Mountlake Terrace council discusses tree code update, biennial budget; public hearings on both Dec. 21

City of Mountlake Terrace Program Manager Laura Reed presents to the Mountlake Terrace City Council Dec. 14.

Among the items presented at the Dec. 14 Mountlake Terrace city council meeting was a review to amend the ordinance for the city’s tree code.

For those who want to weigh in, a public hearing  on the tree code update is scheduled for the Thursday, Dec. 21 council meeting.

Stormwater Program Manager Laura Reed presented proposed changes to the tree code on Dec. 14. The ordinance was developed by Reed, city stormwater intern Tim Seed, resident Susan Kuhn, Tree Board Member and Ivy League Founder Audrey Meyer and Matt Enany of Sierra Construction.

Reed said the city code regulating trees during development has not been significantly modified since 1995. Further, the tree fund and other tree-related city codes are outdated compared to those in the cities of Lynnwood, Edmonds, Shoreline, Lake Forest Park and Brier. 

With the accelerating rate of redevelopment and the timing of the city’s Comprehensive Plan update, it seems like an appropriate time to review and update the existing tree codes, Reed said.

The proposed code will introduce a new minimum tree retention standard that increases from 20% to 25% and removes the 10 significant tree minimum. It will also establish exceptions for additional tree preservations and frontage improvements.

It will set up new standards for tree replacement based on the size of the tree removed. The trees are measured by their diameter at breast height (DBH) or at 4.5 feet of the tree’s height above ground.

Removal of a 6- to 12-inch-diameter tree requires planting three trees. A 12- to 24-inch- diameter tree requires five. Trees ranging from 24 to 48 inches would have five planted to replace them, and trees larger than 48 inches would need 10.

Further, it creates incentives for higher levels of tree protection, puts in place tree retention priorities, and allows for tree replacement and a fee-in-lieu option.

The update to the existing tree protection standards would also add preventive mitigation to protect retained trees from construction impacts.

The code changes include creating a Heritage Tree Program to protect and celebrate large, distinctive or unique trees.

Under the proposed  ordinance, the tree management code would move from Title 12 (Public Roads, Ways, and Places) to Title 16 (Environment), allowing the Heritage Tree Program to include private and public property.

The tree code does not apply to single-family residential homes except for heritage trees at the property owner’s choice. Further, it does not restrict owners from any kind of tree work, including removal, and applies to both development and redevelopment.

Anyone can nominate a public tree for heritage designation. There is also a process to remove a heritage tree on private property from the list.

The requirements for a Heritage Tree are that it must be healthy, larger than 36 inches in diameter, and have a distinctive age, shape or size for local historical significance. 

“It’s sort of in the eye of the beholder as to what makes a heritage tree on public and private property,” Reed said.

The ordinance would also establish responsibility for the review of heritage tree applications with a newly established Mountlake Terrace Tree Board. Mountlake Terrace Recreation and Parks Advisory Commission volunteers currently staff the board.

A summary of proposed amendments for 2024 and their costs compared to 2023. (Images courtesy of the City of Mountlake Terrace)

The updated code would also modernize and correct city definitions for verbiage such as groves, qualified arborists, tree protection zones and viable trees. Also, it will remove code references to “significant vegetation.”

Reed said Mountlake Terrace is one of few cities in the region that does not have a tree fund to support the purchase of new trees for public spaces. Under the ordinance, some of the revenue sources for the fund would come from penalties for violations such as unlawful tree removal. 

Notifications of the potential code change were sent to residents, the Department of Commerce and interested parties through the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process. 

Comments on the draft ordinance were received in writing from Snohomish PUD, the Master Builders Association, the C.L.E.A.R. organization, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Updates and improvements were incorporated into the draft code ordinance based on those comments and concerns raised.

The city council voted to hold a public hearing for the tree code update at the Dec. 21 council meeting, which could be followed by a vote to adopt the new tree code ordinance.

Mickey Corso Community Clubhouse $10 lease agreement and rent forgiveness

Among the other items reviewed at the Dec. 12 meeting was the proposed lease agreement for the Mickey Corso Community Clubhouse, presented by Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz. 

The City of Mountlake Terrace owns the Mickey Corso Community Clubhouse — a former golf course clubhouse — which has been used as a senior center since 2013. The current lease with Mountlake Terrace Senior’s Group, a non-profit organization, expires on Dec. 31, 2023, and that group is not seeking to renew it.

The Edmonds Senior Center (DBA Edmonds Waterfront Center) is a Washington State nonprofit organization that teamed with Mountlake Terrace Seniors Group to improve programming and attendance. It is pursuing taking over the lease and senior programming at the Mickey Corso Community Clubhouse.

The Edmonds Waterfront Center intends to offer an inclusive, full-service community center and provide specialty programs for seniors.

“As with the previous lease agreements for this building, it will remain open to the public, and the city will have limited access to the facility for certain programs or events,” Betz said.

The lease amount will be $10 annually for five years, together with the applicable amount of Washington State leasehold taxes that may be due and payable. 

The previous lease was $18,000 over five years, making the monthly rent $300 before applicable taxes.

The reason for the low lease amount is that the Edmonds Waterfront Center will provide a much-needed set of services and programs to the community in this space, which is a cost savings to the city instead of the city providing such services.

Further, the Mountlake Terrace Seniors Group’s past-due rent, amounting to $10,5000, will be forgiven.

Betz explained that the group lost significant revenues during the pandemic due to being unable to provide services. Compounding the center’s recovery was how vulnerable seniors are to the COVID-19 virus, thus having a slow return to public activities.

“The facility did not reopen for a couple of years, but they did offer drive-up meals to the community,” Betz said. “So, they did service a lot of seniors that were in need during the pandemic.” 

However, one of Mountlake Terrace Seniors Group’s primary revenue sources was to rent the Lakeview Room for parties, which was not permitted during the pandemic restrictions, and vital income was lost.

Then, the group suffered another large revenue generator, hosting weddings. Betz explained that the construction at Ballinger Park and the Hope Creek project negated their wedding market.

“They weren’t able to rent the facility out with an indoor-outdoor field that they’re so used to being able to do,” Betz said.

The alternative would be the City of Mountlake Terrace running the senior center, which Betz said would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars annually” and that senior programs are known to be slow to recover costs.

The Edmonds Waterfront Center will be required to maintain the interior spaces of the clubhouse and make all necessary repairs to those areas. The city agrees to maintain, repair and replace the structural components of the clubhouse, including the planned capital projects.

The council had several questions about how seniors can get to the center and what services will be offered.

Mayor Pro Bryan Wahl suggested that Edmonds Waterfront Center present information to the city council, to which councilmember Rory Payne-Donovan agreed.

A review with a representative from Edmonds Waterfront Center has been scheduled for Dec. 21.

Finance Director Janella Lewis noted the amounts highlighted in yellow on the budget fund summary will be changing.

2023 third quarter financial report

Finance Director Janella Lewis presented the city’s 2023 third quarter financial report, starting with the 2023 general fund revenues. 

Property tax revenues for the third quarter were 56% of the adopted budget. Lewis explained this was usually due to a large payment in October for property taxes.

Sales tax collections for the quarter totaled $3,218,509, or 83% of the adopted budget. This is an increase of $70,000 over 2022, or 3%.

“Utility taxes were at budget at 75% of the annual budget, totaling $2.9 million for the quarter, with a 2% increase,” Lewis said. 

Gambling tax revenues were above budget projections, totaling $893,000 or 80% of the adopted budget, with gambling tax revenues returning to pre-pandemic levels and exceeding 2022 second-third quarter revenues by $31,000. 

Admission tax revenues are up to $59,000 compared to the 2020 two-third quarter actuals of $46,000, with a 28% increase. As Lewis noted, more people are going to the movies.

Development fees totaled $1.3 million, or 53% of the annual budget. Lewis explained that development fee revenues are lower than projected in 2023 but also lower in 2022 and 2021. 

State share and intergovernmental revenues were 94% of the adopted budget and appear to be on track to meet budget projections by the end of the year.

Fines and forfeitures were below projections at 68% of the adopted budget, “but not as low as 2022, which was at 25% of the budget.”

The graph shows a comparison of revenue and expenditure trends in the third quarter over the last four years.

Lewis said the overall general fund operating revenues for the third quarter were at 70% of the 2023 adopted budget, which is 2% below the average for the past few years. 

She continued that from 2019 through 2023, only three total general fund operating expenditures for the third quarter were at 73% of the adopted budget, which is lower than the previous year by 2%.

The recreation fund covers the revenues and expenditures of the city’s recreation services, including aquatics, athletics, fitness, youth, and general recreation programs, with a target of recovering 83% of its overall cost through user fees and the remaining 17% funded by the general fund. User fees covered 67% of the expenses through the third quarter.

The recreation fund operating revenues for the quarter totaled 74% of the adopted 2023 budget. 

Lewis said that revenues from aquatics programs are 40% of the budget. Athletic fitness program revenues are at 86% of the budget. As of the end of the third quarter, youth program\revenues are 96% of the budget. Total recreation operating expenditures at the end of the third quarter 2023 were 74% of the adopted 2023 budget.

The street operating fund expenditures through the third quarter represent 51% of the 2023 budget. 

The stormwater utility revenue totaled $3.2 million or 77% of the adopted 2023 budget. At the end of the third quarter, it was within the budgeted projections. 

Stormwater operating expenses, including debt, totaled 60% of the adopted 2022 budget at the end of the third quarter.

Stormwater operating revenues exceeded operating expenses by approximately $1.46 million for the third quarter. These funds will be used for future debt service payments and capital projects.

This graph shows budgeted versus actual revenue trends for the past four years.

The sewer utility fund is also the funding source for capital improvements to the city’s wastewater collection system and the city’s share of the cost of capital improvements for the Edmonds wastewater treatment plant, which treats the city’s sewage.

Lewis said that as of the end of the third quarter, total sewer operating revenues were 60% of the budget, and sewer operating expenses, including debt service, totaled 69% of the adopted 2020 budget.

“At the end of the third quarter, sewer operating revenues exceeded operating expenses by approximately $1 million,” Lewis said. “These funds will be used to make future debt service payments and capital projects.”

Operating revenues in the water utility fund are at 68% of the adopted 2023 budget as of the end of the third quarter. Operating expenses, including debt service, total 53% of the adopted 2023 budget at the end of the second quarter. 

All other operating revenues are under operating expenses by 1.2 million for the third quarter. These funds will be used for future debt service payments and capital improvements.

Street revenues totaled $645,000 for the quarter. This represents 44% of the adopted budget. 

The street construction fund covers capital construction projects to provide and preserve improved street pedestrian, bicycle and traffic control facilities. The ongoing revenue sources for this fund are a portion of the city’s allocation of the motor vehicle fuel tax, traffic impact fees and interest that accrues funds in the account.

State and federal grants and appropriations provide additional funding. Loan proceeds. Interagency financial participation, real estate excise tax revenue and license tabs.

Because these funds are restricted by law to be used only for street construction and not street maintenance, they are kept and kept in a fund that is separate from other funds. The street construction fund has street operating and street construction funds.

A summary of proposed amendments to the 2023-24 Biennial Budget.

2023-24 biennial budget amendment review

Lewis also presented the 2023-24 biennial budget amendment ordinance.

Lewis explained that the city incurs expenditures throughout the year and receives revenues that were not anticipated when the 2023-24 biennial budget and subsequent budget amendments were adopted.

Although the city council is aware of most of these items and has, in most circumstances, already approved the specific revenues or expenditures, a final budget amendment is necessary to account for the differences. These changes include new revenues, adjusted revenues, new proposed expenses, adjustments to the beginning  balance into fund transfers and the timing of capital improvement projects.

Lewis said the beginning fund balance of all the funds was adjusted to reflect the true fund balance at the beginning of the biennium from 2022 to 2023 with the change in expenditures.

The entire fund reimbursement from the utility and internal service fund was updated, and the transfer from the general fund to the recreation fund increased to cover their operating expenditures. 

“There will be a long-range financial sustainability task force in 2024 that will look at the revenues and expenditures of the city to make sure that we keep with the council’s goals of reviewing city finances regularly to ensure fiscal responsibility,” Lewis said.

Other changes were non-represented staff salary and benefit adjustments and removing the fire expenses due to annexing services to South County Fire

Additional taxes removed were the fire water tax from the water fund. Also deducted were the expenditures in the water fund for the same amount. 

Due to the annexation, the city will need to convert a full-time employment position for fire inspection staff.

Also proposed were supplements to the employee appreciation and wellness program and the human resources legal budget for anticipated projects in 2024.

“There was an increase to the WCIA insurance pool premium of $297,967,” Lewis said. “So, it went from like $900,000 to over a million.

The city council will also hold a public hearing on the 2023-24 biennial budget amendment review at the Dec. 21 meeting.

Other business

Two professional service agreements were reviewed; the first was the contract for the law offices of Feldman and Lee, who serve as Mountlake Terrace’s Public Defender.

State and federal law requires the city to provide legal representation for misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors to those unable to afford legal representation. The fee is $18,000 a month, and will extend the contract to 2025.

City Manager Jeff Niten shared that  city staff was notified on the day of the meeting that the city was  awarded a $34,000 grant by the Administrative Office of the Courts at the state level that is tied to legislative changes.

Niten explained the grant is to help cities pay for funding public defender services, and although the amount will cover about seven weeks of fees, every bit helps.

Approval to retain the services of Feldman and Lee to the Dec. 21 consent calendar.

Rico Tessandore’s contract for services as the city’s hearing examiner has been moved to the consent calendar for the next city council meeting. 

“We have been very happy with the services Mr. Tessandore provided and recommend the council’s authorization for me to sign the first amendment to this contract,” Niten said.

The examiner presides over civil forfeitures, contested infractions and code compliance issues.

The city council also approved the renewals for on-call services with Associated Earth Sciences, David Evans and Associates, Krazan and Associates, and RH2 Engineering.

The council voted to cancel the Dec. 28 work session, barring any emergencies.

The council’s next meeting is Thursday, Dec. 21. It will begin at 7 p.m. in Mountlake Terrace City Hall, 23204 58th Ave. W., Mountlake Terrace. To attend the meeting online, visit and enter meeting ID 810 1113 9518; no passcode is needed.

To listen via telephone, call 1-253-215-8782 and enter the same meeting ID.

You also can view livestreamed meetings and past video recordings at

The complete agenda can be viewed here.

— By Rick Sinnett

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