Hugill to sign an agreement with attorney Rico Tessandore to provide hearing examiner services. Tessandore was previously a member of the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office for five years and he has more than 20 years of experience as a member of a law firm specializing in corporate entities.

Caw noted that in roles relevant to serving as a hearing examiner, Tessandore has been a pro tem judge in all Snohomish County District Courts, as well as Superior Court and municipal courts in Monroe, Bothell and Marysville. He also currently serves as an arbitrator in King, Snohomish and Skagit County Superior Courts.

In addition, Caw said that continuing to have an independent contracted hearing examiner allows the city to process numerous civil issues locally, which is more convenient for the community than utilizing the district court system.

The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee’s 2022 funding recommendations were also reviewed Thursday night. The advisory committee consists of two representatives from businesses that are required to collect the hotel-motel tax, two people who are involved in activities that are authorized to be funded by the tax, and one elected official who serves as chairperson of the committee. The Studio 6 hotel is Mountlake Terrace’s only lodging facility that collects hotel/motel taxes.

Under state law, permitted uses of lodging tax funds include tourism marketing, the marketing and operations of special events and festivals, operations of tourism-related facilities that are owned or operated by nonprofit organizations, and operations and capital expenditures of tourism-related facilities owned by municipalities or public facilities districts.

Because the lodging tax funds are generated by overnight stays, state auditors recommend that they be used for programs and events that reach an audience beyond Mountlake Terrace in order to generate overnight stays in the city. State reporting measures require an estimate of visitors traveling at least 50 miles to the event.

The City of Mountlake Terrace budgets $25,000 that is available for allocation each year. Lodging tax funds are reimbursed to the organizations/events by the city. Therefore, if the funds allocated are not spent, such as if an event is cancelled, then the money still remains in the city’s fund balance.

Two applications were submitted to the advisory committee by community organizations seeking funding in 2022. Mountlake Terrace Friends of the Arts requested $10,000 for the Arts of the Terrace Juried Art Show, which is planned for Sept. 16-24, 2022. The Tour de Terrace organization is seeking $15,000 for the three-day Tour de Terrace annual Seafair-sanctioned community festival.

The advisory committee recommended that both applications ultimately be approved. The council will vote on authorization of the funding recommendations at its next regular business meeting.

During public comments, resident Sally Buckingham said the city should consider installing a traffic light or taking other safety measures at the intersection of 48th Avenue West and 217th Street Southwest. Buckingham reported that she was recently involved in a vehicle collision there in which the other driver ran a stop sign. She noted also being aware of several other traffic accidents at the intersection and added the visible sightlines along with the terrain make it hard to see and then react in a safe and timely manner to such incidents.

The city council will hold its next regular business meeting Tuesday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. It will include a public hearing on the adoption of the Recreation, Parks, and Open Space (RPOS) Master Plan ordinance. See the agenda and information for watching/participating online here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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